Confessions of a Superhero
Directed by: Matt Ogens
Starring: Christopher Dennis, Joseph McQueen, Jennifer Gerht, Maxwell Allen
Let me start by saying that I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by the folks who go to comic book and sci-fi conventions dressed up as their favourite characters. Sometimes the costumes are amazingly detailed and realistic, while other times they are a little rough around the edges, but there is always a passion behind it all. It’s a passion that the average person can’t understand, and sometimes we feel the urge to laugh at just how enthusiastic these people can be, but it’s all in good fun. I don’t think there’s any good reason why Halloween should only come once a year.
But now imagine for a minute, that dressing up as your favourite character could become a full-time job (albeit, not the most financially rewarding one). Would that make the act of dressing up as a superhero any more respectable and worthwhile, or would it just make it depressing and possibly a little more disturbing?
There is indeed a growing group of people who eek out a living by posing as various comic book and cartoon characters on the streets of Hollywood. They are paid only through tips from tourists, and they generally congregate outside Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. In recent years, there has been a growing concern as to whether or not they have any right to do what they do. Are they hassling tourists or are they providing a necessary service? Can they actually be considered street performers or are the costumes earning the money for them? Many of them are simply struggling actors, trying to pay the rent in between auditions. On the other hand, many of them love doing it, and some of them have been doing it for so long, that they have become semi-famous for it.
Confessions of a Superhero is a documentary that examines the lives of four of the most well-known costumed panhandlers. First up, we have a Christopher Reeves lookalike named Christopher “Superman” Dennis. He is the primary focus of this documentary, and probably the most respected of the bunch, mainly because he actually looks so much like Reeves. He claims to be the son of actress Sandy Dennis, but there is never any proof of this. Then we have Joseph McQueen, a black man who plays Hulk, and who spent a few years in Hollywood homeless. Jennifer Gerht (Wonder Woman) comes from a small town in Tennessee, and married a man she met within two weeks of arriving in Tinseltown. Last but not least is Maxwell Allen (Batman), an actor who looks a bit like George Clooney, something that has actually held him back from getting roles.
Although the movie certainly has its share of playful and funny moments with these semi-delusional people (especially the clips from the low budget movies they have actually starred in), director Matt Ogens is careful to never cross the line into mockery. He takes his subjects seriously and attempts to understand where they came from and what drives them to do what they do. There is also a surprisingly dark side to each of the characters, including Dennis’ admission of dabbling with crystal meth, and Allen’s anger management issues and a supposed background as a Mafia hitman.
There are a few small underlying storylines that add some dynamicism to the movie, including Dennis’ trip to the annual Superman celebration in Metropolis, Illinois, and Gerht’s dissolving relationship with her husband, but mostly the movie is just a mix of interviews and footage of them out on the streets. The movie is shot with varying levels of quality. At times it is grainy handheld footage with distorted sound, while other times there are well-lit and beautifully filmed interviews mixed with gorgeous still photographs of each of the characters.
A handful of bigger issues are explored including the legality of their business and the arrest of some of the street performers (which inadvertently lead to more tips for some of the impersonators). It also provides a somewhat sad and melancholy look at the American dream that brings so many people to Hollywood every year. In the end, however, it really is just a portrait of four intriguing individuals who have stumbled onto a strange and unique career path, and how they are trying to come to terms with it.
Despite the silly image of these second rate superheroes, Confessions of a Superhero is not as hilarious as you might expect it to be. This isn’t a bad thing, though, since it actually goes a bit deeper than that. Not only does it give an appreciation for all the unfortunate souls struggling to make it in Hollywood, it also gives some inspiration in the sense that there is always hope for just about anyone to find happiness. If you’re a fan of off-beat documentaries, this one definitely does not disappoint. — Sean