“The Greatest Film Ever Made…”

As the very proud custodian of the ‘Big Red Book’, any follower of SUPERMANIA will be aware of my affinity for the UK national treasure that is Martin Asbury.  Most notable for his long-running newspaper strip ‘Garth’, Asbury went on to storyboard some of the most popular movies of the last few decades, culminating in the as-yet-unreleased latest Bond film ‘No Time to Die’.

Last seen here in vintage footage working in his studio at Elstree, a catch-up with the man himself was long overdue and courtesy of Superfan Philip Hawkins, we finally got the chance to ask the burning questions in the Superman IV Live Watch Along Event.  Laughingly referring to it as ‘The Greatest Film Ever Made’ Asbury’s candid and frank recollections are a fascinating insight into the production.  As if this wasn’t enough, during the Zoom call another Hollywood legend logged on to contribute – Mr Harrison Ellenshaw!  To hear the old friends reminiscing was a joy in itself but for Superfans there were revelations aplenty about the making of Superman IV.  For example –

• Asbury was credited as concept and Matte artist but for not his main duties as storyboard artist.

• He designed the opening credits of the film under the direction of Sidney J. Furie – Clive Mantle’s credit as Nuclearman 1 was cut.

• Storyboarding was completed before the role of Nuclearman was cast, explaining why he’s drawn like the ‘Silver Surfer’

• Asbury was also the artist for the matte painting of the Volcano – it’s still in his possession and is currently used as a ramp for a catflap at his home(!) The Lava in the Volcano scene was porridge lit from below.

• Harrison Ellenshaw brought his father Peter out of retirement to help finish the Matte paintings due to the tight schedule

• According to Asbury, besides Lex Luthor’s lair, most of the sets for the film were ‘tiny’

• Sidney J. Furie couldn’t watch the test screening and sat waiting in a restaurant across from the theater. Harrison Ellenshaw said the audience were ‘throwing things at the screen’ in protest

• The test screening was a ‘rough cut’ of 134 minutes. Based on the audience response, Warner Brothers immediately ordered ‘whole reels be dropped’ to bring the runtime down.

• Even though he knew the picture was collapsing around him, Christopher Reeve ‘Never had a bad word to say about anybody’ and ‘was a very pleasant and approachable man – not grand in any way’.

• The production began shooting at Pinewood Studios as the first three had done – it was then re-located to Elstree

• Christopher Reeve suffered an allergic reaction to his new Superman costumes and came out in an uncomfortable rash all over his body

• Mark Pillow had twisted his ankle during filming so an insert showing Superman stamping on Nuclearman’s foot was shot to explain the limp.

• Nuclearman’s demise was filmed at the now-demolished Didcot Power Station and the entrance to the Boys School where Lenny is dropped off are the gates to Elstree Studios

Philip will be making an edit of the event available on Facebook shortly – I urge both Superfans and anybody with an interest in the movie business to give it a listen….


Le Face A Face At 33…

On this day, a mere 33 years ago, a 13-year old boy ran up several flights of stairs at the Kings 123 Cinema West Bromwich in great anticipation.  For this was the first showing of the eagerly-awaited fourth film in the beloved Superman franchise, and this one even had an intriguing byline – The Quest For Peace.  Much later I would discover the translation of this title in other countries was interesting (and in some cases, better.)  In Brazil it was ‘In Search Of Peace’.  In Denmark, ‘The Struggle For Peace’.  The Swedish title was ‘The Threat From The Sun’, the German (and possibly my favourite) was ‘World On The Brink’.  In Hungary it was known as ‘The Power Of Darkness’, and in France, Superman: Face To Face.  Don’t be fooled by the first pic above, the proceeding vintage feature in French is not from MAD Movies but its short-lived companion IMPACT magazine, where Superman IV is given some serious coverage with rare images to boot.

Having viewed the movie for the first time I left the cinema in a daze only to bump into a schoolmate waiting in line for the next showing.  I joined him and went back a second time.  For all its apparent faults, it was a visceral experience and as serendipity would have it, remains a significant part of my life to date – not bad going for a notorious franchise-killing controversy-mired embarrassing box-office disaster.  Yes, of course its terrible – part of embracing this picture is acknowledging its inherent Roger Corman production values – but having said that, love it or hate it, are we still talking about Billy Zane’s Phantom, for example, Lundgren’s Punisher or even Beatty’s Dick Tracy (to name but a few) all these years later with the same enthusiasm?  Much of the film’s longevity can be attributed to the fact the behind the scenes story of how it even got made is arguably more captivating than the film itself, and yet, in this age of fan-lead campaigns powered by social media actively forcing major studios to re-tool failed theatrical edits nobody is asking for an extended edition of Batman & Robin.

Over three decades later, however, the campaign to restore the original edit (or Furie Cut) only seems to gain momentum, with final judgement out on the film until we see the full version.  Of course, the infamous test-screening in San Antonio has become part of the legend now (to this day nobody to my knowledge has ever attested to seeing it) and theories prevail about whether or not the longest cut actually exists at all.  The closest we’ve come to date was the Deluxe Edition from 2006, where ‘a great deal of deleted scenes’ were included, restoring faith that even in its ugly test print form, the footage still existed.  Possibly more telling was Warner Bros. declaration ‘We have located all the footage from Superman IV’ but as fan cuts were all the rage at the time, were afraid to present it.

As the upcoming Snyder Cut of the equally-lauded Justice League has ably demonstrated, the fan is more empowered than ever and if enough voices are heard in unison, it can yield results.  Nowhere was this better proved than with the original Richard Donner Cut of Superman II, restored and released without anywhere near the kind of aggressive campaigning prevalent today.  We count on Warner Archive, having done such masterful restoration of the Extended Cut of Superman: The Movie and Supergirl on Blu-Ray to once again dazzle us with the kind of quality release us dedicated fans deserve, and, speaking personally, make me feel like a 13-year old all over again…


Steppin’ Out…

What started out as a field trip to research an upcoming piece on Superman Costumes has ended with a series of unbelievable revelations here at SUPERMANIA.  And while I could digress further here, the discovery of the incredible lots in Propstore’s upcoming Entertainment Memorabila Live Auction is probably best shared courtesy of Jim Bowers & Jay Towers in my debut on the Capedwonder Superman Podcast

Where the experience of viewing so many genuine rare artefacts from the Superman Movie series all at once can be expressed firsthand!

Once more I’d like to thank Propstore CEO Stephen Lane and GM Tim Lawes for their hospitality and wish them every success for the coming auction.  For any Superfans wanting to add any of the featured items to their collection the gavel is raised on Sept. 30th.  As for the costume article, prepare for even more revelations and the definitive word on the subject coming soon…