Monday, October 11, 2004

You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly!

“Say, Jim! Whoo! That’s a bad outfit!”

Towards the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979, I would have been in the early stages of my sixth year on the Planet Earth, around the time the last son of Krypton crash-landed into my life. Whilst my peers were obsessing over George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away, I was awed by a different fantasy. To this day, Superman remains the finest superhero movie ever made, and I’m convinced that, regardless of advances in technology, it will never be bettered.

From the jagged, opaque, crystalline refuge of his Fortress of Solitude, to the urban sprawl of Metropolis and the spinning globe atop the offices of the Daily Planet, everything was perfectly realised as a world just like ours, but not. And the moment that crackled along my synapses and irrevocably changed me, in the split-second when I pledged my heart to the cinema forever: The bumbling, well-meaning Clark Kent rips his shirt asunder to reveal that S, before diving into a telephone booth and appearing in the bold red, yellow and blues, his cape billowing in the city night. And then his feet leave the ground.

“Easy, miss. I've got you.”
“You, you've got me? Who's got you?”


And it wasn’t perfection because of the now-primitive special effects, or the word-perfect screenplay, or the confident, assured direction, or the all-star cast, or the point-of-view of a six-year-old boy witnessing miracles (although all those things played a part). It was all down to Christopher Reeve. He was Clark Kent. And he will always be my Superman.

For someone as insanely devoted to comics as I am, I’ve never been into Superman comics. The character on the page never did it for me. I was spoilt from a tender, young age, because I saw the real thing. A bulletproof man who could jump buildings in a single bound, and was more powerful than a locomotive. Part of me never stopped believing that Christopher Reeve was really Superman. Clark Kent was just another fake identity in Superman’s Russian doll identity. When you peeled off all the layers of artifice, Christopher Reeve was a genuine superhero.

In 1995, the man who could fly was no longer able to walk. When he appeared at the 68th Academy Awards ceremony on stage in his wheelchair, I cried in a mixture of delight, joy, and sadness. Since then, he fought tirelessly for medical research to help cure the causes of paralysis, with limited, but by no means insignificant, success, hamstrung by political bureaucracy.

And now he's gone. And I can't think of a suitable goodbye that will do him justice, or that won't sound trite. But maybe I'm just not ready to say goodbye to him yet. So I'll leave it with these words from Jonathan Kent to his adoptive son, that could just as well apply to this greatest of American heroes:

“You can do all these amazing things, and sometimes you think that you will burst wide open unless you can tell someone about it, don't you? There's one thing I know for sure, son. And that is, YOU ARE HERE FOR A REASON. I don't know what it is, exactly, but I do know this much: it's NOT to score touchdowns.”

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