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December 28th, 2016

My thoughts sometimes include thoughts like this:

The film American Splendor is more what I wanted Man on the Moon to be than what Man on the Moon was.

I'll explain. Man on the Moon is the 1999 biopic of actor-comedian Andy Kaufman, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who wrote Ed Wood, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, and this year's American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson) and directed by Milos Forman. American Splendor is a 2003 film about writer and comics publisher Harvey Pekar, who started self-publishing his comic of the same name in the 1970s with such artists as R. Crumb doing the art. The film was made by documentary filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.

Both films are about talented people expressing their talents...differently, unexpectedly. Andy Kaufman was willing to go very, very far for any reaction and for eventual, hoped-for laughs; he could annoy audiences on his way to this. Sometimes he failed spectacularly. Often he confused and/or angered people, like when he started wrestling women, taunted pro wrestlers, then stepped into a Memphis wrestling ring, fully embodying his role as heel so that the Memphis crowd would haaaaaaaaaaate him. (Kaufman and future WWE star Jerry "The King" Lawler planned all this, including Lawler, more than once, using a disqualifying pile driver on Kaufman. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, ANYBODY.)

Harvey Pekar, a VA file clerk and music reviewer, was inspired by outlandish underground comics to tell deliberately non-outlandish stories about being busy, creative and neurotic in Cleveland. It was a particular brand of autobiography that got Pekar attention (including from NBC-era David Letterman); Pekar also used his comics-writing as a coping mechanism, such as when he lived through a bout with cancer in the 1990s.

I admire both Andy Kaufman and Harvey Pekar, both gone now: Kaufman in 1984, Pekar in 2010. Both of them earned their biopics; both deserve to be remembered. But as I've said before, Man on the Moon felt too straightforward for as bent a talent as Kaufman's. The big exception to this, and my favorite scene, is the film's opening.


He messes with us (well, Jim Carrey, dead-on as Kaufman, does). Kaufman fully approved of messing with people: that's a big reason plenty of people still wonder if Kaufman faked his own death. (I've long loved Peter David's story idea inspired by that.) At some level, I wanted the film to keep messing with the audience, but I understand why it mostly didn't. What Andy Kaufman did was hard; plenty of times he screwed up doing it. Would Man on the Moon have worked if it kept stopping for Kaufman, say, to come back onscreen and complain how this thing was changed and that other thing was dropped and this still other thing was a joke? Could the film have had more scenes that were simply unexpected, messing with us for effect? If they had, how could the filmmakers have done so in a way that best honored Kaufman?

The film American Splendor had an ace in the hole that Man on the Moon didn't have: a still-alive Harvey Pekar, appearing onscreen to talk about both his life and his reactions to the film. He narrates it. The film rotates between reenactments — Paul Giamatti as Pekar, Hope Davis as his eventual personal and professional partner Joyce Brabner — and the real Pekar and Brabner commenting. There are even animated versions of Pekar that show up. This sounds confusing, but trust me it works very well in context. And is affecting in context; there's a monologue by Giamatti as Pekar where he talks about learning of two other men named Harvey Pekar:


Not being a high-profile, large-budget, star-driven film like Man on the Moon, the American Splendor movie likely had more room to be offbeat in its approach, and I admire the film for doing so. I likely am holding Man on the Moon to a standard it could not possibly reach; what it does, it does very well by talented filmmakers, but I can still imagine a more Andy Kaufman-ish film that would be my ideal Andy Kaufman-ish film. We can always imagine an ideal anything.
Five years ago, Portland's Geek Trivia was in full swing, and in its larger venue of the McMenamins Kennedy School movie theater. (It had started very late 2009 at the bar Vendetta, where my picture in this entry's user icon was taken, and soon Geek Trivia really outgrew it.) Every other Tuesday, a few hundred of us formed teams and tried to answer more questions correctly than anyone else, for cool Things From Another World prizes. This contest was how I won my trip to San Diego ComiCon 2010, and I wanted a different challenge. With the okay of Bobby Roberts, who co-hosted with Cort Webber, I stopped playing Geek Trivia for a while and tried my hand at writing questions.

Over some months in 2011, back when I still worked for the construction company, I wrote over 50 trivia questions.

They used four. Cort and Bobby were, it turned out, really good at writing questions; maybe my contributions were redundant. That said, I enjoyed writing them, as well as the challenge of writing more like them; and I've pulled out my questions from one computer's files and I'll share them here.

To ease into sharing, I'll start with the four Cort and Bobby used.

* * *

1. You know that hope is a good thing, one of the best things, and no good thing ever dies, but you may not know that Frank Darabont A) was responsible for giving us smart-ass quippy Freddy Krueger and B) has written and directed FOUR Stephen King adaptations. Name them.

Answers: Darabont wrote and directed the short film "The Woman in the Room" (1983), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Green Mile (1999), and The Mist (2007). [Bobby changed it to just the three feature films, since "The Woman in the Room" is a deep cut.]

2. It took nearly all of the 1980s for producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber to make what became the 1989 Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. But earlier in the decade when they started trying to make the film, their Batman was going to star two Saturday Night Live alums as Batman and Robin. For 1 point each, who were going to play Batman and Robin?

Answers: Bill Murray as Batman, Eddie Murphy as Robin.

3. Name all three Karate Kids, including the one who actually learned Kung Fu. Actors' names, please.

Answer: Ralph Macchio, Hilary Swank, and Jaden Smith. (I added in a note to Bobby, "Mmmmmmmmaybe add the clue 'Two of them were trained by Pat Morita, one of them was trained by Jackie Chan,' unless that spells it out too much.")

4. The same real-life famous person has been portrayed on film by these actors: Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell — twice — and Bruce Campbell. Who is that real-life celebrity?

Answer: Elvis. I had an idea for bonus points: "Name as many of the four films where these actors played this person as you can." Kilmer was Elvis in True Romance; Russell played him in John Carpenter's TV movie Elvis and an uncredited Elvis (voice performance) in Forrest Gump; and Bruce Campbell played him in Bubba Ho-Tep.

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A few fictional words on their way.

Tomorrow I'll post a story. Fiction. Fanfic, to be more exact, inspired by the 2005 film Serenity. I hope the story is unexpected in a good way; it was an idea that occurred to me years ago that I eventually decided to get out of me.

The story, just over 3,100 words, is called "In Point of Fact." It's about someone I do not root for; I hope that will be clear. Still, it's been a while since I've published any fiction, particularly something serious. (This piece wasn't serious. I mean, come on, it's inspired by Spaceballs.)

I hope if you have an interest in and a fondness for Serenity and the show which led to it, Firefly, you will try it. The story goes live Thursday morning at 7:00.