Friday, July 21, 2006

Story and meta-story in man and superman

OK if you are still reading following a title like that, I applaud you!

I often use a line when I'm lecturing on my book to get people's attention. It goes like this: Many protestants work on this basic understanding of the Scriptures, that in the beginning God created everything and everything was good. Then man sinned and everything went bad. Then God decided to help by sending Israel the Law, only it didn't solve the problem - how could it? Man was so bad he could never keep the Law. So God thought again and sent his only Son, and he sorted the problem.

I know this is really simplified, but does it sound familiar? I hope not because it is total rubbish. The cross isn't plan B! The cross is always gloriously plan A. So why did God give the Law? So that we can understand plan A when we see it. The Law is fundamentally about how to worship God, and then how we should live together in the light of worshipping this God. And if we don't get this meta-story right, this world view, this biggest of big pictures, then all our attempts to understand the stories within, the details that make up the bigger picture, we will inevitably get the detail wrong. Only a church that doesn't understand what the Law is (ie about worship first) would imagine sin was primarily about the moral things we struggle with. This makes us fuss about sexuality as if this is God's fundamental issue with humanity. Drivel. Get the meta-story right, and all the details will fit nicely.

So: Superman. Here's the thing: my big picture, my meta-story (like everyone else's) is set by my first real Superman exposure. I know this. And for me, it wasn't the 1970s films. It was Lois and Clark in the 90s. So Clark as clutz is totally alien (to use an appropriate word) to me. And more importantly, Lois and Clark (and self-evidently Smallville) makes this important choice: which one is real - Clark or Superman? - answer: Clark.

Clark is the real person, and the blue tights are the disguise so that we don't recognise Clark at his other job. Whereas I think if you grew up with Christopher Reeve, and now the new movie, Superman is the real person and Clark is the disguise so we don't recognise Superman at the office.

Which is why I dislike the new movie so much. It makes the wrong choice on the central character. It makes the wrong one the "real" one. Everything else is skewed by this basic choice. Nightmare. Meta-story sets the deatils, and if the wrong picture becomes the big picture, I don't want to see it.

We all agree; Lois is terrible. Everyone I know uses the word "feisty" to describe Lois, and Kate Bosworth just doesn't have that. But the problem with this movie is greater - in terms of my lengthy intro, it misunderstands the cross because it thinks it is plan B. So everything is misunderstood.

Make Clark the real person and everything about Superman works. Make Superman the real person and Houston, we have a problem.


Ricky Carvel said...

Marcus, I have more to say on this, which'll follow later. But for now, I just want to note that we don't all agree that Kate Bosworth as Lois is terrible. She was OK. She just wasn't the real Lois. In fact, I think she was just a clone of the Katie Holmes character from Batman Begins. More later...

Ricky Carvel said...

Marcus, I think you're going too far down the Superman/Christ analogy route.

In all the early Superman comics / cartoons / serials / radio plays / etc., Clark was the disguise and Superman was the real character.

However the clutz Clark wasn't a very popular incarnation of Supes until the Dick Donner movie in 1978. Before that, Clark Kent was (quite literally) a hard hitting journalist (see the George Reeves serials & movie).

So Clark as the real character isn't 'Plan B', but then again the Lois & Clark version of things isn't 'Plan B' either, but probably somewhere down about the 'Plan M' mark.

I was raised on the Superman comics of the 70s (pre-1978; shame I didn't keep them, some might be worth money by now) where Superman hardly ever put on his Clark Kent disguise at all - he was too busy contending with huge alien threats all the time. I guess Bryan Singer was raised on them too, cos there's a lot of that Superman in the new movie. And like in 70s comics, Lois is a fairly minor character.

Except that in the 1978 movie and its sequel Lois is a major character, and Bryan Singer has stated up front that this movie is a sequel to those two films. So you have Lois in this movie being both a minor and a major character. Which is where it falls apart.

In Superman I & II and Lois & Clark (at least for seasons 1 & 2), the story revolves around the love triangle of Clark/Lois/Superman. Bryan Singer seems to have forgotten that as Clark doesn't feature in the love triangle here. Which destroys the heart of the film.

So its not just that Clark isn't the real character and the movie is missing the point, the problem with the new movie is that Clark isn't involved in the story at all.

Anyway, I still liked it for the most part. But don't get me started on the kid - the more I think about it the more I think they've shot themselves in the foot for future movies there...


ps Why don't you comment on my blog sometime? :oP

chorus girl said...

I'm with Ricky here. "Lois & Clark" may have been my favorite, but it wasn't my formative "Superman." I, too, first met the red-caped one in early 70s DC comics, and *that* Supes was re-inforced for me by George Reeves re-runs and old Max Fleischer cartoons. When DC flip-flopped the canon in the 90s and made Clark the real guy, it was as jarring to me (though I suspended disbelief for the sake of Dean Cain) as the Singer movie's now retro approach seems to you.

I reviewed the new film here. I liked it a lot, but I think Singer made a mistake, not in tying into old canon in general, but in so explicitly tying into the first two Reeve films and being stuck with their continuity (not to mention Brando's impossibly pompous Jor-El). Where, after all, can Lois and Superman/Clark go that they didn't go in Superman II?

Marcus G said...

So I am just thrilled that using as pompous a title as I could for this peice has not deterred faithful readers from perusing, thinking and disagreeing! And Chorus Girl - knowing your passion for all things choral, I hope you were interested in my piece about my old music teacher. One of these days, when we are both on the same side of the Atlantic, I shall play you the CD of our choir singing the Verdi Requiem. No wonder I always have an inflated idea of what I can achieve musically with the model set for me by my school music master!