Superman 1.90: A Man Can Buy

They didn’t use the word “synergy” for this kind of thing yet, so they just called it a “push”, as in SUPERMAN PIC GETTING WARNER COMMUNICATIONS PUSH.

Superman is due to get a super push from Warner Communications Inc.,” said Variety in July 1978, “marking the first time a major entertainment conglomerate has marshalled virtually all of its subsidiary operations in the advertising, promotion and merchandising of a feature film.”

And congratulations, the superhero movie is born, not with a whimper but a bang. Warner Bros. has realized that they’re about to launch a feature film based on one of the most well-known characters in the world, and by now they’ve actually seen a rough cut of the film, and it’s really good. So it’s time for the Warner subsidiaries to circle the wagons, and get ready to make some Star Wars money.

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Superman 1.89: Bad Girl Goes Good

Forget Catwoman. Forget the Black Cat. Forget all of the scheming anti-heroines who commit crimes and then make out with the superhero, whether they have a feline-based persona or not.

Because we have a champion, right here. As a temporarily-reformed supercrime vixen, Eve Teschmacher — known to her friends as MISS TESCHMACHER!! — has got to be one of the all-time greats. She reforms for a grand total of one hundred and twenty-five seconds, and during that period, she commits sexual assault. And she still doesn’t get any jail time! This woman is unbelievably good at her job.

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Superman 1.88: Toward a General Theory of the Ding-Dong

Consider Otis: sidekick, lickspittle, punching bag, emotional support animal — and, most importantly, a ding-dong.

The ding-dong is the guy who sets off the alarm during the break-in, the one who forgot he couldn’t swim. When someone asks, “Why are we whispering?”, he’s the guy that says “I thought you knew.” His purpose in life is to stand next to a smarter character, and make them wince.

Strangely, ding-dongs still show up, even with network sitcoms on the decline. You would think that the race would die out; he seems like exactly the kind of thing that natural selection was organized to prevent.

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Superman 1.87: The Other Movie About Black People

I want to check back in about the history of blockbuster movies, which I’ve been doing sporadically so I can figure out how they work. So far, I’ve talked about the first blockbuster, the 1912 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which set the bar for the kind of large-scale spectacle that audiences could expect from the high-prestige movies. We’ve also discussed the first American blockbuster, the 1915 Ku Klux Klan recruitment film The Birth of a Nation, which pioneered most of the foundational principles of narrative filmmaking, and also made the case for the continued oppression and second-class status of Black people in the United States.

And today, we’re going to look at Gone With the Wind, the flabbergastingly successful 1939 four-hour film epic about the death of the Old South, and… well, the birth of a nation, I suppose.

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Superman 1.86: Another Day, Another Door

So this is why we don’t call Superman the World’s Greatest Detective; for a guy with super-speed, he’s a bit slow on the uptake. Lex Luthor has been sneaking around in the underbelly of this movie for almost an hour, stealing meteorites and messing with missiles, and Superman literally doesn’t even know who Luthor is until he gets hit with the villain’s supersonic Grindr profile.

I mean, I know it’s his plan, but Lex has to be a little put-out that he’s sitting there — 1.3 miles away, 48 years old, looking for Chat, Dates, Gloating and Comeuppance — and the only way to get his dream guy’s attention is to tell every dog in town how lonely he is.

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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]

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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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