Fame is an intoxicating thing. Some people will do anything to achieve the limelight, the hunt amplified a million times brighter when the battleground is Hollywood. So, what happens to the average hopeful when jobs elude them and dreams of unparalleled celebrity dominance start to slowly slip through their fingers? Well, apparently they suit up in tights and live the highlife of a superhero.
"Confessions of a Superhero" is a staggering documentary isolating four of the personas who spend their life pimping themselves out for tourists: the travelers ravenous for strange photo ops that turn bland vacation photos into pure hilarity. Situated on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Chinese Theater, aspiring actors and high-maintenance types pose for hundreds, soaking in their sweat and hustling (panhandling) for tip money in increasingly antagonistic ways. It's equal parts desperation, mental incapacity, and good old American ingenuity all rolled into one peculiar toxic subculture, which fascinates director Matt Ogens enough to capture this nutty horde of fame vultures on tape and create one of the best documentaries I've seen this year.
At first, it feels like such a put on. "Confessions" centers on four "superheroes" and the extent of their life beyond the spandex. Of course, we're not discussing Harvard dropouts here, but frightening individuals who range from passively earnest to borderline psychotic. The mix is carefully chosen and exploited sharply by Ogens, who appears to extend some quivering form of affection toward these caped blunders, but doesn't dare inch closer than arm's length out of fear for his own life.
Christopher Dennis is Superman, and he takes the role very seriously. Living in a cramped apartment stacked to the gills with Man of Steel collectables and homemade dioramas, Christopher is a former meth addict, self-proclaimed son of actress Sandy Dennis (a fact called into serious question), and an individual who prides himself on his appearance when tucked neatly into the famous red and blue. He abhors those who take the superhero routine lightly, and still dreams of stardom, sucking down every bit of media coverage like a sweet juice that will never run dry.
Wonder Woman is Jennifer Gehrt, an attractive young woman labeled too "voluptuous" for Hollywood, prone to boneheaded impulsive behavior, and is nothing short of a complete attention whore. Gerht is aching for acting work, heading out on dreary auditions that elude her skill level. While trapped in a bum marriage and depressed about her future, once Gerht suits up in her tiny outfit, she rules the sidewalk with her alter-ego moxie and feminine advantages.
Buried in a stinky and weathered Hulk costume is Joe McQueen, a formerly homeless wannabe actor who came to Hollywood with big screen dreams and ended up on the street. McQueen is the most even tempered of the quartet, and the story "Confessions" pays the least attention to. I wouldn't suggest that McQueen is well adjusted, but compared to the others in this short bus Justice League, he's Dr. Phil.
Finally, there's Maxwell Allen, who takes his role as the Dark Knight a little too sincerely. An alleged George Clooney lookalike with extensive rage issues, Maxwell is the most volatile of the group, shown hassling tourists who refuse to tip, arriving for therapy sessions in his Batman outfit, and remaining ridiculously shifty about his past as a mob enforcer. Maxwell has the exterior of an average nutcase working the superhero route to support his acting habit, but once "Confessions" probes deeper into his previous employment, challenging his goofy body count claims, he reveals an ever bleaker disposition, topped with a whip-crack anger management problem that sickens as much as it entertains (from a safe distance, of course).
It appears that Ogens merely needs to turn on his camera to find gold in "Confessions." Observing these four desperate people as they soak up the glory of Hollywood Boulevard gawking, the documentary propels itself on the awkward confrontations between tourist and superhero, along with the interview segments, taking the camera into the incredible home life of these individuals. "Confessions" comes close to Christopher Guest parody, but that's hardly the fault of Ogens. Staring down a camera and another red hot potential for fame, the subjects put on a show for the documentary, and it's painful to see how close their real life edges precariously on straight-faced insanity.
Trust me, you haven't lived until you've seen Superman and Ghost Rider walking down Hollywood Boulevard arguing about cigarette usage in public.
Using dynamic still photographs to act as interstitials, "Confessions" is almost trance-like in execution, leisurely bringing the viewer inside this world. The action isn't limited to just the street beat either; it joins Christopher on his trip to Metropolis, IL for an awkward Superman festival and rides along with Maxwell to, er, a gun range where his Bickle-like character arc is allowed a chance to breathe outside of the scorching black plastic.
"Confessions of a Superhero" is a freak show, but it's far from mean-spirited. Actually, it's a mesmerizing, revealing look at Hollywood's bottom layer, as well as an assertive snapshot of desperation and uneasy consolation that you can't take your eyes off of. Pitiable human behavior always provides a wonderful show, but it's all the more sweet when it's draped in a cape and begging for tips.
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