Variety and Superheroes

Variety Review

AFI
Confessions of a Superhero

((DOCU))
By PETER DEBRUGE

An Arts Alliance America/Red Envelope Entertainment release of a Hunting Lane Films, Smokeshow Films, Ogens production, in association with HKM, TradeMark Films. Produced by Jamie Patricof, Charlie Gruet, Matt Ogens. Co-producer, Mark Meyers. Directed by Matt Ogens.

With: Christopher Lloyd Dennis, Joe McQueen, Jennifer Gehrt, Maximus “Batman” Allen, Leron Gubler, Johnny Grant, Stan Lee, Margot Kidder.

For many an aspiring movie star, the celebrity footprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater prove simply too big to fill, but that doesn’t stop a particular breed of wannabe from dressing up in hopes of discovery on Hollywood Boulevard. With an uneasy mix of parody and pathos, director Matthew Ogens spotlights four such fame-seekers in his docu “Confessions of a Superhero,” focusing (as the title might suggest) on those who hit the sidewalk as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Hulk. They make easy targets, but Ogens ventures beyond sideshow condescension, striking a tone that ought to entice specialty auds.

From Times Square’s “Naked Cowboy” to Austin’s cross-dressing Leslie Cochran, every city boasts some equivalent of the street-corner eccentrics who populate Ogens’ film. The difference with “Confessions” is that although nearly every tourist to visit Hollywood has encountered these glorified panhandlers, the faces behind the costumes remain largely anonymous, even interchangeable.

Ogens attempts to humanize his subjects, often at their expense, by retracing their backstories and snooping about their living spaces (Christopher Lloyd Dennis’ apartment is overrun with what he estimates to be a million dollars’ worth of Superman memorabilia, and Hulk impersonator Joe McQueen revisits the back-alley corner where he spent many homeless nights).

Opening montage, which features such images as Superman brushing his teeth and Wonder Woman blow-drying her hair, effectively conveys the mundane side of a superhero’s existence. These “characters,” as they’re known, subscribe to rules both written and unwritten: By law, they aren’t permitted to solicit tips from tourists, and as self-appointed role models, they strive not to misbehave in public.

In telling their story, Ogens’ fly-on-the-wall footage shows more respect than the local news media. But he takes a wrong turn early on, using grouchy local politicos to frame the tipping issue as the characters’ principal conflict. Surely their personal lives are more interesting than such municipal policies — if not, Ogens picked the wrong individuals to shadow.

Sure enough, their personalities take shape as the movie unfolds, accentuated through gorgeously lensed interviews and intimate moments. Maximus “Batman” Allen is a dead ringer for George Clooney, but possesses an almost sociopathic temper. Small-town prom queen Jennifer Gehrt, who plays Wonder Woman, illustrates the obstacles faced by countless Midwestern transplants before her: Something about the way her agent says the word “voluptuous” suggests the impossible standards to which the industry holds its starlets.

Some will look upon these characters with pity. Others will laugh. Ogens tries to play it both ways, underscoring the film with melancholy guitar strings while serving up thought-provoking yet thoroughly unflattering photographs (Batman suiting up in a public restroom, parking jockeys checking out Wonder Woman’s star-spangled derriere).

Are they crazy? Maybe, but as opposed to the legions of Hollywood waiters who harbor delusions of stardom, at least this foursome are taking matters into their own hands, getting into character on a daily basis for the benefit of complete strangers. Such is the nature of their obsession, not with superheroes, but with the fame that remains just out of reach.

Camera (color, HD, 24p mini-DV-to-HD, Super 8-to-HD), Charlie Gruet; editors, Rick Lobo, Mick LeGrande, Jason Djang, Michael Victor; music, Greg Kuehn; sound, Benjamin Seaward; associate producers, Shawn Bennett, Jordan Ehrlich, Elizabeth McIntyre, Zev Suissa, Spencer Parker. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Oct. 30, 2007. (In AFI Los Angeles Film Festival — Documentary Showcase.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.

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