Well, you know what they say: there are two sides to every story, and vice versa. The other day, I told you about the narrative pressures in the early days that encouraged the writers of the Superman comic books and radio show to change the characterization of Lois Lane, gradually making her more friendly towards Clark so that the two of them could get involved in a wider variety of stories.
But that change in Superman’s universe caused an equal and opposite reaction — creating a flip side, parallel version of Lois from the upside down, who gradually turned darker and meaner, until she became Superman’s first recurring supervillain. It’s time to break the silence about the year of evil Lois clones.
Continue reading Superman 1.40: Everyone Looks Like Lois
Now, according to the opening credits, the lead characters of Superman: The Movie are Superman’s dad, then the villain, and then Superman, the villain’s sidekick, Superman’s boss, Superman’s foster father, the leader of the Science Council on Krypton, and Lois Lane, which in my opinion is burying… well, the lead.
Personally, I think that the main characters of a romantic comedy are the people who are involved in the romance and the comedy, but, you know, I’m old-fashioned that way.
Continue reading Superman 1.39: Chasing Lois
Clark Kent sits down at his new desk on the first day of his new job, and he looks across the tangle of typewriters at the woman that he loves, as of three minutes ago, and for all time.
We’re at the point in Superman: The Movie where the film starts building a new, updated version of the Clark/Lois/Superman love triangle, and we’re going to get into that soon, I promise. But first I want to look at what that relationship has been so far, to set the stage for later discussion about how things work in this 1978 romantic reboot.
Yesterday, I talked about the first few years of the Lois/Clark dynamic, and how they figured out that it wasn’t story-productive to have two lead characters who couldn’t carry on a conversation for more than a couple panels. Today, I want to broaden that view to look at how the Superman/Lois relationship progressed over the next few decades, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to outsource it.
Continue reading Superman 1.38: Unattainable You
Okay, listen up, everybody, because we’ve got a lot to do today, and we don’t have time for side chatter.
We’ve reached the Metropolis section of Superman: The Movie, so that means we’ve got a live Lois Lane on our hands, and for the rest of this week, we’re going to drill down into who this captivating and terrifying woman is, how she works, and what we’re going to do about her.
Continue reading Superman 1.37: The Invention of Lois Lane
wrote the LA Times, in July 1977.
Director Donner doesn’t know the exact budget of the film.
“Whatever it is, I’m not privy to it,” he said, sprawled in a chair. “That’s the way these producers work, apparently. It doesn’t make my life any easier, I can tell you. I’ve no way of knowing whether I’m going over budget or not.”
An unusual way to make a movie?
“I would say so. Yes.”
Continue reading Superman 1.36: When the Shooting Starts
Superman: The Movie was the first feature-length blockbuster superhero film, and at the time, it was hard to imagine what that would actually be like. Would it be a self-consciously silly romp, like the 1966 Batman film based on the campy TV show? What would it look like, once you put a guy in blue tights and a red cape, and strung him up on wires?
The producers, Alex and Ilya Salkind, were constantly announcing that they were spending the most money in history to make the grandest movie in history, but they were hucksters, and nobody knew if they could pull it off.
Co-producer Pierre Spengler’s negotiation with DC Comics for the film rights took two and a half months, because DC was concerned that the project could turn into an embarrassing flop, which would reflect badly on their marquee character. According to a Variety article, when they finished, it was “spelled out in the contracts that the performers signed to play both Superman and Lois Lane must have had no connection whatsoever with pornographic films.”
So that tells you how low DC’s expectations were, for this project. They actually thought it was possible that the Salkinds would hire porn stars to play Superman and Lois.
Continue reading Superman 1.35: The Dentist
The year was 1978. With a blockbuster Superman movie on the horizon, DC Comics editor Julie Schwarz said that he didn’t plan on changing anything in the Superman comics to tie in with the movie, because a) the books were already selling well, and b) the movie would bring in new readers.
Neither of those statements turned out to be true.
In reality, the sales of both Action Comics and Superman had been falling precipitously for over a decade. Between 1965 and 1975, Action Comics lost 56% of its sales — 525,000 copies a month to 231,000 — and Superman lost 64%, going from a healthy 824,000 copies a month to an anemic 296,000 in ten years.
In 1979, when Superman: The Movie was by far the #1 box office draw in the country, Action Comics sales actually dropped, from 184,000 in 1978 to 161,000 in 1979, and they kept on going down. Superman sales went up a little bit, from 223,000 to 246,000, but then they dropped all the way to 179,000 in 1980.
It’s now an accepted fact that successful superhero movies encourage people to watch more superhero movies, but they don’t do much for comics sales. Today, we’re going to take a look at a 1978 issue of Action Comics, and see if we can figure out why.
Continue reading Superman 1.34: Meanwhile, in the Comics
It’s a textbook case of Hollywood ugly. Christopher Reeve is tall, handsome and built like a truck, with piercing blue eyes and a terrific smile. About thirty minutes from where we’re currently standing, he’s going to be the smoldering hunk in one of the all-time heart-melting romantic comedy scenes, and everyone in the theater will be thoroughly in love with him.
So how much work do you have to do, in order to make him look like a forgettable schlemiel? Well, you grease his hair down and give him big unfashionable eyeglasses, and then he hunches his shoulders, swallows his dialogue, and projects an uncomfortable glassy stare, with his mouth pulled tight in what you might call a resting frogface. At that point, he makes a convincing nerd that you wouldn’t look at twice.
I’m kidding, of course; he’s still insanely gorgeous, and if you don’t feel like hitting that, then I would be happy to take your turn. But the show must go on.
Continue reading Superman 1.33: The Coming of Clark Kent
The thing to remember about Superman: The Movie is that nobody had ever made a live-action feature-length superhero movie before, so they didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what a superhero movie was supposed to be like. It could go in almost any direction: science-fiction, fantasy, drama, fairy tale, action-adventure. Should it be aimed at kids, or adults? How scary should it be?
The movie that they ended up putting together is famous for changing tones throughout the prologue: the glitter opera of Krypton segueing into Norman Rockwell in Smallville. The teen football scene could fit into a contemporary live-action Disney film with no questions asked; one of these days, I’m going to get around to writing that Superman/Escape to Witch Mountain comparison that American film criticism has been waiting for all these years.
But the most important tone shift happens right here, in our first visit to the Daily Planet. This is when the story really begins, and we find out what a Superman movie sounds like. The answer, thank goodness, is screwball comedy.
Continue reading Superman 1.32: Murder, With a Smile
Metropolis, at last! After forty-seven minutes and six weeks of blog posts, we are finally making landfall on the scene of an actual Superman movie.
Metropolis is the big time, where an up-and-coming newshound and secret frequent flyer from the Midwest can find his true calling — scoops to break, women to fall helplessly in love with, and super-villains to discourage. Complex and thrilling, the City of Tomorrow has all of the promise, danger and heartbreak that a newbie superhero needs, to discover what he’s truly capable of. Also, it’s New York.
Continue reading Superman 1.31: Metropolis Now