Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Confessions of a Superhero

(2007) Directed by Matt Ogens; Starring: Christopher Dennis, Maxwell Allen, Jennifer Gehrt (Wenger) and Joe McQueen; Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming

Rating: ****

Confessions of a Superhero represents the dark side of cosplay. Director Matt Ogens follows four individuals who came to Hollywood to pursue their dreams, only to arrive at something less than they had envisioned. We see their ups and downs (okay, mostly downs) as they struggle to make ends meet while attempting to grasp the fame that’s eluded them so far. They eke out a living walking Hollywood Boulevard dressed as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Hulk, collecting tips from tourists. Instead of narrating his documentary, Ogens takes a back seat, letting the superheroes speak for themselves.

Resembling a skinny Christopher Reeve, Christopher Dennis plays Superman. He claims to have been the son of actress Sandy Dennis (a clip from the film the The Out of Towners starring Jack Lemmon and his alleged mother is shown), although evidence seems to suggest otherwise. The documentary leaves the door open to speculate whether he’s simply delusional or one of Hollywood’s buried secrets. Dennis paints a depressing portrait of his childhood and adolescence, with a mother who couldn’t take care of him, jumping from halfway house to halfway house, and being addicted to crystal meth and speed.  He seems to have reinvented himself, inhabiting his adopted role seemingly non-stop, while trying to portray a wholesome image for the tourists. His obsession with all things Superman is embodied by an extensive collection of memorabilia that’s worth thousands of dollars.  Ironically (and probably appropriately), his girlfriend is a doctoral student in Psychology. She seems supportive of Dennis’ behavior, apparently cognizant of the fact that being Superman is Dennis’ link to sanity. 

Maxwell Allen is Batman with anger management issues (Is that redundant?). Not unlike Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne, he alludes to a darker past, shrouded in mystery.  Similar to Dennis, his recollections might only be partially true. Allen coyly recalls a few vague stories about working for an organized crime boss in Texas during the 80s. Even his wife only seems to believe half of it actually happened. Although the veracity of his stories is debatable, it seems clear that some past trauma helped to shape his current violent tendencies. Allen makes it clear that he works on tips alone, and isn’t above harassing the tourists to get the point across. We learn that his transgressions have led to several arrests.

Former high school prom queen and cheerleader Jennifer Gehrt is Wonder Woman. Gehrt hails from Maynardville, Tennessee, and her tale sounds like the archetypal clichéd success story, but without the success. Her dreams of making it big compelled her to quit college and leave her quiet small town for the glamour of Los Angeles, despite her minister father’s disapproval. When she’s not attending auditions and acting classes, she walks in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with her fellow street performers. There is an underlying sadness about her. Although she’s still quite young, we get the feeling that her best days might be behind her.

Joe McQueen plays The Hulk, and seems to be the least comfortable, literally and figuratively, with his character. He arrived in L.A. from rural North Carolina, after selling his Super Nintendo for a bus ticket.  After living on the streets for four years, he’s renewed his initial desire to work as an actor. Of the four featured performers, McQueen is the most openly critical of his lifestyle. He comments about making “chump change” as The Hulk, while not being able to do what he set out to achieve. You can almost feel his discomfort as he walks the pavement in a cumbersome costume and bulky mask, even in 100+ degree weather. It’s disheartening to see him go through his numerous struggles to eventually land a bit part in a no-budget film production.

Confessions of a Superhero can often be painful to watch, but presents an honest glimpse into the lives of those who courted fame but didn’t make the cut. Because the performers are so visible to the public in Hollywood’s heart, their inner torment seems more intense -- so close, yet so far from becoming one of the stars on Hollywood Boulevard that they tread upon every day. They exist on the fringe as society’s cast-offs, regarded as legitimate performers by some, while viewed by others as little more than panhandlers.  We get no sense of closure during the film’s conclusion. We’re never lulled into the feeling that everyone is going to be all right. It would have been interesting to see an epilogue to these four individual’s lives, although for most of them their final act hasn’t played out yet.

Confessions of a Superhero won’t tell you anything you didn’t already know about Hollywood (Hint: it’s a tough place to make it big in Tinseltown.), but it humanizes the stories of some people who failed to become household names. What separates the celebrities from the wannabes?  It is a combination of talent mixed with sheer tenacity? Is it a good agent?  Or is it just plain luck?


  1. This sounds like a fascinating documentary, but reading about it is rather depressing. Don't get me wrong. You wrote an insightful review, but the subject of the film seems full of sadness.

  2. It most certainly is. Not something to watch if you want to feel upbeat. Reminds me why I left L.A.