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August 29, 2003 - Image 69

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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he was asked to review a cantorial
record as a freelance critic in the
1970s.
_ "Then I could see the beauty of it,"
said Pekar, who by then had lost his
father. He named the '92 comic after
the most famous song of his father's
favorite cantor, Moshe Koussevitz ky.
While Pekar now considers himself
a champion of Jewish music, he pre-
ferred jazz albums in his youth. It was
while scouring a 1962 garage sale for
LPs that he met underground comic
artist Robert Crumb, who dubbed
him "a prototypical seething Jewish
hipster."
Their friendship proved fortuitous:
"His work got me thinking that
comics didn't have to be just about
superheroes but about wage slaves
like me," Pekar said. When Pekar
showed him the storylines he had cre-
ated, Crumb agreed to illustrate
them.
The result, in 1976, was American
Splendor, which made Pekar a godfa-
ther of autobiographical comics.
Recurring characters included his
nerdy co-worker, Toby Radloff (Judah
Friedlander in the film), and an eld-
erly pal who recalls pushcart peddlers
in 1987's Pa-aypr Reggs!
One strip rants about why Yiddish
author I.J. Singer tops I.B. Singer;
others describe Pekar's complex rela-
tionship with his wife, Joyce Brabner,
who alternately praised and grumbled
about her husband during an inter-
view.
"I'm supposed to be the balabusta
while the house is falling down
around us," she said, wryly. "And
there's Harvey lying on the couch,

FRESH MEMOS HRH

American Splendor, rated R,
opens Friday, Aug. 29, at the
Landmark Main Art Theatre in
Royal Oak. (248) 542-0180.

FRESHMEXICANGRIE

IT'S WHAT'S HAPPENING IN
FRESH MEXICAN FOOD!

with his elbows sticking through his
sleeves, reading and reading because
Jews are supposed to be the People of
the Book. It's like 'knowledge is gold-
en but money, well, that will take
care of itself.'"
In fact, financial concerns were a
reason Pekar sought to turn Splendor
into a film starting in 1980. Two
decades later, he finally enlisted pro-
ducer Ted Hope and filmmakers
Pulcini and Berman, known for lively
documentaries such as Off the Menu:

The Last Days of Chasen's.
"Our first point of bonding with
Harvey was that we come from ethnic
backgrounds he can relate to —
Jewish and Italian," Berman, 39, said.
"The second point was that we were
not going to turn him into some
fake, Hollywood hero."
The writer-directors cast Giamatti
(Storytelling, Big Fat Liar), known for -
uncannily precise portrayals of losers,
to play the gloomy Jew. One of
Giamatti's techniques: "I found a CD
of cantorial music and listened to it
to evoke a melancholy mood."
Pekar, in person, transitions from
melancholy to fretful — the kind of
guy who'd agonize over the supermar-
ket checkout line.
"I'm obsessive-compulsive and
unhealthily pessimistic, and the suc-
cess of the film hasn't changed that,"
he said. ❑

FRESHINEICANGRHI

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Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar (left, with Sylvia Kauders): "This may be the
shortest line, but IM taking a risk because it an old Jewish lady" he says in
`American Splendor"

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8/29

2003

69

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