19/09/2009



Infinity minus one second


“You’re a dreamer Lex Luthor,
a sick twisted dreamer.”
Superman

Jor-El was the father of the newborn Karl-El. They lived a long, long time ago in a far, far away galaxy, on a planet called Krypton. Krypton was cold. Its sun was dying. Soon, a collision would occur. Icy Krypton would melt then burn. Baked Alaska. In order to save his son, Jor-El placed his baby in a little star-cradle made out of crystals.

You’ll carry me inside you all the days of your life, you’ll make my strength your own, see my life through your eyes as your life will be seen through mine… The son becomes the father and the father… the son,” says Jor-El to his son, says Marlon Brando to the audience. Looking straight at the camera through the eyes of his son, Jor-El is Marlon Brando and Marlon Brando plays nothing else than the father of Superman. If God made man to his own image, Marlon Brando made Superman to his own : “The son becomes the father and the father… the son.”

The crew on the movie set is amazed: Jor-El is talking from his heart but Marlon Brando is reading his lines as he refuses to learn the dialog by heart.

“It is wonderful not having to learn your lines. You gain time and nobody can tell the difference. It makes you more spontaneous, because you really have no idea about what you’re going to do. You have a vague idea of what you’re going to say, you say it and then you cannot remember what you really wanted to say,” says Marlon Brando in a January 1979 Playboy magazine interview about his conception of acting in Superman. 

Marlon Brando worked on set 13 days. He received for this time period a paycheck of $3,700,000. For being the father of Karl-El, the Holy Father of the most powerful man on earth, a.k.a. Superman, Marlon Brando worked at a rate of $8 a second. If we consider his financial contract allowing him to get 10% of the worldwide sales gross of the movie, we can raise his rate to thirty bucks a second. This can be considered a huge amount of money per second, but after all, as Andy Warhol once said, “Art is money”. Can we seriously imagine that Superman could have been Superman if his father had not been Marlon Brando? Could Superman have reached our planet from a far distant universe, could he have flown in his crystal spaceship if he had not sprung from the cosmic semen of this extraordinary extraterrestrial father? And so, young Karl-El lands on planet Earth and later becomes this superhero disguised in prêt-à-porter polyester who saves mankind and the population of Metropolis a whole lot of times.

A Christian Saint-Superman ?
The Miracle of the Child Falling from the Balcony by Simone Martini (c. 1324)


Of course who could believe such a story? A Metropolis television news broadcast does not hesitate to describe the unbelievable event as a sort of fantastic hoax. So far, Superman doesn’t even have a name yet; the Metropolis Post carries the headline: “It flies.” The Daily News writes: “Look Ma — No Wires!” and the Daily Planet : “Caped Wonder Stuns City”.

Journalism is a leitmotif throughout the whole Superman franchise. As everybody knows Clark Kent is the human body double of the yet-to-be-named Superman. “Clark Kent” is a nerdy cover, Clark Kent is a pretender, a fraud, a journalist. Clark Kent offers a kind of journalistic legitimacy to the mythological tale of Superman. Factual journalism is the flip side of imaginary fiction and you can turn one over and get the other in less than a second. Such is the transformation of Clark Kent into Karl-El: quick, slick and insidious like a subliminal advertising message. 

If Superman does not endorse any product on his clothes, if you don’t see any brand named on his cape, any Coca-Cola logo flying through the clouds, that doesn’t mean the producers have avoided the principle of product placement: Superman grows up on earth eating Cheerios. Here lies within the movie an explicit twenty seconds, minimalistic yet at the same time brashly commercial, a twenty seconds consecrated to the glory of Young Superman eating his oat cereal The scene is shot at …sunrise. What solar light of ambrosia, what a shining star it is that powers the iridescent O, oh Cheerios, what cheer you bring us! If mead be the nectar of Gods, Cheerios is the delight of simple mortals – sweet, and not at all sour like Popeye’s green spinach. 
Later at night, later in the movie, Superman saves a white cat named Frisky. Hmm. It possibly reminds you of…Friskies cat food?

A failing Pagan Superman ?
The Sun or the Fall of Icarus by M.-J. Blondel (1819) 

The extraordinary extraterrestrial sells well; the press loves him, so do advertisers and advertising agencies. The Flying Newcomer is a sexual icon, a man turned into a luminous entity of desire. But the superhero does not have a name yet. Like any fantasy or product for sale, the creature needs a name and it shall be named by a woman. The chief editor of the Daily Planet wants an exclusive interview with the superhero because as he says :

It could be the single most important interview
since God talked to Moses.

Here are some excerpts from Lois Lane’s 1978 interview with Superman – not published, like Marlon Brando’s interview, in Playboy magazine, but rather in the Daily Planet, established in 1775:

- Let’s start with your vital statistics. Are you married ?
- Huh, no I’m not.
- Do you have a girlfriend ?
- No, I don’t but if I did Miss Lane, you would be the first to know about it.
- How old are you ?
- Over 21.
- How tall are you ?
- About 6’4.
- And how much do you weight ?
- Oh, around 225.
- 225?
- Well I assume then that the rest of your bodily functions are normal ?
- Sorry, I beg your pardon ?
- Well, putting it delicately… do you… eat ?
- Yes, yes I do when I’m hungry.
- You do, of course you do, well, then is it true that can see through anything?
- Yes I can, pretty much.
- What color are the panties I’m wearing?... Oh, I’m sorry I embarrassed you, didn’t I ?
- Oh, no, Miss Lane, it’s just…
- Pink.
- What…?

Their mouths are closed so here is what their eyes said :

- Your panties are pink…
- Do you like Pink ?
- I like pink very much, Lois.

Pink is the color and we can almost hear the two characters whispering over virtual sensual silk lingerie. Superman is of course wearing red and tight briefs which display with grace his male attributes. And Lois looses herself in endless fantasies of instantaneous orgasms, permanent voluptuousity. As their lips almost touch…

- Why are you?
- I’m sorry?
- I mean, “Why are you here ?”.There must be a reason for you to be here.
- Yes, I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way.

After a romantic flying session hand in hand through the skyline of Metropolis, Lois falls even more under the spell of the superhero, the Nietzschean shaved or hairless queer Übermensch.

Lois goes linguistic:
- What a super man…
(She pauses.)
- Superman!



The harder they fall.
The Fall of Phaëton, engraving by Hendrick Goltzius (1588)

The next morning the Daily Planet front page headline is: “I spent the night with Superman”.
Karl-El the extraterrestrial creature, Clark Kent the terrestrial journalist finally gets a name and becomes Superman. But one main question has not been answered yet:

- How fast do you fly ?
- Oh, I don’t know, I have never actually bothered to time myself.

If Metropolis television stations follow the exploits of Superman in real time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the superhero seems to have the power of ubiquity. He can be here and there and now – in no time. In his crystalline and icy fortress of solitude, Jor-El and Karl-El talk about the nature of time:

- First you cannot save humanity 28 hours a day.
- 24.
- or 24 as it is in Earth time.

On earth, it is both day and night at the same time, Summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere. Yes, this is an earthling contradiction, as Superman is Clark Kent and Clark Kent is Superman. Earth rotates on itself. And, also, earth orbits the sun. And on this pale blue dot, one day Lois dies in her red car during a giant earthquake. Superman thunders his sorrow and despair. He soars up toward the sky, the white clouds, crosses the atmosphere and reaches the dark stellar night. According to physics, one needs to attain escape velocity – the speed of at least 11 kilometers per second – in order to break free from earth’s gravity. Confronted with such pain, Jor-El’s voice echoes in orbit around the blue planet. Here is the father’s commandment :

“It is forbidden for you to interfere with human history”.

As if the Holy Spirit told his son Jesus not to interfere with human business! Groaning with pain but possessing God-like power, Superman flies around the earth, in the opposite direction of its rotation, covering the distance of the equatorial circumference in less than half a second at a staggering 22 kilometers per second. But Superman is still slower than the earth, because the earth flies around the sun at an incredible 30 kilometers a second. Were Marlon Brando’s thirty bucks per second worth the 22 kilometers per second of Superman? Time is precious, time is money, time is running – running out. Isn’t the dead Lois, pale Ophelia, already crossing the dark water of the Styx to the Underworld? Superman ain’t no Orpheus so ya better hurry! Dazed but energized, the superhero accelerates to the point where he stops the earth which begins spinning backwards, rewinding the course of time. Ah-hah, that’s how it shall be done!

Always on time, Superman saves Lois before the catastrophe ever happened. This action, the power of it… is magnificent. It’s comparable, on more than a conceptual level, to absolute speed – you know, 300,000 kilometers per second – in other words, the speed of light. Well, folks, as Jor-El says at the beginning of the movie:



“This is no fantasy, no careless product of wild imagination”.

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