Web Master: The 'Real' Spider-Man Speaks

It's late-afternoon in Baltimore, on opening day of the new movie Spider-Man, and Dan Poole's cell phone won't stop ringing.

Across the country, armies of thrill-seeking matinee-goers have already spent millions to catch the long-anticipated movie version of the classic Marvel comic book. Right now, thousands of Internet junkies are hotly debating the movie's controversial organic web-shooters (in the original comic book, Spider-Man shot webs from the mechanical gizmos he invented himself) while some folks are actually lining-up to see the film again.

Poole himself caught the first Baltimore screening of the day, at 11:30am, and now, not long after, his friends and fans are calling up to get Poole's reaction to the movie. But they'll have to wait, because Dan Poole -- the underground guerrilla-filmmaker and comic book fan commonly known as the "real Spider Man" -- is tied up, energetically describing that response to me. And here it is:

Spider-Man, the movie -- directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe and Kirsten Dunst -- very nearly drove Poole up a wall. Literally. And Dan Poole is a guy who's actually climbed walls.

"It was very hard to sit still through this thing," he admits with a laugh. "It did make me want to climb something, or swing from something. But I just sat there, wanting so badly to have been in it!"

That desire, to be in a Spider-Man movie, is what inspired Poole, 10 years ago, to shoot his own breathtaking Spidey adventure, "The Green Goblin's Last Stand," in hopes that his stunt-filled, crudely shot video would somehow capture the attention of Hollywood.

While Hollywood has yet to respond, Poole's movie -- in which he dons a Spider-Man suit to scale real buildings and dangle from incredibly high bridges -- has made him a legend among independent filmmakers. It's also made people question his sanity. Now a self-made documentary about Poole's exploits, titled "The REAL Spider-Man: The Making of the Green Goblin's Last Stand," has become a certified film-festival phenomenon, snagging two awards: the Audience Award for Best Documentary and Best Guerrilla Marketing during January's edgy No-Dance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The majority of Poole's fans have discovered him on the web (www.alphadogproductions.net), where the quirky doc can be purchased and GGLS -- Poole's original 50-minute movie -- can be downloaded for free.

"So," I ask, "what's it like to be Spider-Man?"

"Well, climbing walls is a lot of fun," he says. "I gotta tell you, though, that climbing in that costume is not easy. The mask is a bit suffocating and your eyes tend to get fogged up. But swinging -- swinging from bridges, swinging from building to building -- that's when I really feel like Spider-Man. In this new movie, whenever Tobey Maguire is swinging, climbing or jumping, it just made me feel so . . . envious. I could identify with those moments. As some one who's done it, I can tell you that when you're flying through the air, that's when you feel like you're really Spider-Man."

"Let me ask you straight," I say. "Did you like Spider-Man?"

"Damn! I loved it!" he confesses at considerable volume. "Ain't nobody going to be saying too much bad shit about this one. It's good. I give it an A-minus."

"Not an A?"

"Well, obviously I have some reservations," Poole replies. "I hated the Green Goblin's mask. Willem Dafoe's face is scary enough without a mask. He could have been the scariest thing on the screen since Alien. But instead it was laughable. And of course there's never going to be any excuse for the organic web-shooters. No excuse."

"Um, I thought they were kind of cool," I reply.

"You're kidding me," he says.

"Hey, if I were bitten by a genetically engineered spider and mutated into a half-spider/half-man hybrid, I'd want organic web-shooters."

"Okay, look," Poole replies. "When you read a couple titles a month of a particular character, like I have, and when he speaks to you, and becomes a part of your life, you absorb the parameters of the character, and you expect others to be faithful to those parameters. His name is Peter Parker, his Super Hero name is Spider Man. He builds his own mechanical web shooters. He never shoots web fluid out of his wrists, or his ass, or his nose or anything -- so you just don't do it. You gotta do it the way it's written, because that's the way it's been for 30-something years. It's history. Sure, it's pop-culture history, but it has touched millions of people, and you simply don't mess with it. Otherwise, why not call him Bruce Parker. Why not call him Spider Guy?"

"Anyway," he goes on, "other than those quibbles with the movie, you can't deny how well Sam Raimi treated the material. You can't deny that Raimi is a fan."

You also can't deny that Raimi's movie pours on more computer graphic special effects than in George Lucas' wildest wet dream.

"Yeah, way too much CG," Poole says. "It was all animated, man. I think I did more live action stunts in my 50-minute movie than they did in this whole thing. When Spidey was first trying out the webs, and was getting ready to take his first swing, I was thinking, Jesus Christ, guys. If you CG this, if you animate him swinging through the air, I swear to God I'm gonna run screaming out of the theater, go straight to Hollywood and burn the place down."

As advertised, Dan Poole is nothing if not passionate.

Cautiously admitting that I've always been more of an Incredible Hulk aficionado than a Spider-Man fan, I ask Poole to explain what is it about Spider-Man that makes people so passionate?

"Other superheroes --Batman, Superman, guys like that -- are always sexy and alluring," Poole explains. "They can almost do no wrong; the Hulk being one exception, I should add. But Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, is a character that people identify with because he is so real. He's got problems. Peter Parker is not somebody people feel like they want to be. Peter Parker is somebody we feel like we are.

"Anyway," adds the REAL Spider-Man, "That's how I feel."

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation.

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