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Film critic Henry Sheehan reviews Spider-man.

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Other segments from the episode on May 3, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 3, 2002: Interview with Om Puri; Interview with Richard Adler; Review of the film "Spider-man."

Transcript

DATE May 3, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Om Puri discusses his acting career
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Om Puri, has made over 130 movies, mostly in Bombay, in the Indian
film industry known as Baliwood. He's acted in commercial films and art
films. He's also starred in the British films "My Son the Fanatic," in which
he played an Indian emigre whose son has become a Muslim fundamentalist, and
"East is East," in which he played a Pakistani emigre trying to raise his
children with Pakistani traditions.

Now he co-stars in the new Merchant Ivory movie "The Mystic Masseur," adapted
from a novel set in Trinidad by Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul. It's about
a schoolteacher living in the island's capital city. When he learns his
father has died, he returns to the village where he grew up and decides that
in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a writer he should remain in the
village and write. Om Puri plays the neighbor who encourages him and also
wants to set him up with his daughter.

(Soundbite of "The Mystic Masseur")

Unidentified Man #1: Sahib, something happened to Leela's foot. I wonder if
you can take a look at it.

Unidentified Man #2: I'm not no doctor, man. I don't know how to take care
of nobody's foot.

Unidentified Man #3: Man, how can you say that? Your father was the best
massager we ever had. It's in your blood, sahib.

Leela, come here.

Sahib.

Unidentified Man #2: Where it hurt? It hurt here?

Unidentified Woman: Yes, sahib.

Unidentified Man #2: Or more over here?

Unidentified Man #1: You get the feel, sahib. You get the gift.

Unidentified Woman: Pa, it fixed. It don't hurt no more.

Unidentified Man #3: It fixed. Like I tell you, sahib, you is your father's
son.

Unidentified Man #1: I wonder why you don't take up massaging. That way you
get to know everybody in the village. You part of the community, sahib, man
of the people.

GROSS: I spoke with actor Om Puri in 2000.

Now you made about 130 films in India. That's a staggering number of films.
Tell me what the production schedule is like that would enable you to make so
many films.

Mr. OM PURI (Actor): Well, India is the largest film-producing country in the
world. I mean, it's a huge country with 900 million people and about 23
different languages. And the main national language is Hindi. And, I mean, I
worked mostly in Hindi films. So for an actor it is not a big deal to do,
you know, 130 films there in 24 years. There are actors in India who really
overwork too much and they may be in their mid-60s or something and they may
have done 350 films, you know, which is quite--now, you know, for example, if
you have a major part, if you're playing a central part, then maybe you'll be
required for eight weeks to finish the film. And in some films you may have
smaller part, which means you may be required for three weeks or four weeks.
So easily you can do five, six films in a year.

GROSS: What are some of the typical roles you've played in Indian movies?

Mr. PURI: Well, I have been mostly associated--my only carrier for about 10,
12 years, I have been with the Arts Cinema, which is a cinema which is social
development which talks about social issues, social political issues, etc.,
which is small in nature, which is small in budget, also, and whereas the
commercial cinema is huge, big, big cameras, big money. And Arts Cinema gave
me respect, credibility, status and gave me opportunity to travel all over the
world because those films went to all kinds of festivals all over the world,
whereas commercial cinema gave me a standard of living back home, so part of
my work, which is about 25, 40 percent, is commercial cinema, which
essentially is an entertaining cinema and what we call escapist cinema.

GROSS: From what I've seen of Indian movies, a lot of the commercial movies
are musicals with big production numbers, and I'm not sure how much of a plot
there even is. Tell us about...

Mr. PURI: Well, it's very, very repetitive in Indian film...

GROSS: Uh-huh. What are some of the...

Mr. PURI: ...in commercial...

GROSS: What are some of the typical stories in the plots?

Mr. PURI: Well, typical stories, you see, it's like a sheep mentality. You
know, suppose there is a action film which becomes a big hit. Then everybody
will be making action films for a couple of years till they exhaust that
genre. And then suddenly someone will make a love story, a boy-meets-girl
kind of a thing, and becomes a big hit. Then everybody starts making love
stories till they exhaust themselves. And they are greatly influenced by the
American cinema. Any film which is a big hit here, they will try and adapt it
and make an Indian film out of it.

GROSS: Did you do a lot of musicals?

Mr. PURI: Well, I had been in musicals, but essentially I have been a
character actor in those films. I did initially couple of films with songs
and dances, but actually I feel very uncomfortable in those kind of parts.
But I have played major characters in the big-budget films.

GROSS: So why do you feel uncomfortable in the singing parts? 'Cause there
seems to be so many of them.

Mr. PURI: Because I find it ridiculous. I find it illogical. In fact, the
other day someone here asked me, `You know, how come, you know, in your films
suddenly we see your characters in films singing and dancing in Vancouver or
in Switzerland or in South Africa? How does that happen in the plot?'

I said, `Well, the Indian characters dream. They'll dream that we are in
Switzerland, so they are in Switzerland. Or they dream they are in Vancouver.
So you immediately cut--"Oh, we are in Vancouver."'

GROSS: Now I think one of the directors you work with in your years working
in the Arts Cinema was Satjayit Ray(ph).

Mr. PURI: That's right.

GROSS: What was the name of the film that you did with Satjayit Ray?

Mr. PURI: It was in Hindi. It was called "Sadgati," S-A-D-G-A-T-I, which
means `deliverance.'

GROSS: Did he give you any new insights into acting or, you know, into acting
on camera?

Mr. PURI: In my mind was that, you know, one had a view that Mr. Ray, since
he does so much paperwork, and you will be just put into a straightjacket and,
you know, you won't have any flexibility to do what you want to do. You know,
I thought it was just a misconception of people. He was very, very flexible.
Yes, true, he did lot of homework. He did have paperwork done. But he would
give a lot of freedom to the actors and he was open to any new thing which
would help better the film.

I mean, one day, for example, we were supposed to be doing the climax scene,
which is a big scene and which he had various shots worked out for it. And it
was lunch. Immediately after lunch I noticed that he's looking at the sky,
and with eyes absolutely focused. And he kept staring at the sky for good 30
seconds. I said, `What's happening?' And we saw it's cloudy. And suddenly
he just went berserk and he ordered they put the maximum trolley that you
have. Just fix that. So we had about a hundred-feet trolley, and which is
put--and he took that entire scene in one shot. And it was very dramatic
because it started raining, and that's what he expected. And he wanted to use
the rain. But at the same time he changed his shots. Instead of taking
different shots, he took one shot because obviously he thought that if the
rain stops in between and he hasn't finished the scene, then where will he get
the artificial rain? So that was very clever and very, very sort of part full
of that.

And exactly what his fears were, it was right. I mean, the moment we finished
that scene, we took about three takes and the rain stopped. And then, you
know, certain close-ups of mine were done--because since it was just a
close-up--with a bucket, and somebody held a branch of a tree over my head and
threw a little water on top, and that's how the close-ups were done.

GROSS: Your father was an officer in the British army during the era when
India was ruled by England. What attitude were you brought up with regarding
British rule?

Mr. PURI: Well, I was born in '50, and we got independence in '47, so the
British had left. I waited for them to go to come into the world. No, my
father was greatly influenced by the Britishers. I mean, he used to refer to
their discipline constantly. In fact, he used to, you know, sometimes make
comment on that, you know, `I wish the Britishers had not gone because we
don't know how to look after ourselves,' etc. So he had a hangover of British
empire in him.

I mean, particularly he used to refer to, you know, because the Indians tend
to not, you know, have a great deal of respect for time. And if somebody
says, `Oh, well, you're supposed to be there at 9,' I mean, it could be 9:40,
it could be 9:50. So that used to bug him and irritate him.

And plus, you know, the English, for example, is a language like any other
language in India. Like, we have 23 regional languages, and English is also
one of them. So it is not that--for Indians English is not a foreign
language. It is part of the Indian ethos now. I mean, any child who goes to
school automatically learns English. All the government work, central
government work, is done in English. All the business in India is done in
English.

GROSS: What was it like to have a part in the movie "Gandhi" about driving
out the British after your father had worked in the British army?

Mr. PURI: Well, "Gandhi," I had a small cameo, but it was an important moment
in the film. And Gandhi's sitting on a fast in Calcutta and he wants to, you
know, stop the riots between Hindus and Muslims. And I was representing the
angry Hindus. And, you know, a group of Hindus laying arms in front of him
and pledging that we will stop the riots, to which I sort of barge in and
throw a piece of bread on his face and say, `OK. Don't die, old man, but
here, listen. I have a story. My child was killed by Muslims who was five
year old, and now you want us to stop killing Muslims?' And then Gandhi gives
his own view that, `OK, now you pick up a Muslim child and bring him up as
your own.'

And that breaks him. And he breaks down and he falls at his feet and he gives
in. It's a nice moment in the film "Gandhi," which I enjoyed. It was
only--as I said, it was a small part. I was not with the unit for a long
time. But nicely--I was, you know, pleasantly surprised that year when the
Oscars were going on, and a couple of my friends in India called me up and
said, `Hey, put on your television. They are showing your scene in the
Oscars.' So I was quite tickled. But by the time I switched on, it had gone
because it was such a small clipping.

GROSS: My guest is Indian actor Om Puri. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview recorded in 2000 with actor Om Puri,
who has made over 130 movies in India. He also starred in the British films
"East is East" and "My Son the Fanatic," and he co-stars in the new Merchant
Ivory movie "The Mystic Masseur."

Are actors in India--successful actors--treated as stars in the way that we
have stars in America? You know, like the celebrity class is a class unto
itself in America. They have a lot of money; they live in separate places;
they tend to socialize with each other and to be treated almost like, you
know, gods and goddesses.

Mr. PURI: Mm-hmm, yeah, it is. It is same there. But to be honest, I don't
fall into that category and neither I would want to. I am very well known all
over India, but the only difference is they wouldn't want to tear my clothes
if they see me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PURI: Yes, they would want to talk to me, they would want to have a chat
with me, they would want to know what I am doing here. They'll be very
interested. Perhaps, you know, the kind of image which I have created for
myself through my films, because the films are not fantasies, you know?

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. PURI: They've been real films. So my image as a social being is very
different than the commercial stars. And I don't avoid people, you know,
whether it's at the airport, whether it's in a social place or in a market;
suppose you bump into, you know, people. And if we are filming outdoors we do
attract a lot of crowd, and if people want to have a word, you know, one goes
up to them and says, `Hello,' and--but I do attract a lot of crowds and I do
get fan mail and all those things are there. But as you earlier asked me, do
we have stars which--who live separately, who have flashy cars, you know?
Well, we do. We do.

GROSS: What are some of your impressions of the differences for an actor
making a Western movie compared to an Indian film?

Mr. PURI: The major difference in India, particularly in commercial cinema,
is the fact that the films are not shot at a stretch. They are shot in bits
and pieces. You shoot for a film for 10 days, and then you don't shoot for
that film for three months. Then you shoot for 20 days, then you don't shoot
for that for maybe six months. So it's shot in bits and pieces, which is a
very erratic way of working, really. Whereas...

GROSS: That sounds really odd.

Mr. PURI: Sorry?

GROSS: I said that sounds really odd because, first of all, your body can
change in six months. And second of all...

Mr. PURI: Yes, and it does.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. PURI: It does, you know. But people try and, you know--say, for
example, they will keep the same haircut for every role they play, you know,
the commercial actors. And they will try and keep their same weight. But a
lot of times, if a film gets delayed, which it does, actually--you know, a
normal Hindi commercial film takes one and a half year to--it can go up to
three years. So in three years, people do change. People put on weight, you
know. So that's a major difference, really. And whereas in the West, I
presume, you know, particularly the films which I have done--10, 12 films
abroad--that the films are shot at a stretch.

And another peculiar thing which is quite funny is that commercial cinema does
not give you a copy of the script, unlike the Arts Cinema in India. They tell
you a story and they tell you your character, but you don't have a copy of
script in your hand.

GROSS: So how do you learn your lines?

Mr. PURI: You get it on the same day when you go for filming. You get it on
the same morning. So no homework is expected from an actor.

GROSS: What's the rationale behind that?

Mr. PURI: Well, rationale is that they are not ready with their scripts. In
fact, when they asked me in India, you know, `What is the difference between
shooting in the West and here? I say, `Well, they work on a script for two
years and then go ahead and shoot the film within six months, and that's it.
And you work here for two months on a script and then go on shooting for three
years.' But, Terry, let me tell you, the thing is, they feel ready and
secure, the producers; that is why they don't give you a copy of the script,
because they all get worried that somebody else will steal their subject.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. PURI: Because we don't have a serious copyright, etc. So, therefore,
they don't reveal their scripts. They would have a copy of the script, but it
will be with them. And they never reveal the climax of the film till the end.
When they're almost done with the entire film, then they'll go and shoot the
climax, because they feel that some other producer or director will steal
their idea and they won't have the novelty.

GROSS: So how do you evaluate if you want to do a movie or not if you haven't
even had a chance to read the script?

Mr. PURI: Well, you know the story and you know the character and you take it
from there. I mean, when the scene comes in front of you and the senior
actors would sit on it, maybe disagree and, you know, change, talk about it,
and then take their time to prepare the part. But it is not a professional
way of working and that is why that cinema does not really interest me so
much, though I have to work in it, you know, for the living because that
cinema has given me all the goodies in life.

GROSS: Do you...

Mr. PURI: You know, all the facilities I enjoy did come from commercial
cinema, so I am grateful to that cinema also.

I try to be as disciplined as--or as professional as I am for art films. I
treat commercials in Malta the same way, like going on the set on time, but
our stars are quite notorious; I mean, they don't show up on time. This is,
you know, something which is very, very annoying. They are pretty indulgent,
you know, unlike the West. Even huge stars, whatever film, whether it was
Patrick Swayze or Val Kilmer or, you know, Michael Douglas, all of them--I
mean, they are absolutely punctual, they are ready with their lines and they
are, you know, truly professional. And I hope this sense of professionalism
comes into the Indian commercial atmosphere also.

GROSS: Now you had said that you didn't have an agent until after...

Mr. PURI: "City of Joy."

GROSS: ..."City of Joy," yeah, so how did you get by in Indian cinema making
all those movies without an agent? Did people just call you personally? You
know, in America like everybody has an agent if they're making movies.

Mr. PURI: No. In India I do have what we call--we don't call it agent. We
call it a secretary. So I do have a secretary in India, but he doesn't look
for work for me. The work comes and he handles it, you know, in terms of
organizing dates or talking to the producers about money and then, you know,
recovering the money, looking after my income tax, etc. All this job is done
by him.

In fact, when I did take on a secretary, I told him also, I said, `Please, you
don't look for work. The work will come, and we are supposed to handle it.
Because suppose you bring in work in which I don't like, you make an effort,
and then it won't be nice that I say no to it and, you know, I'll also feel
embarrassed by saying no,' because I want to make choices.

GROSS: Actor Om Puri co-stars in the new Merchant Ivory film "The Mystic
Masseur." Our interview was recorded in 2000. We'll hear more of it in the
second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Credits)

(Soundbite of "Hernando's Hideaway")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) It's called Hernando's Hideaway, ole. All you
see are silhouettes and all you hear are castanets and no one cares how late
it gets, not at Hernando's Hideaway, ole.

GROSS: The classical musical "The Pajama Game" is being revived in New York.

Coming up, an interview with Richard Adler, who co-wrote the songs for "The
Pajama Game" and "Damn Yankees!"

Also, film critic Henry Sheehan reviews "Spider-Man."

And we continue our conversation with actor Om Puri.

(Soundbite of "Hernando's Hideaway)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) At the Golden FingerBowl or anyplace you go,
you'll meet your Uncle Max and everyone you know. But if we go to the spot
that I am thinking of, you will be free to gaze at me and talk of love. Just
knock three times and whisper low that you and I were sent by Joe, then strike
a match and you will know you're in Hernando's Hideaway, ole.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Indian actor Om Puri.
He's made over 130 movies mostly in the Indian film industry known as
Baliwood. He's also starred in the British films "East is East" and "My Son
the Fanatic." He co-stars in the new Merchant Ivory movie, "The Mystic
Masseur," based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul. I spoke with
Om Puri in 2000.

Om Puri, how did you end up acting? How old were you when you decided you
wanted to act?

Mr. PURI: Well, in school I was fascinated by army. I wanted to be a
soldier. But when I reached college, I drifted; I mean, I started
participating in college activities and, you know, one of them was also
working in the plays. And I was picked up by a couple from a college youth
festival where they were one of the judges, and they had their own
semiprofessional theater group and they invited me to join that. And I joined
the theater group, and, you know, while I was doing my college. I did a
number of plays with them. They did a lot of Western plays also, like
Strenberg and Bernard Shaw and Ibsen, and also Indian social plays. And then
that's where I really got hooked onto--and through them I came to know about
the National School of Drama, which I joined later. So that's how I really
drifted.

And, I mean, I was very shy and very reserved as a child, very, very
introvert. And I think somewhere I feel that by acting in those social plays,
you know, somewhere I found a great satisfaction that something that which I
feel strongly about your society, about, you know, your views on the society,
what you see on the streets, etc., and those plays were giving voice to my
emotions.

GROSS: Did acting make you less shy?

Mr. PURI: Eventually it did over a period of time, you know? I mean, I
could be exuberant, you know, strangely, in a scene, but the moment scene is
over and I'm back to normal life, I would again go into my shell. It went on.
In fact, I remember in drama school I was supposed to do a very tender,
romantic scene. I think we were doing--yes, it was "Caucasian Chalk Circle"
and I was playing Simon(ph). And I was supposed to hold hand of this girl
and I was about 20 at that time. And I was very sort of--you know, I was
shivering. And then the director noticed and he took me aside. He explained
me, `Feel comfortable. You must--you know, it's emotional and these are noble
emotions, etc., etc.' So gradually I think I did, you know, become
comfortable.

GROSS: Now you've been making more movies in England. I imagine one of the
obstacles you're up against is trying to find good roles for an Indian actor.

Mr. PURI: Yes.

GROSS: My guess would be there aren't a lot of them.

Mr. PURI: Yes. I wouldn't say there are a lot of them, and that's why I'm
not leaving my ground.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. PURI: That's Bombay, you know?

GROSS: Right.

Mr. PURI: So whenever I have an opportunity--because I've been enjoying to
work in the West. And I hope I do find, you know, roles like in the past, you
know, people who have faces like me, like Mr. Anthony Quinn, who has been my
favorite, and also Omar Sharif, who would look like Arab. And I hope that I
do have interesting part; not necessarily major roles, but interesting
characters. I'll be happy enough to work in those.

GROSS: You said that people like Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif have faces
like you. What kind of face do you have?

Mr. PURI: I think I--well, I essentially have an Asian face and a gypsy face
and I could be from Arab, I could be from South America, parts of South
America, you know? So it's not necessarily an Indian face. It's a rustic
face. It's not, you know, traditional, good-looking, chocolate face.

GROSS: What does `chocolate face' mean?

Mr. PURI: Chocolate face means well-chiseled, beautiful, you know, everything
proportional. I have a big nose, big, fat nose and I have pockmarks, which, I
mean, I got it when I was about five, I think. I had smallpox, and...

GROSS: You had smallpox?

Mr. PURI: Yes. I had smallpox when I was about five.

GROSS: And that scarred your face.

Mr. PURI: Yes.

GROSS: Wow. Do you have a lot of memories of when you had smallpox?

Mr. PURI: I think I'd been even smaller than that. The only image I do
remember that my mother used to tie me to the cart, you know, when she had to
do some work. And she used to tie me so that I don't scratch. And she used
to tie my hands to the cart.

GROSS: Did you...

Mr. PURI: And that image I do remember.

GROSS: Was it questionable whether you would survive or not?

Mr. PURI: Yes, it could have been, because we were actually a big family. We
were eight brothers, sisters and today we are just two of us. I'm the
youngest in the family. And my mother lost all six of them. My eldest
brother--she lost him when he was 15; one brother at the age of nine; one
sister at the age of five. One sister I remember seeing when I was in
college. She was married, and she also died within her--I think she was about
40.

GROSS: What did they die of?

Mr. PURI: Well, various diseases. You see, that time--I mean, we are talking
about, say, 45 years ago. And that time in small towns, etc., you know, the
health conditions were pretty bad. My mother said, you know, `Your eldest
brother just came back from school.' And she saw his face was red. And she
thought it just, you know, a little--his body was warm. She thought just a
little temperature or something, but he may have had a high fever. And he
just collapsed the next day, you know? So it was--now, of course--the
survival rate, of course, is much, much higher, but in those days the survival
rate was pretty low. And that was one of the reasons why people had a lot of
children in the past, because they didn't know how many of them would survive.

GROSS: When you were growing up with the pockmarks left from smallpox, were
you very self-conscious about that as a kid?

Mr. PURI: I was, to be honest, you know, when I used to look at films, etc.,
and that is perhaps one of the reasons why I didn't go directly to cinema. I
went into theater. And I thought I don't have a right kind of a face for the
theater. Still, I was exposed to world cinema, you know, when I saw, you
know, the international cinema or cinema of Satjayit Ray and Melansent(ph).
Then I saw that, you know, `Oh, well, there are faces like me in these films.'
And since I was only exposed to the commercial Indian cinema, you know, which
had--most faces were chiseled, what we call chocolate faces...

GROSS: Mm-hmm. You were worried about the close-ups, too?

Mr. PURI: Then--yes. Then my taboo really sort of broke and I started
thinking in terms of--then, you know, I was no longer self-conscious, and
today I'm not. In fact, when I came to Bombay, some of my senior friends did
suggest to me that I should go in for plastic surgery. I said, `No. I will
not fool around with my body. Where I will play, you know, I will accept
whatever nature has given me.'

GROSS: I'm glad you said that.

Mr. PURI: Yes.

GROSS: I just think it's really good when people can have their real faces
and don't have to get them surgically altered, because there's so much of that
now.

Mr. PURI: Yeah.

GROSS: And it's also one of the things that makes you so interesting to
watch, because you have such a real face, an expressive one at that.

Mr. PURI: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PURI: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I couldn't imagine myself going through
plastic surgery and looking at myself, you know--`Where is the person gone
with whom I have lived for 30 years or 35 years.'

GROSS: Exactly. Exactly.

Mr. PURI: Huh?

GROSS: Well, Om Puri, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. PURI: Thank you, Terry. It's been great talking to you and it's a great
pleasure.

GROSS: Om Puri, recorded two years ago. He's starring in the new Merchant
Ivory film, "The Mystic Masseur."

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: New movie, "Spider-Man"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Spider-Man made his comic-book debut 40 years ago. The new movie,
"Spider-Man," is co-produced by the superhero's co-creator, Stan Lee. It
stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and is directed by Sam Raimi. Film
critic Henry Sheehan has a review.

HENRY SHEEHAN reporting:

Let's face it, they'll probably never get the real Marvel deal, the funky,
cheap paper, weird outfit, off-kilter Marvel on screen. "Spider-Man" the
movie has less to do with the mind-altering experience of opening a strange
Marvel than with watching a teen-age romance spliced together with footage
from an animated film. Still, the first hour is lively, engaging fun.

Certainly Tobey Maguire's impersonation of Peter Parker, the epitome of the
120-pound high-school weakling, is on the money. His moody reserve clicks
with co-star Kirsten Dunst, who matches up her usual perk with some
subterranean unhappiness of her own. As Mary Jane Watson, girlfriend to her
high school's chief jock, she can't make any overt moves towards Weenie
Parker, but he does pop up on her radar. Peter, of course, longs for
next-door neighbor Mary Jane with all his heart, hoping to rescue her from her
abusive father and watching her from the home he shares with his Uncle Ben and
Aunt May. Anyone under 55 knows what happens next. Parker gets bitten by a
biologically enhanced spider and ends up transformed into a muscular,
acrobatic web-spinner. Eventually he becomes Spider-Man, superhero.

Meanwhile, a parallel transformation occurs to Norman Osborn. A wealthy arms
manufacturer, played by the already creepy looking Willem Dafoe, he tries out
a genetically transforming drug on himself in order to crush a competitor, an
unexpectedly bit of welcomed satire. Uh-oh, he turns into the archvillain,
the Green Goblin. All this takes up an hour of running time. Usually when a
filmmaker spends an hour on his setup, you'd chalk it up to bad storytelling.
But in this case, you're tempted to say that director Sam Raimi found this
part of the movie the most interesting. I certainly did.

As an Irish-Catholic kid growing up in suburban Boston, reading a Marvel comic
conveyed a shiver of sinfulness. I couldn't then and can't now put my finger
on just why. "Spider-Man" especially featured what I would later recognize as
a carnival of Freudian types. There are living and dead father figures,
passive-aggressive mother figures, unattainable objects of desire, superegos,
egos, doppelgangers and ids. But if your ego can control your id, your id can
be your friend.

Listen here as Mary Jane expresses her love for Peter's costumed, controlled
id and Peter expresses his appreciation.

(Soundbite of "Spider-Man")

Ms. KIRSTEN DUNST: (As Mary Jane Watson) The fact is I'm in love with
somebody else.

Mr. TOBEY MAGUIRE: (As Peter Parker) You are?

Ms. DUNST: At least I think I am. It's not the right time to talk about it.

Mr. MAGUIRE: No, no. Go on. Would I know his name, this guy?

Ms. DUNST: You'll think I'm a stupid little girl with a crush.

Mr. MAGUIRE: Trust me.

Ms. DUNST: It's funny. He saved my life twice and I've never even seen his
face.

Mr. MAGUIRE: Oh, him.

Ms. DUNST: You're laughing at me.

Mr. MAGUIRE: Oh, no. I--I understand. He is extremely cool.

Ms. DUNST: But do you think it's true, all the terrible things they say about
him?

Mr. MAGUIRE: No, no. Not Spider-Man, not a chance in the world. I know him
a little bit.

SHEEHAN: Talk dirty to me, baby.

All this is fun and lends another level to the movie for those who want to see
more than Peter beating up the high-school bully, but it doesn't really add as
much to the movie as you might think. It doesn't deepen the characters, it
just fits them into a psychological matrix. In a comic book that's OK,
because its impact of color and design has an explosive effect on the
imagination that's close to catalytic, but a movie works on a whole different
level and during "Spider-Man's" second hour you can see how needy it is. The
characters have no punch because they're not really characters, just
elemental, psychological figures; yet it's just at this moment that the movie
asks us to care the most about them as people, to think of them almost as
tragic. It doesn't take. The cartoonishness extends to the computer effects.
Because they know no limits, computers can do anything, even the impossible,
but we know the impossible when we see it and we see it too often in
"Spider-Man."

The whole Hollywood fascination with comic-book heroes is bizarre. A legion
of middle-age men are behind these projects and their ostensible excuse, that
the public eats these projects up, only partially explains their compulsive
production. At $9 a pop, we might be paying for studio executives' therapy.

GROSS: Film critic Henry Sheehan is based in Los Angeles.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)

GROSS: On the next FRESH AIR, surfing the asphalt waves. We talk with Stacey
Peralta, one of the fathers of extreme skateboarding. He's made a new
skateboard documentary called "Dogtown and Z-Boys."

Also, film director Alfonso Cuaron talks about his new movie, "Y Tu Mama
Tambien."

I'm Terry Gross. Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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