Friday, April 2, 2021

Memories of My Favorite Batman

 I'm a pretty easy audience because I don't think I've ever met a Batman I didn't like. And for the record, Burton's vehicles are the best! Batmobile sleek and long; Joker's cars for his team pink bodies with green tops and CHRISTMAS LIGHTS IN THE BACK WINDOWS! 

Batman, 1989 d. Tim Burton

written by Bob Kane (Batman Characters) and Sam Hamm (Story and Screenplay)

Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Billy Dee Williams, Pat Hingle, Robert Wuhl

Summary: "The Dark Knight of Gotham City begins his war on crime with his first major enemy being Jack Napier, a criminal who becomes the clownishly homicidal Joker," (IMDB)

There's a lot of background for this "review." It was the summer of 1989, I was thirteen, and this film was everywhere. We started seeing ads, were treated to Prince's "Batdance" on MTV and the radio, and soon, the merchandise arrived, even in our tiny town! Bat cards. Bat earrings. Black T-shirts with the golden bat emblem. Because the theater was thirty miles away, we had to carefully coordinate how and when we would get to see the film, not only because of the distance and needing to be driven, but because the showings were sold out for weeks on end. In the meantime, we took solace in watching the old sixties show with Adam West and Burt Ward on cable. 

As I had been too young for Star Wars in the theater, Tim Burton's Batman would be my first blockbuster experience and I was intent on milking the event to the absolute maximum. I got the shirt; my BFF Erica got dangly bat earrings. We both stalked Food N' Fuel daily with my 9-year-old brother to collect the entire series of Bat Cards. We taped Batdance both from MTV and the radio. I remember walking mornings over to the kids I was babysitting and anticipating the entire time during the swim lessons and playtime at the park for their eventual afternoon naptime when I'd get to see Prince and the half-bat, half-joker getup in front of that epic synthesizer setup (I had no idea what "lemme stick the 7-inch in the computer," meant then, but assumed it was something naughty). I remember the week I finally got to go to the film in Willmar, Minnesota so fully I can picture how the sky looked, how the temperature was in the high eighties, and how I wore my hair (bangs, big, courtesy of Rave, non-aerosol, level 4).

It was a case of piecing together scenes from the cards, at first anyway, since I had them all and looked at them often enough to have memorized the images and the titles from scenes in the film (i.e., "Eckhardt, Think About the Future" or "No Deals, Grissom!") But the cards were tiny and didn't come with music so seeing it all on a theater screen was better than I ever could have imagined. It was the first film experience I remember where I wasn't even halfway through it and I found myself wishing it would never end. If I had been able to turn around and watch it a second time directly after the first, I would have. 

The aesthetics and the music were most impressive to me, even at thirteen. I didn't yet recognize the goth, shadowy Burton-esque environments or the preoccupation with machinery but I was blown away by the way loud colors stood in for the Joker's evil with greens, purples, and oranges and how darkness was actually linked to goodness. I wasn't familiar with any of composer Danny Elfman's other scores yet, but I loved the contrast between the heroic Batman theme and the sort of bumbling orchestral descents given to the Joker's antics, dotted with Prince's music on streets and in the museum. I knew who Michael Keaton was, I knew who Jack Nicholson was, and I loved them both every minute they were on screen. Kim Basinger was new, but I loved her, too, and modeled my hair (poorly) after her as Vicky for years after this, tiny braid and all. Everyone was so iconic. It was all so exciting!

I came out of that theater into the hot sun and wondered how I could take the feelings I had just experienced during that film and turn them into something, some kind of involvement, or project. Something that I could preserve and love and revisit that could last my entire life. 

We watched Burton's Batman as a family a few nights ago. I tried to explain how meaningful the film was to my kids in an abbreviated version of what I've just written, above, and my teenage daughter interrupted about halfway through--- "Are you seriously CRYING OVER BATMAN?" 

(yes, I was). 

My best friend Erica had this poster hanging in her room for years.