© 2004 by Raymond Weschler
Harvey Pekar…………………………………………………….Paul Giamatti
A frustrated and somewhat depressed twice-divorced man who works as a file clerk in a Cleveland, Ohio hospital. He discovers he has a real talent for writing, and with the help of some artist friends, he becomes well known for writing a comic book called American Splendor, which is about the struggles of his own ordinary life.
Joyce Brabner……………………………………………………..Hope Davis
A politically active and often clinically-depressed young woman from the state of Delaware who is a fan of Harvey’s comic book, who comes out to Cleveland to meet him, and who soon becomes his 3rd wife.
Robert Crumb…………………………………………………….James Urbaniak
A semi-famous comic book writer who is a good friend of Harvey’s
(In real life, Crumb is best known for making the first X-rated cartoon, Fritz the Cat, in the early 1970s).
Toby Radloff……………………………………………………….Judah Friedlander
A friend of Harvey’s who works at the same hospital, who is a classic “nerd,” and a socially awkward young man who may also be autistic.
Mr. Boats………………………………………………………..…Earl Billings
Another co-worker and friend of Harvey’s at the hospital.
One of the artists who helps draw Harvey’s comic book.
Fred’s 10 year old daughter.
David Letterman…………………………………………………..David Letterman
A famous TV talk show host who had the real Harvey
Pekar on his show several times in the 1980s.
This film is a true story, based on the life of the comic book writer Harvey Pekar, who became well-known by writing American Splendor. This is a comic book that follows Pekar’s own life as a struggling file clerk in a Cleveland hospital, and because the real Harvey Pekar is seen discussing the making of this very film within the movie, in some ways this is a movie about a writer within a comic book within a movie. This makes it occasionally confusing, but it’s always interesting and an excellent look at those Americans who are constantly trying to balance their boring but necessary jobs with their desires to do something more creative and exciting with their lives.
It follows Pekar’s life from his childhood in Cleveland after World War 2 until the 1960s, when he becomes a file clerk and occasional jazz record collector and reviewer, and then on to the 1970s, 80s and beyond. Eventually, he marries twice, divorces twice, and then finally settles down with his third and final wife, Joyce, who was one of his early fans and read American Splendor faithfully (“Splendor” is a good word for elegance, grace or magnificence).
Along the way, he becomes friends with the comic book writer Bob Crumb, who would go on to become one of the most famous comic book writers ever, and he appears frequently on the Late Night TV show with David Letterman, which makes Harvey a bit more famous than he would have been. Of course, life is still always a struggle for Harvey, his job remains as boring as ever, he faces a bad year of fighting against cancer, and there is always something difficult because “ordinary life is complex stuff.” Still, with Joyce’s love and help, he manages to survive, at least until the making of this very movie.
Some Words and Expressions that You May not Know
Harvey faces life without his second wife….and without his voice.
Trick or treat!
The words used by children who go door to door for candy on Halloween night (October 31st). A “trick” is something designed to fool a person, and a “treat” is something delicious to eat (or possibly a gift).
All the superheroes on our porch! Ain’t that cute!
A “superhero” is an idealized comic book character like Superman.
A “porch” is the covered outdoor entrance to a house (Never say “ain’t”!).
Superman, Batman and his sidekick Robin.
A “sidekick” is a person closely associated with a better known or more powerful partner (Batman and Robin are famous comic book characters who also had a well known TV show in the 1960s).
I’m a character in a celebrated underground comic book. [written]
If a piece of art is “celebrated,” it is widely praised or admired.
If art is “underground,” it is enjoyed by a small subculture of
people and not by the great majority.
If you’re wondering how a nobody guy like me
ended up with so many incarnations, pay attention.
To “end up” in a certain way is to finish that way. “Incarnations” are different forms or states of being or existence, often associated with different characteristics such as goodness or evil.
Although he’s a pretty scholarly cat, he never got much of a formal education.
“Scholarly” refers to academic or serious book studying or research. A “cat” is a ridiculously slangy way of referring to a person and “formal education” refers to schooling, especially at the university level.
For the most part, he lived in shit neighborhoods, held shit
jobs, and is now knee deep in a disastrous second marriage.
Note that “shit” can be used as a vulgar adjective meaning very bad or lousy. If someone is “knee deep” in something, they are deeply involved in it. “Disastrous” is a powerful adjective meaning catastrophic or totally horrible, often to the point where something is destroyed or ruined.
If you’re the kind of person looking for romance or escapism,
or some fantasy figure to save the day, guess what!
“Escapism” is any kind of entertainment that lets you escape the hardships of everyday life, such as a comic book or science fiction movie. A “fantasy figure” is a character that is greater than possible in real life, such as the superheroes from the comics, like Superman or Batman.
OK, you got four takes. You ought to be able to patch one together from there.
In the movie business, a “take” is an attempt to put a scene on film (often it requires several takes to film a scene that can be used). “To patch together” two or more things is to put them together in a way that will work well (A “patch” is a piece of cloth that is sewn over a hole).
Let’s go to the next sequence.
A sequence is any part of a greater series of events. Here, a sequence
in a film is one of many scenes that form a part of the larger story.
Orange soda is alright.
“Soda” is a common word for a soft drink, such as
coke. As an adjective, “alright” means fine or OK.
Did you actually read the script?
A “script” refers to the words that are said in a movie,
usually memorized by the actors before filming starts.
Do you feel weird saying this stuff?
“Weird” is an excellent adjective meaning strange, odd or bizarre.
“Stuff” is another word for things in general, or in this case, words.
I don’t know how well my voice is going to hold out.
In this context, “to hold out” means to last or survive.
Doc, you gotta help me, man.
“Doc” is a slangy way of addressing a doctor. Note that in rapid speech, “have got to”---> “gotta,” and that “man” is a very slangy and common filler word that’s used to express emotions such as frustration.
My old lady’s dumping me because I can’t talk.
“Old lady” is a slangy and dated expression for a wife (or possibly mom).
“To dump” a person is to break up with them or leave them after having been involved with them romantically. (It literally means to throw away).
Now that she’s got a Ph.D., she’s some hot shit academic star.
A Ph.D. is the highest degree offered by a university. As an adjective,
“hot shit” is a crude and colloquial way of saying excellent or impressive. “Academic” refers to school, and more specifically, a university.
My being a file clerk was fine when I was
signing the damn checks for her tuition.
A “file clerk” is one who helps organize papers in an office (A file is a group of related papers or documents). “Tuition” is the cost of classes
at a college or university.
First I got marital problems, and now you’re
telling me I got cancer. For Christ’s sake, man.
“Marital” is an adjective that refers to anything related to marriage.
“For Christ’s sake” is a common way of expressing emotion such as anger or frustration (It’s used by all types of people, including the non-religious).
You’ve got a nodule in your vocal chords,
probably from screaming and yelling so much.
A “nodule” is a small bump, and a person’s vocal chords are the organs that produce sound. “To scream” and “yell” both mean to shout.
His vow of silence begins. [written]
A “vow of silence” is a sacred promise to not speak or make any sounds,
Hey come on, what is this?
The most versatile phrasal verb in all of English,
here meaning “be serious,” or “stop being silly.”
This plebian lifestyle just isn’t working for me anymore.
“Plebian” is a sad adjective which means poor and struggling (It is named after the Plebes who lived during the Roman empire). “Lifestyle” is an important word that refers to the general way a person lives their life, or possibly to how they follow their basic values or beliefs.
So, it’s a few months later and I’m working
my funky file clerk gig at the VA hospital.
“Flunky” means poor, trivial or unimportant. A “gig” is a very slangy word for a job or a concert for a musician. The “VA” refers to the Veterans Administration, which is the government division which takes care of former soldiers.
Lesbian? Where the hell did she get that shit, man?
A “lesbian’ is a female homosexual. Note that “the hell” is added to WH questions to show emotion such as anger or surprise. In this case, “shit” is a vulgar noun that refers to lies or other nonsense.
Shun the polluted flock, live like that stoic bird.
“To shun” a person is to avoid or stay away from them. A “flock” is the name for a group of birds. If a person is “stoic,” they are able to survive well without material comforts like a nice place to live or good food.
It means stay away from the crowds of ordinary people and do your own thing.
A colloquial way of saying “do what you like (or want).”
It means don’t compromise yourself for women.
“To compromise yourself” is to do something that is against
your own values or beliefs, just to get something you want.
Probably listening to all that loud rock stuff. It’s all junk.
Another word for trash or garbage.
Mr. Boats didn’t like any blues or anything like that.
A type of music about life’s struggles, first created by African-Americans.
Prior to that, I collected comic books.
“Prior to” means before (in time).
I was always a collector; I admit having an obsessive-compulsive quality in me.
If a person is “obsessive-compulsive,” they have an uncontrollable psychological need to do something, usually over and over again.
With the encouragement of Crumb, Harvey becomes a comic book writer.
You go to thrift shops and garage sales because you
think you’re going to find something really rare.
A “thrift shop” sells used clothes and other goods for poor people.
A “garage sale” is the sale of various goods that a person has collected
in their own house over the years, such as furniture and books.
Once in a while you’ll come up with something that will whet your appetite.
“To come up with” something is to think of it for the first time. “To whet a person’s appetite” is to give them just a little bit of something so that they’ll soon want more of it.
I was with some buddies at a junk sale looking for some choice sides,
when I met this sly retiring cat from Philadelphia named Bob Crumb.
A “buddy” is a friend. A “junk sale” is a rarely used term for a garage sale. “Choice sides” refers to old records with jazz music. If a person is “sly,” they are clever in a subtle way, and if they’re “retiring,” they’re shy, though this is rarely used. A “cat” is silly and dated word for a guy.
You know the guy, Fritz the Cat.
A famous movie that is considered the first pornographic or X-rated cartoon, created by Bob Crumb. It came out in the early 1970s.
You are a cheap bastard, Harvey. :: I know
I’m tight, man, I live on a government wage.
“A cheap bastard” is a crude and insulting way of referring to a person who doesn’t like to spend money. “Tight” is another way of saying cheap or stingy with money. A “wage” is another word for salary (Government workers have a lot of job security but they are usually not paid well).
Most of my records are back in Philly.
A slangy way of referring to the city of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania.
A very common colloquial word for good, excellent, fine, etc.
You should see his comics, Harvey. They’re out of sight.
A dated but fun way of saying excellent, or more colloquially, totally cool.
I’m into comics myself.
To be “into” something is to be really interested in it.
This is terrific. I really dig your work, man.
“Terrific” is a good alternative to excellent or great. “To dig” something
is to really like it, though this is very old-fashioned slang.
Can I get good bread for it? :: Not yet.
A dated slang word for money. Common in
this film, but no longer in real life.
It’s more than just an exercise. It’s breaking
ground, man! There’s some wild shit in here, Bob!
In this case, an “exercise” is the practice of something that is common and well known. “To break ground” is to do something different, that has not been done before. “Some wild shit” is a vulgar and slangy way of referring to something that is crazy and different.
Crumb and I hung out a lot back then.
“To hang out” with a person is to pass time with them.
Check it out, man.
One way of telling a person to look at something carefully.
Pretty scary. :: You don’t know the half of it.
A way of telling a person they don’t realize how amazing
(or good or bad) something is that they’re discussing.
Eventually, people got hip to Crumb’s art work,
and he started hanging out with the Bohemian crowd.
“To get hip to” a person is to start to appreciate and like them (though this is dated). A “Bohemian crowd” referred to hippies, beatniks and other members of society who hung out in cafes and discussed philosophy and listened to jazz while avoiding mainstream American life.
He got sick of greeting cards and moved to San Francisco, where
he got the whole underground comic scene off the ground.
“Greeting cards” are cards for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. The “underground comic scene” refers to the subculture of young people who were very interested in comic books. “To get a social movement off the ground” is to get it started so that it grows and becomes more popular.
It’s not like I tried to keep her captive.
“To keep a person captive” is to hold them physically
against their will, as if they were in a prison.
Don’t think I’m buying any of this growth crap.
In this case, “to buy” something means to believe it, and here, “growth” refers to spiritual growth, or perhaps the process of becoming more mature through experience. “Crap” is an excellent and vulgar word for lies, nonsense or bullshit.
Everybody is always talking how bad experiences
can help you to grow and all that clichéd stuff.
If something is “cliché,” it is said so often that it becomes tiresome.
I got to see this chick in New York.
A dated but still used slang word for a young woman or teen girl.
I’m just getting sick of the whole scene.
Here, “the scene” refers to the subculture of comic books and their fans.
When you croak, man, you’re going to leave something behind.
“To croak” is a slangy way of saying to die (It is also the sound a frog makes). Harvey is telling his friend Crumb that his comics will still be read after he is no longer alive.
It sure beats a gig like mine, being a nobody
flunky and selling records on the side for a buck.
In this context, “to beat” means to be better than. A “gig” is very slangy for a job, and a “nobody flunky” is Harvey’s way of referring to an unimportant person. A “buck” is a common colloquial word for a dollar.
Picking the right check-out line is an art.
The “check-out line” is the line of people waiting to pay for food at a grocery story. Note people often debate weather something is an art
(a form of expression) or a science (an act of critical observation).
Frank, I need a price-check.
A common noun at stores when a cashier needs
to find out the price of a product before selling it.
I’m a yid myself, and women in my family
are like that, but I never get used to it.
“Yid” is a racist word to describe Jewish people. “To get used to something” is to become comfortable with it after experiencing it a lot.
I may be cheap, but I got limits, man.
A person who is “cheap” does not like to spend money.
Wake up! You’re whole life is being eaten away by this kind of crap!
Again, a vulgar but good alternative to bullshit, lies or nonsense.
Is this all a working stiff like you can expect?
A “working stiff’ is a working class person who struggles to
make enough money (Stiff means rigid or not easily bent).
Are you going to suffer in silence…or are you going to make a move?
Here, “to make a move” means to do something
dramatic that will change life fundamentally.
I figure the guy’s who are doing animal comics
and superhero stuff, they’re really limited.
“To figure” means to think (or possibly to guess). This is Harvey’s way of saying the more traditional comic book writers are not very imaginative.
Underground stuff like yours has been really
subversive, and it’s opened up things politically.
If something is “subversive,” it works to weaken or even overthrow
the dominant or powerful classes or forces in society. “To open up” something is to change it in such a way that lots of people begin to talk about it, or think about it in a different way.
Stuff that the everyman has gotta deal with.
One way of referring to everyday, common people.
You’ve turned yourself into a comic hero. :: Sort of, but there’s no idealized shit.
If something is “idealized,” it is made to look better or more impressive than it really is. This is Harvey’s way of saying that the way he describes himself in his comics is realistic or true.
There’s no phony bullshit. This is the real thing, man.
If something is “phony,” it is fake or intended to deceive or mislead. “Bullshit” refers to lies, half-truths or nonsense. Crude but very useful! “The real thing” refers to that which is totally true or genuine.
Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.
If something is “ordinary,” it is commonplace, and if it is “complex,”
it is complicated. “Stuff” of course, refers to things in general. This is
one of the great lines in this movie.
Can I take them home and illustrate them?
“To illustrate” a scene is to draw or paint it.
What’s up with your voice? All of a sudden
you sound fine. :: I guess you conned me.
“What’s up with” is a common and colloquial way of asking what is going on with a particular situation, especially if surprising or unexpected things are happening. “To con” a person is to fool or trick them.
Dishwashing has always been my Achilles heel. [written]
A person’s “Achilles heel” is their weakest point or feature. It is based on a myth from ancient Greek mythology, in which the God Achilles was covered all in gold except for his heel, on the bottom of his foot.
A little glue should get the coat through one more winter. [written]
“Glue” is a sticky white liquid that keeps two things stuck together,
and to “get through” a winter is to be able to survive it.
I’m desperately lonely and horny as hell.
“Horny” is a useful colloquial word for a person who strongly desires to have sex, and “as hell” is slangy filler that adds emphasis (and thus it means “very,” although it comes after the adjective).
Now there’s a reliable disappointment. [written]
If something is a “disappointment,” it is not as good as expected (This
is a clever line since Harvey’s looking in the mirror when he says it).
I guess he’s about average. :: Average is dumb.
An important word meaning commonplace or typical.
Fuck that. :: That’s my stories by yours truly.
Note that “fuck” can be used as a transitive verb to express disgust or anger. “Yours truly” is a interesting and colloquial way of saying “myself.’
Hot off the presses!
A well known line that refers to newspapers that are published with new and exciting news (A press is the machine a newspaper is printed on).
We have a regular Hemingway here.
Ernst Hemingway is considered one of the
greatest American writers of the 20th century.
I don’t go in for any of that macho crap.
“To go in for” something is to really enjoy or like it. “Macho” is a
Spanish word that means super manly, or perhaps strong and muscular.
You’re in there. Take it easy, for Christ’s sake.
If you tell a person to “take it easy,” you’re telling them to relax. “For Christ’s sake” is a way of expressing emotion such as anger or frustration.
A buddy of mine and some of his friends did the art work.
Another word for friend or pal.
It’s not polite to grab things.
“Polite” means considerate, friendly and well behaved. “To grab” something is to take or seize it quickly or with great force.
They love it. They can’t get enough of it.
If you “can’t get enough of” something, you always want more of it.
Harvey looks to other women, and Toby offers some spiritual advice.
A brand new decade, same old bullshit.
A “decade” is a period of 10 years, such as the 1960s, 1990s, etc…
Sure, he gets lots of recognition for his writing now.
“Recognition” is formal acknowledgment or even admiration for
having done or accomplished something, usually which is positive.
His comics are praised by all the important media
types telling people what to think, but