Who shot Superman?

As a character, he has been rocketing across our screens for half a century, but few remember that the original Superman, George Reeves, died in mysterious circumstances in the bedroom of his Hollywood Hills home at the height of his fame in 1959.

Now Sopranos director Allen Coulter examines Reeves’ mysterious death—suicide, tragic accident or cold-blooded murder—in Hollywoodland, a film about myth and the search for identity starring Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody which receives its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

The apparent suicide of an unhappily typecast star at the age of 44 shocked Hollywood. But speculation continues to surround the case nearly 50 years later and it remains one of Tinseltown’s most enduring unsolved mysteries.

Unconvinced by the suicide theory, Reeves’ mother Helen Bessolo hires brash private detective Louis Simo, touched by a lust for fame and brilliantly played by Brody.

“This is the story of two men and a search for identity in their own lives. George Reeves [Affleck] was a man whose belief was that his life was only worthwhile through a specific kind of success,” says Coulter, while the private detective played by Brody “wants to be a player in the world of Hollywood detectives”.

Simo’s investigation concluded that Reeves affair with Toni Mannix, played by Diane Lane, the wife of MGM studio boss and former gangster Eddie (Bob Hoskins), may hold the key to the mystery.

Coulter, famous for directing the hit series The Sopranos, presents viewers with three different scenarios for Reeves’ demise—suicide, tragic accident and cold-blooded murder.

Like investigators, Coulter is unable to decide, but Brody’s detective character, haunted by unexpected parallels between the mystery and his own life, appears to accept the suicide theory by the end of the movie, if only for the sake of personal peace.

Though set in 1950s Los Angeles, “it’s a movie of the world we live in now which is largely populated by the world of celebrity.
Hollywood is a repository of this kind of thinking,” says Coulter.

Affleck, who gained 20kg for the part in an attempt to adopt Reeves’s voice, posture and manner, accepts there are parallels between Reeves’ ultimately unbearable fame and his own.

“Movies can become commercial breaks, pit-stops in the soap opera of an actor’s life,” the long-time paparazzi target told a news conference in Venice.

“He tried to play characters in other movies and people still saw him as Superman. I think that must have been really painful for him.”

“It says a lot about how fans can conflate an actor’s life and the character he portrays,” he adds.

The word Hollywoodland was the original lettering on the Hollywood sign, later shortened as the world famous image evolved. - AFP

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