I love a good probing documentary film. It is terrific that this cinematic genre has taken on a life of its own over the past few years. Whatever you think of Michael Moore, he has elevated the documentary to a higher level. You can follow that up with some of the other wonderful documentaries we have seen lately. March of the Penguins. Supersize Me. Mad Hot Ballroom. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.
I saw two others recently and the topics intrigued me. But, unfortunately, what lingered with me longer than the subject matter was the glaring hole that both filmmakers ignored in the telling of their respective stories.
I'll focus first on "Confessions of a Superhero," which premiered at the AFI Film Festival. It focuses on those strange folks who work the streets of Hollywood Boulevard near Highland. No, they're not bums or panhandlers or prostitutes. They're actor wannabes who work the tourist crowd in their costumes. You walk past the Kodak Theater these days and you will usually see Marilyn Monroe, Laurel and Hardy, and, for some bizarre reason, four or five clowns dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow. Most of the visiting yokels, who hopefully have round trip tickets that will bring them back to their Nebraska farms, love to have their pictures taken with these characters. I always wondered about the genesis of these people. Were they hired by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as a public service? Is this their main livelihood? And how crazy are they?
Well, the film clues you in pretty quickly. They are not there as a function of any formal organization. If you want your picture taken with, say, Batman, the Caped Crusader will dutifully pose, but always remind you that they work for tips. You want a picture? Be prepared to hand over a greenback or two. Most of these "super heroes" do this to fill in their days between auditions. And, some are very normal, straight forward actors loving for their big break.
And then there's Christopher Dennis, the appointed "Superman" of Hollywood Boulevard. He's in his 40s and, with the right amount of hair spray, can look amazingly like Christopher Reeve. Dennis is one of the four actors that the film focuses on, along with Wonder Woman, Batman, and the Incredible Hulk. He's also the main reason why this documentary rang an incredibly false note with me. Yep, Christopher Dennis is an actor, but he's also insane. A visit to his home is tantamount to an exhibit at the Smallville Museum. He lives, breathes, sleeps and probably pees Superman all the time. And he's one of those lunatics who assumes such a level of normalcy that makes him even creepier.
But, still, that's not what bothers me about him. During the film, he reminds you on a variety of occasions that his mother is the late actress Sandy Dennis. Indeed, he tells us that his persistance at an acting vocation is the direct result of a deathbed promise he made to Sandy. You meet his fiancee during the course of the movie, and you will note that this woman also has the same chipmunk-like facial features that his mother had. There's just one problem.
Sandy Dennis wasn't his mother.
The filmmaker acknowledges that this may be the case. He even goes as far as interviewing Miss Dennis' sister, who knows that Christopher has been touting this, but doesn't think that her sister ever gave birth to any child. When I got home from seeing the movie, I did a search on the internet. Indeed, Sandy Dennis, for all accounts, never married. She was involved with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan as well as actor Eric Roberts. But, there is no record of a child anywhere.
Poof. Any positive feeling the audience would have for Christopher Dennis goes up into a Kryptonite haze. The guy ceases to have any credibility with you. And the filmmaker completely drops this major curveball. I actually had some compassion for the other three "super heroes," although Batman ultimately has some anger management issues with the police. But, as for Christopher Dennis, he falls off my radar screen forever. How despicable to publicly lie about being the offspring of an actress, who has been dead for 15 years? Heck, I might as well go out there and tell everybody that my mother was Audrey Meadows. Who's going to tell me I'm wrong? Certainly not this filmmaker.
There's a more basic problem with the new documentary called "What Would Jesus Buy?" Timed perfectly to open on the first Christmas shopping weekend of the year, this movie chronicles the 2006 bus tour of one Reverend Billy and his choir. At the heart of the film, there is one terrific idea. It's the overcommercialization of the Christmas holiday. And you meet a bunch of families who have had their lives upended by overspending on past holidays. Great stuff.
And then they let you meet Reverend Billy, this wild-eyed, crazy-haired Evangelist preacher who wants to tour the country with his choir, and let us all know about the coming "shopocalypse." The man is a raving nutjob, who, while earnest about what he is touting, loves the camera more. Motoring around America on a bus, he stops at a bunch of shopping malls and stages ridiculous stunts. At one place, he conducts an "exorcism" in the shopping center parking lot. He merits no credibility whatsoever because he's so obviously clinically insane. He goes to Walmart's headquarters and drops down on his knees while touching the corporate logo. The movie has a great message, but loses it everytime the camera comes back to Reverend Billy. It's amazing to me that the filmmaker didn't see this himself. Indeed, Linus said more in two minutes on "A Charlie Brwon Christmas" than this loon does in 90 minutes of screen time.
Two movies. Two strong messages. Two significant flaws.
Dinner last night: Antipasto salad.