American Splendor
Dir: Shri Sprinter Berman & Robert Pulcini
USA, 2003 : 100 minutes
Wed. 6/04 @ 7:00 pm Egyptian Theatre & Mon 6/9 @9:30 Pacific Place Cinemas
RATING: 9/10

Paul Giamatti’s spectacular portrayal of comic book author Harvey Pekar amazes. When Giamatti’s Pekar leaves the green room for Letterman’s stage the mid-80’s, the filmmakers pan to a monitor showing the real Pekar’s actual appearance. It’s hard to recognize that we’re looking at two different men. Giamatti, who is also seen onscreen with the real Pekar circa 2002, manages to inhabit both the Pekar we first saw on Late Night and the expressively drawn versions seen in Pekar’s comics, drawn by different artists.

He slouches, he slumps, his eyes bulge. He is really Harvey. Except he’s not. The thoughtful, funny script has a ball playing with this, just as Pekar does in his books. I can’t do the film justice here. Go see it. Giamatti’s performance is only one of many things about the film that made it a wonderful moviegoing experience.

(Another reviewer on the Tablet blog was not as enthused about the film, put off by Pekar’s incessant, whining self-pity. A possible difference is that I’m a comic-book geek who’s long loved Pekar’s work. If anything, the film lightens Pekar’s comic-book portrayal by several shades of depressive, misanthropic black.)

Originally written for and posted to the Tablet SIFF Reviews board.

Additionally, I’ve been looking forward to the film since I had heard about it last year, and was very encouraged when it won some awards at Sundance earlier this year. I confess to having eagerly enjoyed the non-sequitir appearances by Harvey on the Letterman show in the 1980’s, and have vivid recollections of his final appearance.

An interesting aspect of seeing it now, in the blog era, is that to one extent or another, Pekar’s been blogging his own life for damn near twenty-five years now. And making damn fine literature out of it, too. A particular difference of his execution versus mine, in blogland, is that there’s serious structural work, conscious literary creation of a character named Harvey Pekar, in his comics.

Whereas here, I’m speaking in a very unselfconscious first person voice, actively seeking to present the words here in my own, actual personal manner, only occasionally seeking careful literary control. I suppose this may be a part of what Anne and others chew on in the great “is blogging journalism” debate, from another angle.

Here’s a corollary question: is American Splendor, the comic book, journalism? What about the movie?

(I looked and looked for a website for the film – but couldn’t come up with one!)