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American Splendor

Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff 

Year: 2003 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from American Splendor

American Splendor charts the rise and fall of Harvey Pekar (Giamatti & Pekar), a neurotic, jazz-loving, serial divorcee who would give Woody Allen a run for his money.

Pekar is a local hospital file clerk, where his interactions with his co-workers offer some relief from the monotony; their discussions encompass everything from music to the decline of American culture to new flavors of jellybeans and life itself. At home, he fills his days with reading, writing and listening to jazz. His apartment is filled with thousands of books and records, and he regularly scours Cleveland's thrift stores and garage sales for more, savoring the rare joy of a cheap find. It is at one of these junk sales that he meets Robert Crumb, a greeting card artist and fellow music enthusiast.

When, years later, Crumb finds international success for his underground comics, the idea that comic books can be a valid art form for adults inspires Pekar to write his own brand of comic book - a truthful, unsentimental record of his unremarkable working-class Cleveland life, a warts-and-all self-portrait. First published in 1976, the comic which relentlessly documents the ghastly realities of day-to-day life, earnt Pekar cult fame throughout the 1980s, culminating in his appearance on The David Letterman show.

Filmed in the grainy, washed-out hues of a typical 70's American movie, it is anchored by a brilliant performance from Giamatti. The know-the-face-not-the-name character actor has long deserved a leading role, and manages to capture a unique, unusual character without being patronising or sentimental.

Sweet, funny and a bit leftfield, American Splendor blurs the boundaries between documentary and drama, creating something striking and original. Part of this is down to how Pekar is portrayed on screen - in three dimensions: by an actor (Giamatti); as cartoon/comic book caricatures; and by himself - looking on at the fictionalised recreation of his life and providing the movie's voiceovers whilst answering personal questions.

A wonderful examination of the complexities of ordinary life, told by a complex and ordinary man, Harvey Pekar.

Alex Coe

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Summer Term (35mm)