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Spider's man

'Spider-Man 2' director Sam Raimi is the antithesis of the Hollywood player -- a man whose essential decency is reflected, he hopes, in the character of Peter Parker.

June 27, 2004|Fred Schruers | Special to The Times

Most of the furnishings in Sam Raimi's office on the Columbia lot seem accidental -- things that have survived the siege of finishing "Spider-Man 2." There's the big monitor on a cart stuffed with playback devices, the tinfoil taped to the windows to keep sunlight (and inquiring eyes?) out, the well-worn couch and coffee table. But what fills the wall behind his desk is clearly no accident -- an American flag that's about as long as Raimi, at 5 feet 9 inches, is tall.

Since Hollywood is a part of our nation where the "stars and bars" in most directors' lives are not hung on the wall, and given that the very last images of his film feature a pair of such flags waving in the breeze after his hero has created them on a typical web-slinging swing down a Manhattan avenue, the question seems inevitable: What do the flags mean to Raimi? "It's the way New York is," the director says, with just a hint of a grin at the slight misdirection in his answer (he's generally as free of pretense and equivocation as a tactful man can be), "and, um, I just love this country. I'm so happy to be here. My kids aren't persecuted for their religion. All rights are protected; no one comes and slaughters you for anything you might think or believe. An incredible place."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 27, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Columbia executive -- Today's Calendar section article on Sam Raimi, director of the "Spider-Man" movies, refers to Matt Tolmach as a Sony creative exec. Tolmach is president of production at Columbia Pictures.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 29, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
American flag -- Sunday's Calendar section article on Sam Raimi, director of the "Spider-Man" movies, noted that an American flag filled the wall behind his desk. The phrase "stars and bars," which refers to a Confederate flag, was used in error to describe it. It should have said "Stars and Stripes."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 04, 2004 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Columbia executive and American flag -- Last Sunday's Calendar story on Sam Raimi, director of the "Spider-Man" movies, referred to Matt Tolmach as a Sony creative exec. Tolmach is president of production at Columbia Pictures. Also in that story, there was a reference to an American flag filling the wall behind Raimi's desk. The phrase "Stars and Bars" to describe it was used in error; it should have said "Stars and Stripes," because the former refers to a Confederate flag.

It's so rare to hear this George M. Cohan brand of straight-up patriotism in Hollywood these days that both director and questioner sit mute for a moment. "Spider-Man 2" (opening Wednesday), with its often somber fixation on the price Peter Parker pays for being a superhero, and its moralizing refrains uttered by key players, sets the stage for an interview with Biblical overtones.

The crucial context for what Raimi is saying came earlier, as he discussed how one particular relative from his father's Jewish family fled the Nazi occupation of Poland during the Holocaust, while others his father tried to help failed to escape. But he's also said that his feelings and fears about that history are almost unutterable, and the family bloodline has been effaced in any event: "I don't want to go see that place, wherever it was in Poland. I've never even ... I don't even know the city, but nobody's alive. They're all gone."

Raimi, hunched forward in a chair literally minutes after concluding his final edit of the film, lets slip another elfin smile without changing the sidelong but attentive gaze that marks his conversational style. "I was raised a Conservative Jew in Detroit," he explains, "and I still practice Judaism now with my family here in Los Angeles, and I try to live a moral life. That's very important to me. This movie is a story of a hero, and I know all these kids are coming to see this picture, these Spider-Man movies, and look at Spider-Man as their hero. And I want to make sure that the movie has a positive portrayal -- a good role model of somebody who is good of heart and is faced with conflict and perhaps makes the hard choices, but the right choices, to be this hero. So that this admiration that is given to these superheroes in these movies is earned by Tobey Maguire and the character of Peter Parker."

A segue from the pogroms of Eastern Europe to the putatively fun summer blockbuster that is "Spider-Man 2" might seem much more difficult with anyone but Raimi. But the 44-year-old director, who five years ago was somewhere between struggling and successful, is not one to leave a pall in any room. "He's a special duck, this guy," says Avi Arad, the head of Marvel Studios, whose searching intelligence and P.T. Barnum-scale enthusiasm have created a comics-spawned trademark the film industry prizes. "You take a director like him, who really believes in family and country, and it all sounds such B.S., but it's not."

Arad cites a scene about midway through "Spider-Man 2" in which Parker, played again by Maguire, gently questions his adoptive mother, Aunt May, about a foreclosure notice. "The important statement in the scene is that everybody falls behind sometimes. [Raimi] is dealing with everyday life of real people, and Sam stayed 'real people' in his own unique way -- a successful director who will only drive American cars. And you know, with him, it's not corny. It's a way of life."

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