Man, I’m behind in my work and wasn’t planning on posting any more blogs today, but damnit, today would have been Christopher Reeve’s fifty-seventh birthday and that cannot pass without at least a mention. I’m sure everyone knows the basic story of Reeve’s life as an actor, a humanitarian and how he passed away all too soon, so I’m simply going to tell a quick story about seeing the first Superman movie as a kid and why I probably wouldn’t be blogging here and doing what I’m doing right now had I not.
Superman: The Movie came out when I was very young and I remember it as the first movie that I just had to see—I was sure I’d die if I didn’t. You have to remember this was the late 1970s and visual effects were not what they are now. Before this time, just to make someone look like they were realistically flying seemed like an impossibility. So seeing this movie and a Superman who could not only believably fly, but do a bunch of other cool things just blew my young mind.
Following is a clip of the scene where we (and the people of Metropolis) really see Superman for the first time (we catch a very brief glimpse of him flying away from the Fortress of Solitude earlier). Lois Lane is in a helicopter that malfunctions and hangs from the top of the Daily Planet building about to fall. Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, sees her from the street below, turns into Superman (after a funny phone booth gag) and flies up to save her.
When Superman lifted off the ground, the whole audience cheered. NO ONE had ever seen anything like this before. What’s brilliant about this scene is not only that he catches Lois which prompted more cheers from the audience, but it goes one step further. The helicopter itself starts plummeting to the ground and with Lois in one hand, Superman catches the falling helicopter with the other. The theater went wild. Here’s the scene:
But as great as the effects were, the movie would not have worked without Reeve. This is an underrated, brilliant performance. Think about it—not only does he make that potentially embarrassing costume work, his portrayal of the bumbling but kind-hearted Clark Kent has to serve as the heart of the film or we’re not going to care. Reeve not only pulls off two completely distinct roles successfully, but he brings a genuine emotion to the proceedings. If you think that’s an easy feat, just look at all the visual effects-filled movies out now that feel cold and mechanical. And when I had the chance to write for Lois & Clark, one of the most satisfying things was when I was able to work in a homage to Reeve and it didn’t get cut.
I walked out of that movie and knew what it was to believe in magic. I did indeed believe a man could fly as the film’s tagline promised. I fell in love with the movies and the idea that on celluloid, anything and everything was possible. The path I wanted to take seemed clear now. And here I am, thirty years later!
So happy birthday, Mr. Christopher Reeve wherever you may be! Thank you for helping one kid to believe.