Monthly Archives: December 2021

Superman 1.85: An Oral History of Christopher Reeve Being a Dick During the Filming of Superman: The Movie

Jake Rossen: “By some accounts, Reeve’s abrupt entrance into celluloid fame brought with it some rather abrasive coping mechanisms.”[1]

Christopher Reeve: “I’m not here to win a popularity contest. I’m not here to have fun. I’m here to put something on the screen that’s going to entertain people later.”[2]

Continue reading Superman 1.85: An Oral History of Christopher Reeve Being a Dick During the Filming of Superman: The Movie

Superman 1.84: Overtime

So they actually did try shooting the eagle sequence, where Superman is messing around in the sky when he meets one of those friendly midflight eagles that you don’t run into very often, and they loop and dive around each other in close formation, illustrating the beauty and poetry of flight or whatever.

I figured they would have cut that sequence very early on as obviously impractical, considering how difficult it was just to get the guy credibly off the ground in the first place, but the Making of book informs me:

“The flying unit was now working with some natural-born experts: a golden eagle, two Lanner falcons, and a Saker falcon, which were being used to film a majestic sequence of Superman soaring through the sky with an eagle. The Saker falcon was the one finally used and the scene went well; conditioned to fly toward the lights and then return to its trainer’s arm, the bird performed beautifully.”

The amazing thing about that postcard from Pinewood is that they were still having open-casting aviary auditions in February 1978, when it was way too late for them to be dicking around like that.

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Superman 1.83: Superman’s Pal

And we take you now to scenic Hoover Dam, where perpetual cub reporter Jimmy Olsen is taking photographs of Hoover Dam, which you’d figure has already been pretty comprehensively photographed. It’s not much of a scoop, for a young man trying to make his way in the photojournalism racket, but he got a free airplane ride, and it’s just nice to get out in the fresh air.

Storywise, there isn’t a lot of justification for depositing Jimmy on top of this particular explodable landmark, but this is the part of the movie where they want to get as many peril monkeys on the board as they can. We’ve also got Lois having a scenic conversation with a scenic Native American gentleman, en route to the explodable gas station.

The real question is why we even have a Jimmy Olsen in this movie in the first place, if he’s not going to be involved in the plot in any way. This question also applies to Superman II, Superman III, Supergirl and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. In fact, Jimmy Olsen is the only character to appear in all five of the Salkind Superman films, and he doesn’t have a single discernible plot point in any of them.

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Superman 1.82: The Trickster

We’re currently four minutes into act 3 of Superman: The Movie — all of the mushy love stuff from act 2 is behind us, and from here on, it’s all about the hero confronting and defeating the villain.

The missile convoy sequence is the first time we see Lex Luthor getting up out of his lair and actually doing villain stuff, and it gives us the chance to see him in a new light. So far, we’ve seen Lex Luthor as a ranting mad scientist, a Bond villain and a purple-suited cartoon superfiend, but in this sequence, he assumes his true role, as a mythopoetic trickster figure.

Trickster figures appear in the mythology of many cultures around the world, including ours. The trickster is the wascally wabbit who exists to disobey the rules of whatever situation you put him in, the double-dealing renegade who uses cunning and creativity and funny voices to rewire the world.

We know the trickster by many names — Loki, Anansi, Reynard the Fox, Groucho Marx, Alexander Salkind. They’re thieves and mischief-makers, who move the world forward through deceit and upset and surprise. That’s why Lex got so excited when he learned about Superman; finally, he has a god to steal fire from.

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Superman 1.81: Nevermore

So, in the Superman movie — and yes, I am still talking about the movie — Lex Luthor has just deduced that Kryptonite will kill Superman, and he’s heading to Addis Ababa for an off-screen meteorite shopping trip. But the movie was out of date — according to the Superman comics of 1978, Kryptonite didn’t exist anymore.

The folks at DC Comics may have been excited about the upcoming Superman film, but there was a quiet war going on between the comics and the movie, battling to see which version of the story would take hold of the popular imagination. As it turned out, the movie won by a wide margin, and to explain why, all I need to do is show you what they tried to do with Kryptonite in the early ’70s.

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Superman 1.80: The Silver Age of Kryptonite

So, yesterday I was telling you about how Superman comics caught on to the magical story-generation powers of Kryptonite, the only substance in the world that can weaken Superman, apart from all the other ones. The idea of Kryptonite originated in the Adventures of Superman radio show in 1943, and in 1945 they used it for a huge, complicated story arc that lasted for more than three months. The comic books didn’t inroduce Kryptonite until 1949, but as soon as they caught on to it, they started using it several times a year, to do all sorts of things.

The substance was supposed to be rare, but pretty soon, it was everywhere. In fact, there are two different stories published in 1952 alone that featured bald, bespectacled scientists creating synthetic Kryptonite in their labs. Apparently, any bald guy with poor vision could whip up a batch of anti-Superman juice any time they wanted it, which was often.

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Superman 1.79: K-Rock

“Wish I could explain my strange reaction to that meteor!” Clark Kent wonders aloud. “Why do I get weak every time I come within five feet of it? And Krypton… Why did I keep repeating that word, over and over again? Krypton… What has the word Krypton to do with me? Sounds familiar, but I… just can’t place it! I must find out, because unless I’m very much mistaken… Krypton is the key to this whole strange business!”

You see, back in the old days, little Kal-El didn’t arrive on the planet Earth with a crystal library full of ancient knowledge and a hologram of his dad to explain how to use it; the kid just crashed, and it was up to the passing motorists to figure everything out from scratch.

So in 1943, when the Adventures of Superman radio show decided that they wanted Superman to know where he came from, they invented a meteor and called it Kryptonite, and then they put it in a drawer and forgot about it for another two years.

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Superman 1.78: The Reading Room

It’s one of the silliest party tricks in fiction. A contestant appears at the door of 221B Baker Street, and the great detective observes, “Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

This appears to be a brilliant act of deduction, but Holmes waves it away. The client’s right hand is bigger than his left hand, which is apparently a thing that happens when you do manual labor; he’s wearing a Freemason tiepin, which is apparently a thing that you wear when you’re a Freemason; his shirt cuff is shiny, which is apparently a thing that happens when you do a considerable amount of writing lately; and he’s wearing a T-shirt that says Spring Break China 1891.

These are just sound effects, obviously, because it’s all a setup. Arthur Conan Doyle deliberately festoons these chumps with splashes of mud from a specific area where the clay is a unique shade of ochre, just to impress us with Sherlock’s amazing ability to deduce things from the clues that Doyle put there to be deducted upon. The author already knows where the treasure is; all the character has to do is dig.

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Superman 1.77: The Center Cannot Hold

Then they went to Canada, and things did not go well in Canada.

I know, these posts about the 1977 production are all variations of “things did not go well” — they didn’t go well in May when they were shooting the Fortress of Solitude scenes, and they didn’t go well in June while they were shooting the Daily Planet scenes. Things actually went okay during the New York location shooting in July, if you didn’t count all the rioting and arson, which was pretty tame, for this production.

Overall, there were three big problems that the production had to deal with: first, everything that they wanted to do was harder than they’d hoped it would be; second, the director wanted to make a great movie, and didn’t care how much it cost; and third, the producers, who were quite at home with shady bookkeeping practices, discovered that there was a whole other level of financial mismanagement that even they couldn’t keep up with.

So Alexander Salkind stayed in Europe, soothing investors and not paying bills, while Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler traveled with the production, fretting, cutting crew salaries, and not paying all the other bills that Alex hadn’t gotten around to not paying.

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Superman 1.76: The Stupid Answer

So it turns out people aren’t tired of superhero movies after all, judging by the first weekend take for Spider-Man: No Way Home, which earned more money in a four-day frame than any other movie that has ever been made except for Avengers: Endgame. It looks like these films are going to be around for a while as a dominant pop cultural force, and comic book readers know exactly what to expect.

When there’s a new movie that’s coming up based on a Marvel or DC property, that means it’s time to relaunch the comic book, and have a new #1 out on the racks for people to pick up, read for two issues, and then decide that they don’t like it as much as the movie. These days, the relaunch titles last for about 12 to 18 months, and then get replaced by whatever’s coming next in the movie release schedule.

In 2021, we’ve seen relaunches for Shang-Chi (vol 2), Black Widow (vol 8), Eternals (vol 5), Suicide Squad (vol 7) and Venom (vol 5), plus a new Hawkeye: Kate Bishop title to tie in with the Disney+ show. This is what comics are for now, to support the movies and to occasionally come up with a new bit of intellectual property, like a Black Spider-Man, a female Spider-Man, a Black female Iron Man, a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a bisexual Superman and a Black gay Aquaman, all of them ready to be turned into cartoons, live-action TV shows and blockbuster movies, whenever people get around to it.

But back in 1978, DC wasn’t really sure what they were supposed to do about the upcoming Superman movie, except buy tickets, so their response was all over the place.

They started a new Superman team-up title called DC Comics Presents, and they launched a new “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” back-up feature in the Superman book about a newlywed Lois and Clark, in an alternate universe. They also wrote a four-issue story designed to sell diecast Supermobile toys, and they published a special Superman vs Muhammad Ali comic.

On the other hand, in what seem like perverse anti-tie-ins, they didn’t publish any comics that feature Lex Luthor all year, plus they reprinted the story “Kryptonite Nevermore!” from 1971, to make sure that readers were aware that Superman wasn’t vulnerable to Kryptonite anymore. They also published a story called “The Super Sellout of Metropolis!” which I interpret as a way of working through their ambivalent feelings about the movie.

And to cap off the year, just in time for the movie release, they published a story called “The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!” which offered a full and unnecessary explanation for why nobody recognizes Superman, when he’s in the guise and garb.

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