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August 29, 2003 - Image 68

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-29

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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life of Harvey Pekar, the real-life,
lowly file clerk who created an underground
autobiographical comic-book series.

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68

n the biopic American
Splendor, cranky comic-book
icon Harvey Pekar frets in the
supermarket. "This may be the
shortest line, but I'm taking a risk
because it's an old Jewish lady," he -
says. When the woman argues with
the manager, he storms out of the
store.
The banal but frustrating scenario
is typical of Pekar's autobiographical
comics, the source for the well-
received film. The
movie chronicles his
miserable life as a
working-class intel-
lectual in Cleveland;
his dead-end job as a
file clerk; his prickly
third marriage; his
weird friends; a can-
cer scare; unplanned
parenthood; and his
struggle to turn his
life into a comic,
although he can't
draw.
An edgy hybrid of
Paul Giamatti, n fight, as Harvey Pekar, the Cleveland
cartoon, drama and
hospital clerk who turns his "ordinary" life into comic art,
documentary, the
with Hope Davis, left, as his feisty wife: Finding splendor
film — by husband-
in the mundane.
and-wife filmmakers
Robert Pulcini and
His mother, the daughter of a
Shari Springer Berman — won this
shochet (ritual slaughterer), was a
year's top prize at Sundance.
Communist who read the Daily
While previous comic-book super-
Worker and refused to attend syna-
heroes reflect their Jewish creators'
gogue. His father, an Orthodox tal-
fear of anti-Semitism, Pekar empow-
mudic scholar, agonized over having
ers people in a different way. "By
to work Saturdays to eke out a living
recording the average person's mun-
in the family grocery store.
dane struggles, he elevates the 'little
"Every night he would play cantori-
guy,'" Pulcini, 38, said.
al records, the last thing before he
Pekar's wry observations about
went to bed," Pekar said, quietly. "A
these unsung heroes make him "the
lot of it vvas so mournful it would
ultimate mentsh of the comic world,"
drive me crazy, and I wouldn't be able
Tikkun wrote in 1992. In the tradi-
to sleep.
tion of Yiddishist-socialist authors of
Pekar's 1992 comic Sheiboneh Beis
the early 20th century, he is "the self-
educated, militantly egalitarian Jew in Hamikdosh describes how he tried to
like the music but couldn't — until
a world of pedigreed deceivers."

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Not that Pekar, 63, has escaped his
own case of Jewish paranoia.
"His pessimism feels like Jewish
immigrant angst," said Paul Giamatti,
who plays the artist in the film.
"That was crucial for me in
approaching the role — his family's
Holocaust legacy and the financial
instability of his childhood home."
. Recently, at the Four Seasons Hotel
in Beverly Hills, Calif., Pekar —
looking incongruously cheerful in a
Hawaiian shirt — described growing
up with Polish parents who lost rela-
tives in the Shoah.

.11

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