The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Monthly Archives: February 2012

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

Tom lives in a society which is virtually the same to our own, except for the significant population of superheroes within society. Tom isn’t a superhero, but, as you can guess from the title, all of his friends are superheroes. Apart from the notion of superheroes themselves, this isn’t a book about sci-fi or about newspaper journalists who jump into a phone-box and gain superhuman strength, but is about humanity and life in general. These superheroes are not hiding what makes them special; rather, they treat themselves and are often treated as though they are not special at all. Tom describes how in Toronto there are 249 superheroes, “none of whom have secret identities”, and it is through this manner that Kaufman tells a story about the human condition.

Not only is Tom friends with superheroes, but is in a relationship with one: The Perfectionist. She has the ability to put things into order with the power of the mind, which isn’t a stereotypical superpower, as are many of the powers within the novel, as they mostly seem to be extensions of human personality. The Perfectionist however is unaware of the existence of Tom, because on their wedding day, her ex-boyfriend, Hypno, used his power in order make Tom invisible to The Perfectionist. As you can tell, its slightly odd and complex, but the story involves Tom flying to Vancouver in order to make her see him before she finally moves on, 6 months after she was hypnotized.

Kaufman also brings up the question of whether or not superhuman powers are a gift or not. The Sloth, The Projectionist, The Battery and The Amphibian are some of the range of superheroes who are thrown in to add more quirk and laughs into the novel. The ‘heroes’ are shown as metaphors for ourselves and the human condition cleverly by Kaufman, with numerous of my friends mirroring The Sloth. Tom however is the real hero, and unsurprisingly triumphs in a world of superhuman talents, using the qualities many of us take for granted. Its an enjoyable book, and just an hours read, so there is no excuse not to read it. Regards 🙂

Must-See Film #5: The Elephant Man

A great man once said, “hey mate, I saw The Elephant Man and wrote a review of it if you still, like, write about those in your bloggy thing”. This great man, isn’t exactly a great man but a pathetic-ish teenager called William, who happens to be pretty good at the writing malarkey and has a pretty decent taste in films. So this is his opinion on a film I have been craving to see for ages and his review leaves me yearning even more. So here you go…

Of all the recorded cases of physical afflictions, few are as tragic or as poignant as that of Joseph (often called John) Merrick, known as “The Elephant Man”. Born with an assortment of horrific deformities and exhibited as a human curiosity in Victorian London, David Lynch’s magnificent drama from 1980 explores the friendship between Merrick (played by John Hurt) and Frederick Treves ( Anthony Hopkins), the surgeon who found the man beneath the vile perversion of Merrick’s form. 

Shot hauntingly in black and white, Lynch’s cinematography brilliantly invokes the two sides of Victorian London; the squalor and filth of the slums and the pristinely cleaned homes of the upper classes. The efforts gone to recreate Merrick’s appearance are astounding; Chris Tucker’s makeup was so convincing that the Academy was obliged to create a new Best Makeup category. But awards and camera tricks should never distract from the human drama and Lynch handles his material admirably. Slowly, we watch as Treves taps away at Merrick’s nervous and damaged psyche to reveal a sensitive, intelligent and articulate individual. In the wrong hands this could have made for dreadful, cloying viewing; instead it is immensely rewarding and moving, serving as a testimony to human dignity and courage. Hopkins delivers a fine performance as Treves but real acting plaudits go to John Hurt as Merrick. To be able to communicate at all from beneath that heavy mask is a considerable feat. To deliver such a beautifully nuanced performance is the mark of an exceptional actor. Hurt never stops communicating, brilliantly conveying with childlike wonder Merrick’s gain of self-confidence and self-worth, and fully meriting his Oscar nomination (one of eight for the film). This is best captured in a classic scene, where Merrick, hounded by an angry mob outside a train station, cries out “I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I…am …a man!

The Elephant Man has a couple of obvious flaws, lapsing occasionally into sentimentality and clumsily handling London’s class divide, but its overall message-that we should never judge by appearances-remains relevant. And if you don’t have a lump in your throat by the end, you haven’t got a heart.

Thanks Will Hunter, for making me still crave to watch this British classic. Regards 🙂