1 July 2011
Superman vs. Hollywood- Jake Rossen
In Superman vs. Hollywood, Jake Rossen gives an in-depth study of Superman's relationship with the big screen and television, and the obscenely complicated machinations that have either held up, obfuscated or flat-out ruined different interpretations of the character. The book was published in 2008, and so it goes as far as the box office business of Superman Returns before its conclusion, but it's a bracing read for Superman fans who are concerned about Zack Snyder's upcoming Man of Steel...
You don't need to be as enthusiastic a fan of Kevin Smith as I am, to have heard that anecdote about Jon Peters, the eccentric hairdresser-cum-producer who held the reins on the much mooted Superman sequel in the 1990s. Peters' rejection of the iconic costume and insistence upon ridiculous shopping-list items such as a giant mechanical spider and a fight between Brainiac and some polar bears have long since become legendary, through the popularity of Smith's Q&A tours. The thing that sets Rossen's book apart from others like it is his own perspective.
Even though we've heard many of the stories in Superman vs. Hollywood before, the author provides a new spin, and somehow seizes coherence from the incoherent tangles of the Salkinds, McG and others, to turn this book into a genuine page-turner. He even manages to eke out some tension at certain points, as with the very literary device of describing the moment that producer Alexander Salkind's wife lunged at writer Tom Mankiewicz with a steak knife at the beginning of the chapter, teasing the later reveal that Marlon Brando stepped in and, in all likelihood, saved Mankiewicz's life.
It's a real page-turner for a factual book about Hollywood impotence, and it feels informative even in its delivery of tales with which Superman fans will already be familiar. Rossen covers every screen incarnation of the character up until Superman Returns, also including the ill-fated Superman musical, Supergirl and a TV series I had never even heard of, Superboy. A far more clinical book could have been written on all of this, but the author is genuinely interested in the character. If Warner Bros. had only mustered some of that interest themselves, perhaps we would have seen a Superman movie in the 1990s after all.
If I have one complaint about the book, it's the foreword. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just the fact that it's written by Mark Millar, and advertised as such, which immediately led me to buy the book under the impression that it would cover his planned trilogy, which broke down a couple of years ago. I'm eager for any more details on that, but of course, the book was published before all of that. It's a problem that could hopefully be rectified by an updated edition- in the publishing world of Halliwell's Film Guide and 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die, there's no book about movies out there for which I would rather see an update than Superman vs. Hollywood.
Superman vs. Hollywood is now available from Amazon and other good bookshops. I heartily recommend it to both film fans and Superman fans.
If you have any thoughts on the book, the movies or Zack Snyder's upcoming attempt, why not share your comments below?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't give Superman a black gay robot sidekick.