American, Tender

The Dream of Chuang-TseI hear some guys with plastic hats and wooden sticks hit some ball out of some stadium last night. Oh, all right, I know, I was watching it too, at d.b.a. over a couple of glasses of Delirium Tremens. I’m missing the baseball gene, is all. And the football gene. And the hockey gene. I’m just not a sports guy. When people talk sports to me it’s like that scene from The Mouse That Roared where Peter Sellers is talking to a guard who is speaking a babbling brook of French. “Oui oui oui,” quoth Peter, as the guard rattles on. “Mais non – Alors! Ce n’est pas possible! Non! Incroyable!” And so forth. The two finally come to some sort of resolution, and Peter returns to his friend. “What did he say?” asks the friend. “I do not know,” says Peter. “I don’t speak French.”

I think that was in The Mouse That Roared.

Me, I was down at the Jefferson Sunshine watching American Splendor. It’s a much meatier movie than I expected. I never followed Harvey Pekar very closely, so I was surprised to love the film as much as I did. My first reaction to the books way back when was pure horny high school adolescence – “Hey, there are no naked girls in this, what’s going on here?” – which didn’t leave room for apprehension of the plight of the common man, the truth of stories among the masses, or the unglorious cast of characters supplied by the extras department of market and age. No, I liked my underground comix fabulous, furry and freaky. Or with nekkid girls. Or both.

The movie is lovingly made, with patience and a big heart. In some ways it’s not much about Harvey Pekar, though Harvey & Co. are very beautifully featured in it (that’s the originals, as well as the actors playing them, which gives us a rare chance to watch actors abstract people into roles). It’s about reflections and the blinking public eye, and how the part you play in public is something that floats above your life as much as it may be a part of it. All of the moment, with no points of reference. And it’s about the toil and despair and frustration and humdrum behind the public life.

At one point the camera finds Harvey staring into a mirror, in mid-existential crisis and mid-treatment for cancer. He turns and wakes up his wife, Joyce Brabner. “Am I just playing the part of the guy in the comic book?” he asks her (I’m not actually quoting here). “When I die, does the character go on? Or does he just fade away?” Nice, nice. 2 points for good use of mirrors. 2 additional points for not actually making the reference to Chuang-Tse and his dream of being a butterfly.

I used to be in a theatre company, Arden Party, with James Urbaniak, who delightfully plays R. Crumb here; and back then I was also in a pretty odd production of Genet’s “The Balcony” at The Tunnel (is that place still open?) with Donal Logue, who plays an actor playing Harvey in a Cali stage production of American Splendor. So in a film about levels, there were strange levels aplenty for me, and they made the picture even more satisfying.

And the movie holds out good hope for crabby people with poor housekeeping skills, so that’s something.

Then to d.b.a. and the tail end of the Game – people, people, was there ever really any doubt? – and a nice long chat with the cute Aussie girl at the door. As I was heading up First Avenue to the bar, a police car came screaming around the corner of Second Street and pulled over a garbage truck. The cops leaped out, hands on guns, and they yanked the garbage truck door open and shouted the driver out, and searched him. Just when you think you’ve seen everything.

About Linus

The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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