“Watching Skies”-A review and “Super”-interview with Mark O’Connell.
When Mark O’Connell reached out to me earlier in the year I was just about to head off to see the skies of Metropolis, Illinois. I was excited, nervous and ready for an adventure and then I got Mark’s email…
This could well reach you on your way to Superman Celebration (I’ve been following you on IG). Looks to be a blast!”
Mark wanted to let me know about his latest book “Watching Skies” and after a brief description I was very intrigued as it sounded just right for me!
“The book is a loving ode to a VHS galaxy not that far, far away. It is about how George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, a shark, two motherships, some gremlins, and a man, cousin and another man of steel jumped a whole generation to hyperspace”.
This sounded like everything I grew up watching, and still enjoy to this day! Mark was kind enough to send me a copy and when I returned from Metropolis I dove right into it and every page had me smiling and reminiscing. Each chapter had me laughing and wanting to dig out my old (and new) action figures and re-create classic scenes from iconic movies.
Nostalgia is big these days. We all seem to love to share our passions from days gone by and I love it! I am always keen on finding out what people used to “geek out” over and I am always glad when Superman is involved!
Mark wrote a lot about the Superman movies and anyone who can write so beautifully about my hero is ok in my book! In the chapter “That’s Clark, Nice” I began to feel myself smiling at his memories and his thoughts on the original trilogy as they were so similar to mine. There is even a fantastic story of how he literally bumped into Henry Cavill!
This one particular section I have read over and over as Mark manages to put into words how I feel about the original Superman movies.
“It is impossible to overestimate the cinematic importance of Richard Donner’s Superman:The Movie (1978). The end result of many attempts to bring DC comic book writers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s 1930s icon onto and through the big screen, Richard Donner’s late 1970s American classic is the vert template every comic book or superhero franchise overlooks at it’s peril. Superman:The Movie is a vital Kryptonian memory crystal all superhero moviemakers must keep safe in their barn at all costs.”
Amazing! Now, the book doesn’t just focus on Superman, even though I would have loved it if it did! Mark talks passionately and warmly about the films we owe so much to.
Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, E.T… Basically all the films which we have all watched 100s of times before and whenever we see them airing on T.V we have to sit down and continue watching, even if the film is half-way through!
The writing flows off the page so comfortably that it’s almost like listening to a podcast which was made just for me. I am on my third read of this book now and each time I read it I smile as I hear the various theme tunes playing in my head. This book is a must for any lover of classic nostalgia, movie history or someone who needs a smile.
Mark, I can’t wait to read whatever you release next as I have gotten a taste for your words now and I love them! Maybe you could write about cartoons or a handsome young bespectacled go-getter who has a slight obsession about Superman…
“Watching Skies” is available now and with Christmas just around the corner it would make a great gift for the geek in your life, a movie obsessed sibling or yourself!
Nostalgia isn’t about clinging onto the past, it’s about remembering what you love and what you love about yourself.
An interview with the author.
Mark, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I love diving into the minds of creative people and after devouring your book I was just itching to know some more about you!
That’s very kind. And I love how we are conducting this interview on a Metropolis rooftop at night! However, I will not comment on your choice of under-crackers for tonight, Ms. Geek of Steel! Seriously, I am so pleased the book has chimed with such a great Superman fan as yourself. It is great to hear.
You’ve had some fantastic reviews already regarding “Watching Skies”, and quite rightly so. Why do you think nostalgia has had such a big impact on modern pop-culture?
Pop culture has always held some semblance of nostalgia. The ‘60s had an interest in the ‘20s, the ‘80s were very much into the ‘50s (Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Diner, Hairspray, Stand by Me), and the ‘90s went back to both the ‘60s and ‘70s for a lot of its musical influences. It’s all cyclical and very much wheels within wheels. But what we also in the midst of is that the filmmakers of today – the producers, commissioners, writers and directors – who were ‘80s sky kids themselves once are now creating and green-lighting all sorts of titles because they know quite right how there is a market for more Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, Tron, Ghostbusters, Blade Runner, Rocky, Vacation and Alien movies. Add to that current technology, social media platforms and the ability for us all to share a retro meme, add our own name to a Watching Skies logo, share an ‘80s rock hit or rediscover a lost cult movie gem – it all becomes a great heady mix. Although, as Watching Skies points out, it is not just this generation of 30 and 40-somethings and their rose-tinted nostalgia. The movies of that era were brilliantly created. Superman: The Movie continues to stand the tests of time not because it is a nostalgic treat, but because it is good.
Now, your book is filled to the brim with nostalgia and I loved it!
If you only had one hour with THE DeLorean, where would you go and what would you bring back?
Just an hour?! I would go back and maybe try to distract Christopher Reeve from getting on that last horse. Or burst in on the Salkinds’ office and tell them they were wrong to move on from Richard Donner. And I would definitely go back to that Winter 1984 afternoon when I encountered Reeve in my local town. I would be braver than I was that day in order that I wouldn’t still regret a missed opportunity decades later. I would also go back and invite writer Tom Mankiewicz for dinner so we could talk writing, cinema, 007 and Superman. He was always one of my dinner party fantasy guests. Furthermore, I would not ignore an invite to spend an afternoon with make-up designer Stuart Freeborn who was the prosthetics artist on the Reeve movies. He was clearing out all sorts of movie-minded ephemera to downsize and wanted to find kind homes for some of his life’s work. He did however pass on some bits I now cherish. But not his beloved watch he kept from Christopher Reeve. He rightly kept that safe. Oh, and maybe a vintage Superman: The Movie or Superman II movie poster. I’d grab one of them too!
Now, we are both passionate fans of Superman (the best people are!). The 1978 Superman movie has its 40th anniversary this year and is still loved by the world. Why do you think that is?
It’s beautifully made. It’s beautifully realised. It’s beautifully done. Watching Skies is quite adamant that without Superman ’78 there would be no Batman ’89, no Nolan Dark Knight titles and certainly no Marvel Studios movies. Any modern-day comic book director ignores Superman: The Movie at his or her eternal cost. There is a beautiful dignity and humanity to what Donner and Mankiewicz achieved against many odds forty or so years ago. It is both Americana and contemporary city. It is both a coy wink at the excesses of the comic book genre, but also a soulful celebration of it and the heroism, romance, adventure and escapism it can be. Just as Gene Hackman’s superbly played Luthor is the brash dandy of a villain, in comes the almost holistic Christopher Reeve and his outer-wordly patience, poise and sense of fairness. Add to that probably John Williams best score ever, Mankiewicz’s deliciously pitched script and one of Pinewood Studios most richly-realised productions and you have an evergreen movie about a superman in blue. On a deeper level, Superman: The Movie is also a poignant coming-of-passage movie about losing parents, no longer being the child, leaving home, that first scary city job, falling in love, being unable to save loved ones and just trying to do the right thing in an ever-cynical world. Those tropes never go out of date – especially when they are done so well as they are in Donner’s 1978 masterwork.
I grew up in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Luckily for me, every foolish thing I did, said and wore didn’t get shared on social media. What antics from your geeky past are you glad did not get shared online?
Well, I would hate for that time I made my own Superman cape out of a black refuse sack (complete with a home-made Kryptonian ‘S’ I carefully drew having freeze-framed my VCR) to be made public! And I would hate for photos of that to be shared around and published in a book! My geeky past never ended. I am guilty of all sorts – hanging off the stairs trying to be Margot Kidder clutching onto that helicopter as a kid, trying to build my own Fortress of Solitude out of three inches of British snow one winter, being way too obsessed with the Omegahedron in 1984’s Supergirl that I fashioned one myself out of an old spherical air freshener, having real kid nightmares about the robotomised Vera in Superman III and being the only tourist visiting the Grand Canyon who ignored the geological wonder stretching all around me for a hard look at where Ross Webster and co might have landed in the same film. And don’t get me on the Bond antics and the time I took a toy 007 gun into a fast food chain to look cool!
Back to time travel! This time we are going into the future!
What will the people of Earth/Mars be reminiscing about in thirty years? What will be remembered and what do you want the future to forget?
Can we talk politics?! This is a Daily Planet interview after all! I used to think a deluded figurehead with a penchant for too much orange from the east coast who wanted to destroy the west coast to boost how famous he was whilst building tacky-sounding hotels and resorts was just the fictional, comic-book remit of Hackman’s Lex Luthor. Not any more (!). I still think there will be a reverence and credit placed at the red plastic boots of what Christopher Reeve did with that Jor-El / Clark Kent role more than perhaps how good Iron Man 3 or Thor 2 might be regarded in three decades time. I also worry that – whilst we globally overlook Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – I do hope its messages of nuclear proliferation, the environment, the freedoms of a quality press, the dangers of relocating to Milton Keynes (and the dangers of cost-cutting in the film industry!) don’t turn that movie into the big warning we all ignored! I also wonder if some of the fan and headline panics over a black Bond, a female Doctor Who and gay superheroes will one day be as old-fashioned and antiquated as a Smallville school reunion.
Now this is a hard one, so I’ll be nice and let you give a few answers!
What are your three favourite movies/albums and toys?
As favourite doesn’t have to mean best… my forever re-drafted list… A View to a Kill, Superman: the Movie and The Empire Strikes Back … ABBA’s Arrival, Air’s Moon Safari and John Williams’ The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack … my 1984 Millennium Falcon from Palitoy/Kenner, my first Snoopy and my X-Wings.
Finally, what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Further books, further travels and at least one more solid Man of Steel movie starring Henry Cavill that is about Superman, Clark Kent, the Daily Planet and Lois Lane and not ten other films that haven’t [and won’t be] made yet. And maybe an Omegahedron. I’d definitely like an Omegahedron.