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American Splendor

June 24, 2011

1. Film Analysis-

American Splendor is an adaptation of Pekar’s comic book with an added documentary element.  The documentary aspect is important for the viewer to have background information about the story.  The documentary aspect of the film was created in a linear fashion in order to show how the order of events unfolded.  By adding narrative to the film, the documentary aspect of the film was successful. One thing that makes this film so brilliant and successful is the artificiality of the film.  The director of the film shows the documentary aspects of the film as over the top and fake.  This is done in order for the viewer to separate the story being told and the  lives of the real people.  By using this artistic format the director makes no distinctions about genres being portrayed.  This postmodern approach works with this film and can be seen when the characters in the film interact with the real life characters.  This approach is meant to be dramatic and creates an added comedic aspect to the film.

2. Book Analysis

Harvey Pekar  has considered himself a literary scholar and has cited Henry Roth, Daniel Fuchs, and James Joyce as a few of his literary influences.  He also credits Jewish Stand-up comedy and underground comics as some other influences in his “American Splendor.”  When Pekar first came into the comic scene, most comic books focused on super heroes and escapism.  Because his work focused on realism, and was different from the mainstream comics, Pekar had a difficult time selling his book to comic book dealers who were out to make a buck.  His work focused on every day issues such as the mundane life of a working class file clerk.  While many have referred to Pekar as finding negative in everything, he actually takes a comedic approach to everything he writes.  Dry humor is used to describe the characteristics of his friends, family, and  ex girlfriends. The genius of  his work is that he has taken the ordinary events of his life and created a comic book.  Some of his earliest work included stick figures with dialogue boxes.  He later teamed up with Crumb and other artists to bring his characters to life. 

3. Internet Research

This is a site in which Pekar teamed up with Sean Pryor to create a webcomic series.  The site have weekly comic strips on the site, gives information about books by Harvey Pekar, and videos with Pekar.  The last blog entry in 2010 when Pekar passed but appeared to have been active prior to his passing.  What makes this site interesting is that Pekar never owned a computer and yet his comic strip is on the web and reaching a whole new audience.

This is an interview with Harvey Pekar from 2005.  In the Interview Pekar discusses how his life has changed since American Splendor was made.  He also discusses his writing styles and which he enjoys doing more.

This is a youtube video (short) where Pekar answers 10 questions.  What is great about this is that it shows he lighter and comedic side to Harvey Pekar.

4. Critical Analysis Question

Think about the film (and the book if you like) in terms of jazz. How does the music work in the film? How does the film re-create the sense of a jazz riff, or improvisational solo?

Jazz Music is unique in that it consists of short rhythmic phrases or riffs, improvisation, and complex styles .  The film American Splendor, does a great job of re-creating the sense of a jazz riff by showing the complexities of Pekar’s life through quick-moving scenes.  One of the central riffs within the film is when Pekar talks about his name.  Like the He talks about the other Harvey Pekar’s in Cleveland that have had an impact on his life even though he never met them. Like jazz, the scenes are presented with artistic complexities that blend comic book taglines and discussions with the real Pekar and the actors in the scenes.  In addition to the scene complexities, the music in the film helps to support the onscreen action and includes a combination of acoustic jazz and string bands.


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One Comment
  1. Good analysis of the film and book. Some good finds in online research and the argument paragraph on jazz and American Splendor is insightful (I’m glad folks will be able to see it and comment on it on the class blog. 10/10.

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