S I T E M A S T E R
M A R T I N – E L
It may or may not have been the first time I ever saw it, but its the one event I remember most. That’s what they were called, you see. The ‘Event Movie’. Its a term lost to time now, (a little like ‘Blockbuster’ in more ways than one) but in the age of the Silver Screen epic, few things were anticipated more by my generation. In his recent book ‘Watching Skies’ Author Mark O’ Connell describes us as Skykids – which is as good a branding as any for adolescents born in the early to mid-seventies whose first exposure to Cinema would be the widescreen features as mentioned. If I have to name a single one of them, you’re probably on the wrong site.
So imagine, if you will, the excitement back in the day when it was announced there would be a showing – at my school, no less – of Superman (we never called it The Movie in the UK- only later did it become Superman I) in the Main Hall. I’d seen the visiting projectionist a few times before at various children’s birthday parties, politely refuting many a ludicrous request for as-yet unreleased (or imagined) films from manic kids but never straying from his 16mm reels as they unspooled. Over fifty kids sat entranced before the pull-down projection screen as the film played out (years before attention-spans were bred out of children entirely) and I was amongst them, most captivated of all.
I remember the collective gasp as Pa Kent collapsed and the silence in the room during the Helicopter sequence. Once the picture was over I recall doing a Clark Kent impression as I timidly weaved through the crowd to get to the exit and walked home with my parents looking at the stars above.
During the next few days my mom came home with a couple packets of what we now call Trading Cards. Beneath the dusty stick of rock-hard pink chewing gum were spellbinding images of the Man Of Steel against the city skyline. This, twinned with the envy of a schooolmate who owned the coolest Superman figure I’d ever seen pinpoints the start of the obsession. Forty years later my enthusiasm for what became the Superman Motion Picture Series has yet to wane. In fact it grows with every ‘new’ discovery and the collection of memorabilia has seemingly no bounds.
Growing up in the Video age was incredibly exciting as technology advanced but would ultimately usher in the decline of the Event Movie as, with VHS, every day could now be an event. We didn’t know it yet, but every viewing on home video further diluted the family gathering for the ‘Big Movie’ at Christmas or New Years Day on ITV. Indeed, by 1989 and the release of Batman (arguably the very last true Event Movie) the period between theatrical and home video release was shorter than ever and movies became ever more disposable.
For obsessive Skykids like me though, repeated viewings on Home Video would yield so much missed detail and hours could (and would) be spent simply watching the blue streaks of the (still unsurpassed) Main Title sequence with its thunderous theme music, or fast-forwarding the thrills of Superman’s first night. By this time, the sequels had also arrived so it was not unusual to watch all three films in a day (whilst also keeping a blank tape in close proximity to the Toploader should anything Superman-related pop up as it often did).
For a uniquely American icon I have always taken great pride in the fact the movies that defined him for generations to come were predominantly British-made, by UK craftsmen at the very top of their game. Say what you like about contemporary Superhero (a term I despise, btw) Movies but even now in our Marvel dominated multiplexes , few walk away with an Academy Award for Special Effects and a BAFTA for its leading man in only his second feature. Indeed, this site was created to honour the likes of everyone from Denys Coop to John Barry and Wally Veevers to Derek Meddings, Les Bowie and Geoffrey Unsworth to honour their memory.
By that reckoning, outside of the classic movie series I have little interest in any of the character’s numerous incarnations. For me, there is only ever one continuity (now affectionately termed the Donnerverse) so the features and memorabilia showcased here are mainly from that era. However I can’t help but occasionally indulge the other Salkind ventures like Supergirl and the SuperBoy TV show for their fun contributions to the mythos. I also have a great deal of affection for the comic-books of the Bronze Age, where it seemed artists like Curt Swan, Neal Adams and Jose Garcia-Lopez reached up to the screen to pull Superman back onto the page every month.
And we can’t continue about legacy without acknowledging the late, great Christopher Reeve. I often get asked ‘Why Superman?’ by folk and while it might really be too big a question to answer I always prefer to let Chris’ iconic image and performance speak for itself. It took a classically-trained newcomer to treat the subject matter ‘like the bible’, but the earnest young actor managed to transcend everything published or filmed to date by simply making the Man of Steel real.
And clearly I wasn’t the only one who believed a man could fly. As the age of the internet dawned and our videotapes became threadbare, fans like Gregory Oshel reached out through the modem to make contact with fans in cyberspace. Then later, Dharmesh Chouhan (under the guise of GandalfDC) would unite the fanbase on his superb website Superman Cinema, where for the first time, fans were given access to the best features they had seen since Starlog magazine had disappeared from shelves. Indeed, the message board in those early days was revolutionary, permitting fans to share insights alongside images and links to media the likes of which nobody thought existed. Then there were the debates – what exactly was the the KCOP cut? Would there ever be a Richard Donner cut of Superman II? What of Superman III with its alternate credits and what’s the likelihood of the 134 minute cut of Superman IV being seen again?
The contacts established and friends made through these exchanges brought on an entirely new wave of fandom enabled you to be a key participant. Nothing quite matched the excitement of firstly finding out all of these beloved films had alternate versions but through the generosity of the Superfan a third-generation VHS of almost another hour of footage from the greatest of them all could land on your doorstep and at once renew your enthusiasm and open up a whole new dialogue. For most of us, our first glimpse to these scenes was provided by mysterious images in the Topps trading cards, and now – thanks to the Internet – we could witness the cut Gauntlet sequence in its entirety.
In 2001, Capedwonder.com went live and from the outset established itself as the greatest online resource for the Reeve Movies to date. Curator Jim Bowers breathtaking online museum delved deeper into the archives than anybody thought possible, with behind the scenes images of amazing clarity and an unrivalled knowledge of the subject matter.
Later that year our patience and collective passion were finally rewarded with the release of the Superman The Movie Special Edition on the new format of DVD and later in 2006, the culmination of every aficionado’s dream with the release of Superman II: the Richard Donner Cut and a box set of alternate versions of all four movies. Such was the magnitude of this event that Dharmesh ultimately retired Superman Cinema, the long campaign over after Warner Brothers finally gave in to fan demand. Superman Returns may not have been the resurgence of the franchise everybody expected but it didn’t matter. What could ever eclipse entire sequences of Christopher Reeve & Marlon Brando thought lost 30 years previously restored to such brilliance anyway?
Seeing these movies restored through adult eyes (now on Blu-Ray!) served only to compound what my childhood self always somehow knew – that these films would define a genre and set the standard for everything that has come (and gone) since. There is a great deal of satisfaction now that Superman: The Movie has taken its rightful place in the US Library of Congress National Film Registry and in many ways it feels like we’ve collectively come full circle and personally since that starry night in the school hall….yet there is still so much more to discover.
The mission of SUPERMANIA then, is to continue to preserve and celebrate the Superman Movie Legacy by exploring these new discoveries and sharing them with like-minded Skykids such as yourselves. Thankfully I’m not alone in this endeavour and the fanbase for the Donnerverse is as omnipresent as it is strong – long may that continue. In the nine years since I started this modest blog I’ve been blessed in more ways than I can count as a direct result of my association with the series. Made friendships, seen and own rare artefacts, visit locations and yes, even play the man himself on film. To that end there are too many to name and thank but I must mention my good friends Jonathan Eric Tyrrell, Michael Fryer, Alexei Lambley-Steel, Sebastian Colombo, Kyle Hughes, Matt Derby, and the fiendishly gifted Jim Bowers & Jay Towers for their continued help, trust and support. There are many quotes I could use to celebrate these unique relationships but I think Supe-baby himself says he best when he tells us –
“We’re all part of the same team”.
My best and enjoy the site,