In 1983 Barthelme wrote a piece for the New Yorker called "Earth Angel," a review of Superman III. He wrote it up as a question and answer thing, even though he was writing both sides of the dialog. It's quite fun -- especially in its parody of academic talk and Whedon-esque shifts of tone. Since virtually no one has read it, I thought I would print some samples from it here, pointing out what makes it so great. It begins like this:
Q: Do we really need a Superman III?The redundancy of "In the air" is quite funny, as is the shift from academic buzzwords to goofy childlike enthusiasm. I also quote like that "slash" is written out as a word, emphasizing how awkwardly professors speak: you would have to say "slash" to use the phrase "plane of the cultural/aesthetic" out loud.
A: Clearly not.
Q: Yet it's here. Must be a response to something, some kind of need...
A: Financial exigencies undiscussable on the plane of the cultural slash aesthetic.
Q: To which we shall stalwartly adhere. Would you like to be able to fly?
A: I have always wanted to fly. In the air.
Q: A basic human yearn. To fly.
A: A conquering of dailyness. Whoosh!
On the subject of the women in the film we get:
A: The O'Toole is a high school inamorata of old Clark's, from back home in Smallville.The conversation is smart, but they both go juvenile, calling her "the" because her name is a noun. "Ricky-tick" and "couture" in the same sentence is a classic Barthelme kind of thing. He knows how to find the humor in mixing very different vocabularies.
Q: Might the O'Toole's qualities be further commented upon?
A: Freshness. Simplicity. American beauty. Believability. Directness. A certain sexual smolder not entirely disguised by ricky-tick Smallville couture.
Wonderfully, after all the silliness, the review ends suddenly with a nice detail noticed:
Q: Is Superman III, then, the finest of the Superfilms, in your view?The way A avoids getting into another round of wordplay with Q by blurting forth this heartfelt observation is quite sweet and remarkable, I thought. You can find the whole review in Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme.
A: Perhaps the second-finest.
Q: And the first-finest?
A: The first, I think. Or perhaps the second.
Q: You think the first might be the first-finest and the second also might be the first-finest?
A: When Clark Kent goes back to Smallville for his high school reunion, at which he re-encounters the grand O'Toole, the music playing, at one point, is "Earth Angel." I liked that a lot.