Premiere in Pasadena
There's a nice little documentary With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story and it had its theatrical premiere last night at the iPics Theaters in Pasadena, where I believe it is henceforth playing for a while. That looks like a great place to catch a film, by the way: Wide, reclining chairs…a little button with which you can summon someone to bring you food or beverage, etc. I'm almost afraid to see a movie in a place like that for fear I'll want to move in.
Since I'm in this film, I was invited and at first, I wasn't going to attend. I've seen the movie and whatever else I think of it is eclipsed by my utter dislike for seeing myself on the screen — especially in too-close close-ups (I don't even like most people to be that near me, let alone any cameras) and before I lost a lot of weight.
Well, I should say more about it than that: It's a good introduction to Stan — one that captures his current existence and a lot of his past quite well. Now, you have to consider that in this context: It's a film done with Stan's participation and approval. It is not an unbiased exposé of his life, dredging up scandals or things he would prefer to kick under the carpet. That's not to fault it in any way and its makers — Terry Douglas, Nikki Frakes and Will Hess — made exactly the film they set out to make and they made it well. Stan comes across quite charming and deserving in it, though he is often upstaged by his delightful wife Joan.
So if it meant just going to see the film again, I wasn't going to go. But I was also curious about the event and had to be out that way anyhow for something else. As it turned out, seeing the movie was the least of my worries. Few there seemed to want to leave the big party and go off into one of the screening rooms at the complex to catch the film. I guess they all figured they could do that another time. Why miss any of the grand soiree?
When I checked in, a nice lady handed me my pass and directed me to a line. "They want you to walk the red carpet," she said. The red carpet was a gantlet of photographers and media, poised to capture photos and video of attendees, mostly with Stan who was out there, shaking hands, hugging and delivering sound bites to eager microphones. Behind it all, of course, was one of those walls imprinted with the name of the product and in this case, the names of many sponsors and companies doing business with Stan's enterprises.
I asked the nice lady, "Do I have to walk the red carpet? I mean, will they throw me out if I don't walk the red carpet?"
She said, "Well, no…but you are supposed to walk the red carpet."
Abdicating all personal responsibility as I so often do, I walked around the red carpet and stood behind the camerafolks so I could see what was transpiring on the red carpet. It was mostly Stan shaking hands and hugging people and making self-effacing remarks.
I have a lengthy list of conflicting feelings about Stan…about things he's done and perhaps more significantly, things he hasn't done. We've talked about some of this and he understands, and I think it's to his credit that when folks do documentaries about him, like this one and the one on The Biography Channel, he asks that I be included, mainly to make sure someone talks about Jack Kirby. Needless to say, any film that focuses on Stan is not going to spend enough time on Jack, but after declining a few of these, I decided a while back to start saying yes. I can't control the final cut but I can see that those who do have footage that mentions Jack and others who created Marvel Comics. I can also sometimes correct simple factual errors.
I also have a personal affection for Stan — one that flows both from reading his comics and from working with and for the man. I think it's hard not to have a personal affection for the guy — or at least, this guy. Perhaps you have someone in your life who's like that: You can't help liking them even though they've done some things you really, really didn't like. It is still a joy to me to see Stan, especially at his age, getting all the attention and celebrity and cash he so obviously craved all his life. What I was watching on that red carpet, and it was worth the drive to Pasadena and the six bucks I paid to park, was a person about as happy as any person could be.
Having skirted the red carpet, observed Stan on it and realized I needed a Men's Room, I finally went to enter the theater. A man at the door looked at my pass — which I guess had some sort of code on it to indicate I was a V.I.P. — and asked me in an almost scolding tone, "Did you walk the red carpet?" It was the way you'd talk to a child who hadn't done his homework. I told him, "No, I have a note from my doctor that says I'm expressly forbidden from walking any red carpets for two weeks." He laughed and let me in.
I stumbled off into a huge party which like all huge parties in show business was way too noisy to permit anyone quieter than Chris Matthews to carry on a conversation. I was amazed not just at how many people were there but at how few of them I knew. They were mostly, I suppose, connected to Stan's current business endeavors which have very little to do with the comic books that I care about. Stan aside, I may have been the only person on the premises who ever got a paycheck from Marvel Comics, at least for working on a Marvel Comic.
A server offered me a "Marveltini Excelsior" and I wasn't sure if it was a drink or a pile of wood shavings. It turned out to be a drink — a special concoction mixed by, the man said, the gent who prepares cocktails for the Academy Awards. Since alcohol has never passed my lips, I declined but when I got home, I checked an e-mail I'd been sent about the event and sure enough, there was the recipe for the beverage in question…
If you try one, let me know how it is. And you might try facing front and hanging loose when you drink it.
Stan and I spoke briefly but he was busy working the room, posing for photos and having the time of his life. I chatted, to the extent one could chat in that place, with a few folks I knew…but I felt very disconnected from it all as evidenced by the fact that I was there about 90 minutes and sent eight tweets in the last hour. Several of those I talked to said, "I didn't see you on the red carpet," as if I'd snuck in via some illicit entryway.
One introduced me to a reporter who was looking for quotes about Stan. The reporter stuck a voice recorder up near my mouth and asked me what I thought of the new comic book featuring Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, who was apparently right behind me at that moment. Give me some credit for not being able to recognize the man.
New comic book? I gave the reporter a resounding "Huh?" and he said, "You're probably looking forward to the first issue. That is, in the unlikely event you can get one."
I said, "Well then I'll just have to get the second issue. That is, in the unlikely event that there is one."
He said, "So why are you here?"
I said, "Well, they asked to be here because I'm in the film…"
He said, "The Avengers? God, it's the hottest film out there. What part did you play?"
I started to explain I was Scarlett Johansson's body double but instead I told him, "No, this film. The one about Stan Lee. The one this party's about."
He said, "You're in it? We didn't see you out on the red carpet. So what do you do?"
For some reason when people ask me that, I usually answer, "I write comic books" even though such jobs account for less than 5% of my income and have for several decades. I guess I say it because in my town, there are shoe salesmen who if you ask them what they do, they reply, "I write TV shows and movies," and then may or may not mention they sell New Balance footgear on the side. Rather than sound like one of them, I opt to say I write comic books and I said that to this fellow. He looked puzzled and his face said, even if his voice didn't, "So then what are you doing here?"
By that point, the volume and my constant awareness of pending deadlines had gotten to me so I decided to go home and write a comic book. On my way out of the theater, the news crews outside had just finished stowing their gear so I walked the red carpet but in the opposite direction. You know, it's kind of nice on there if you get rid of all those cameras and microphones.