Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

A super festival and a Superman (1952-2004)

WARNING: The last paragraph of this column contains a major spoiler for the movie Deathtrap.

As I confided to you two years ago, I have come to feel, improbably enough, that I am now Lisa Douglas. I was referring to the character played by Eva Gabor in the old US sitcom Green Acres, the one who was dragged from her complacent and chic urban life by her spouse to a house needing a lot of work in the middle of farm country miles from anywhere. But some mornings I wake up and feel like Lisa’s husband Oliver, thumping my chest and breathing the fresh country air. Yes, life is good in the west of Ireland.

Then, suddenly, I realize where I am. I look around. There are green fields all around us. And these fields are full of cows. There are cows in the field across the road from us. There are cows in the field behind us. There are cows in the field next to us. This is what my life has become. I am living smack dab in the middle of a full-color Gary Larson cartoon!

Finally, it gets to be too much and I have to escape to a city again. So, here I am on my annual October jaunt to Cork. This capital of rebel country has become my current consistent film festival lifeline. I can count on the toes of at least five millipedes the number of film festivals I haven’t been able to attend this year. I did make it to Dublin in February, but only for three days. I didn’t make to the Seattle International Film Festival because I was in Ireland. I didn’t make it to the Galway Film Fleadh because I was in Seattle. But at least I’ve made it to Cork.

And Cork provides the authentic urban experience. I thought the streets were badly torn up last year and the year before, but this year they are really torn up. Supposedly, they have been spending all this time putting in a new sewer system, but that’s not a very convincing explanation for a city that has the spirit and energy to put on a really fine film festival. No, I believe what is going on is that everyone in the city is pulling together to get Cork into the Guinness Book of Records for having the most streets dug up at one time ever. And I’d say they are a shoo-in for the honors. You can’t walk anywhere in the city center without risk of falling in a trench or getting assaulted by a jackhammer. Well done, lads!

The first days of the festival were somewhat overshadowed by another one of those really bizarre (and, in this case, very sad) coincidences. The opening night gala film was Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing, about two young wheelchair-using Dublin men who jointly hire a young woman to assist them and the complications that ensue. This, along with Monday’s screening of the Belgian film Aaltra and Tuesday’s screening of the Swedish documentary David’s Stairway, was in conjunction with a Disability on Film seminar on Monday. Of course, no one in the world is more identified with championing the disabled than the actor Christopher Reeve, and it was as the film festival opened that we learned of his death. There was a personal twist to the coincidence for me, since the first day of the film festival was also the birthday of my closest childhood friend Eric, who is the same age as Reeve and who has used a wheelchair since his spine was broken in an accident 16 years ago. Strangely, I later learned that Reeve had died at the very moment that I was on the phone to wish Eric a happy birthday. Eric himself came extremely close to dying this past summer, as a result of a vicious and fast-acting infection, one of the ever-present risks of permanent paralysis. I am happy to report, anyway, that Eric is now doing fine and says he is happy to have made it to yet another birthday.

So, for me anyway, I will tend to remember the 49th Cork Film Festival as being an unplanned tribute to Christopher Reeve. (For the record, the festival’s official honoree is the late Irish director Brian Desmond Hurst, who is best known for the movie Scrooge, the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim.)

Reeve’s story touched the entire world because of his courage and hard work in the years after his accident in 1995. It is also the kind of story (a man has everything in life, but he loses it all in a matter of seconds, yet perseveres anyway) that, well, that they make movies about. He continued to act (and began to direct) after his accident, notably in a 1998 TV remake of Rear Window, but the films we will mainly remember him for will be those he made before 1995. First and foremost, of course, were the Superman movies, and no one before or since has been a better match for the role. Actors like Dean Cain and Tom Welling have their appeal, but they just don’t look, act or sound like super-heroes. Reeve did. It was entirely fitting and appropriate that he made a guest appearance last year in the latest iteration of the Superman story, the TV series Smallville.

The other role for which he will probably be most remembered, particularly by die-hard romantics, is the lead in the 1980 time-travel fantasy Somewhere in Time. He also appeared in Gray Lady Down, The Bostonians, The Aviator, Noises Off and The Remains of the Day. Personally, I would like to put in a word for his supporting performance in the 1982 film adaptation of Ira Levin’s play Deathtrap. In that film he played the student and lover of Michael Caine. Coming on the heels of two Superman movies, this role served notice that he wasn’t going to be a victim of typecasting. Indeed, the inspiration of Christopher Reeve is that he never seemed to be a victim ever.

-S.L., 14 October 2004

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