Batman postsWednesday June 14, 2017
Adam West (1928-2017)
He was the Batman when I was growing up, the only real Batman, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I realized just how funny Adam West was. His '66-'68 take is still the best superhero satire we've ever had. He's lampooning not only superheroes, not ony the movie serials of the 1940s, but our post-war cultural pomposity. What I wrote 10 years ago about the '66 movie is still true:
Batman, who started out as a vigilante, is here not only an establishment figure but the establishment figure. Cops put their hats over their hearts when the batcopter flies by. During a press conference Batman feeds the press misinformation as easily as any politician. The disappearing yacht? “Nonsense. How can a yacht simply disappear?” The exploding shark? “Doubtless an unfortunate animal who chanced to swallow a floating mine.” He and Robin are, according to Commissioner Gordon during that same press conference, “fully deputized agents of the law,” to which Robin responds, fist pounding palm, “Support your police! That's our message!” Batman has access to federal agencies as well, not only phoning the Pentagon but chastising an Admiral (seen playing tiddly-winks with his secretary) for “disposing of a pre-atomic submarine to people who don't leave their addresses.”
A few years ago, in another look at the '66 movie, I wrote, “Donald Trump wishes he were as self-important as Adam West’s Batman,” but that was before the former ran for president, and won, so I guess I have to take that back. But West's Batman is still the funniest in his self-importance. Trump stopped being funny ... OK, he was never funny.
It must be odd to have the world at your feet and then not. West was supposedly type-cast after “Batman” but I remember seeing him as a junior villain/schnook in the 1973 TV movie “Poor Devil,” starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Jack Klugman, and being shocked. Batman? The bad guy? How could that be? I felt the same seeing William Shatner as the bad guy in an episode of “Mission: Impossible.” No one typecasts more than kids—or those who can't grow up.
I still like that slogan: “Be Yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.” West got to do that. And inspired so many others in the process.
Me in the middle of mid-1960s Batmania.
Is Batman 75 Years Old ... or 2,000?
Director Zack Synder (I know) has released a new photo of Ben Affleck as Batman. You can see it here. It looks good, but, you know, Batman's all about demeanor, and Affleck doesn't really have the demeanor. At least that I've seen. But fingers crossed.
A few days ago, Warner Bros. and DC Comics celebrated the 75th anniversary of Batman with the usual marketing tweets and posts and blarghs. But aren't they underestimating Batman's age? Last January, P and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in the Egyptian wing I found this:
Seventy-five years old? How about 2,000?
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Batman: The Movie (1966)
Nathaniel Rogers over at The Film Experience has a long-running series, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” in which he and other film writers post favorite frames from favorite (or not-so-favorite) movies. It’s an always interesting and frequently surprising exercise. How can two people, for example, with all of those frames to choose from, choose the same frame? Yet it keeps happening.
It’s also difficult. Man. After deciding to participate in the latest (any Batman movie), and halfway through the ’66 “Batman,” starring Adam West, I wondered, “Wait. Do we want the best aesthetic shot or the shot that best represents the movie?” I was going with the latter. But kind of a moot point with Batman ’66 since the movie doesn’t have many great aesthetic shots. Just devastating ones.
I still think “Batman: The Movie” is the best superhero parody ever made, but then it doesn’t have a lot of competition. “The Specials”? Meh. “Superhero Movie”? Blah. Rainn Wilson in “Super”? More a parody of vigilante movies, and more gross than funny. “Kick Ass”? Buys into the very thing it’s parodying. It takes superheroes way too seriously.
Not Batman ’66. Basically it’s a parody of movie serials and the post-war pomposity that often accompanied them. (Donald Trump wishes he were as self-important as Adam West’s Batman.)
Maybe it helps to be several decades removed from the heyday of the genre? Serials were usurped by TV and died, then played for laughs (at least the “Batman” ones) at the Playboy Club, which led to this spot-on parody. But movie serials had the last laugh. In the next decade, first George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and then Steven Spielberg (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”), would revive the genre with A-list production values and a relentless pace, and we haven't gotten off of that roller coaster ride.
For “best shot,” I wanted a moment that captured the brilliant absurdity of it all. Here’s a slideshow of runners up.
The TV show began as a midseason replacement in January 1966, became a huge hit, and the movie was released the following summer amidst “Batmania.” This is a classic shot, against blue screen, that we often saw on the TV show. It's from the beginning of the movie. Robin is phoning the airport so they'll get the batcopter ready. Because everyone in Gotham is at Batman's beck-and-call.
Shots like these indicate the movie had the budget to go outdoors, but these outdoor shots actually make the movie seem cheaper. It's as if the Batman universe needs false lighting; it shrinks in the sun.
Cops holding hats over hearts as the batcopter goes by. Love this. You really need to see the second Batman serial from 1949, “Batman and Robin,” to understand how perfect this is.
Again, better production values lead to a cheaper look. It's the shark jumping Batman rather than vice-versa.
Batman and Robin, with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara, talking themselves through a complex riddle and into an absurd answer. This was a serious contender for a while.
As was this. I just love the briefcase with the little bat emblem on it. That's the thing about these superheroes and villains: everyone labels everything. Even the periscope the Penguin uses is in the shape of a penguin. Subtlety was not an option.
Another classic shot. Ralph Nader's “Unsafe at Any Speed” was published two months before the show aired and was certainly being buzzed about. Not sure if Nader is the reason for the shot or it would've been a good bit no matter what. I.e., these guys are such milk-drinking, straight-arrow heroes they buckle up every time. Plus crotch shot.
Not a contender. I just find it hilarious that Cesar Romero didn't even bother to shave his moustache for the role.
Our only shot of the batsignal. Way too cool-looking to get my vote.
Titilation was a big part of the Batman shows. Julie Newmar's Catwoman was totally unfair to the libidos of young men but Lee Meriwether wasn't far behind.
Frank Gorshin seems to agree.
A serious contender. It looks diabolical, but Romero's Joker is more right-hand man to Burgess Meredith's Penguin, who runs the show.
Not many shots with all four supervillains together. Here, Catwoman licks herself.
Another classic TV series bit.
Probably the movie's most famous scene: Batman attempting to get rid of a bomb along the Gotham waterfront, but constantly running into the more innocent members of society, such as mother and child.
Then a Salvation Amy band. Baby ducks were next.
“Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!” West's gift for physical comedy is underrated.
Another serious contender. The worst aspect of movie serials was the often serendipitous (read: lame) resolution to the previous week's cliffhanger. Here, the batcopter crash lands ... at a Foam Rubber Wholesalers Convention.
Another blue screen shot. It's intercut with footage of Batman and Robin running through ... is it New York? Does anyone know?
This is one of the better shots to include all four supervillains, and contains the extra absurdity of each of them wearing a mask as if to hide their identities.
Nathaniel posted a similar shot. Penguin and Catwoman celebrate their abduction of the United World Security Council (see vials).
I considered this, too. It's from the final epic battle atop the Penguin's pre-atomic submarine that he purchased under the pseudonym “P.N. Gwynn.” Here, Batman and Penguin thrust and parry while the Joker takes a swing at Robin and misses by a mile.
Not a contender but always good to have another shot of Catwoman.
Batman is stunned to learn that his “love,” Miss Kitka, was really Catwoman. In the background, Parisian music plays. We were still on a WWII wavelength.
How can you not love this? Batman's utility belt outside his smock? The label on ... well, everything? Another contender.
One of the final shots of the movie. The grand pomposity is there in West's eyes, while Robin looks ready to receive his fatherly wisdom. “Who knows, Robin. This strange mixing of the minds may be ... the greatest single service ever performed for humanity.” *FIN*
All good contenders, but here's my best shot:
Everything comes together. Robin, intense as ever, is in the midst of his signature move, pounding fist into palm, while Batman crosses his arms like a bat. Meanwhile you have that great comic look from Stafford Repp's Chief O'Hara.
It's really a meta-message on the absurdity of the dialogue. After Batman and Robin escape the magnetic buoy, a Polaris missile writes two riddles in the sky. ”What does a turkey do when he flies upside-down?“ ”He gobbles up!“ Robin says. That's actually a legitimate answer to a legitimate riddle. Less so the second one: ”What weights six ounces, sits in a tree, and is very dangerous?“ It's when Robin gives the answer, ”A sparrow with a machine gun!“ that O'Hara gives us this look. Gordon adds to the absurdity by saying, ”Of course," but the greater, unspoken absurdity is the fact that Gordon and O'Hara, a police commissioner and his chief of police, follow the lead of a man dressed like a bat and a short-tempered teenager in tights. That's why this one gets my vote.
Wait'll They Get a Load of Me: Ben Affleck as Batman
So the internet went apeshit yesterday over the photo director Zack Snyder tweeted of Ben Affleck in costume on the set of the new “Batman vs. Superman” movie:
I like how Snyder used hashtags after the photo: #Batman #Batmobile #Gotham. As if the news wouldn't have gotten out otherwise.
I have qualms about all of this, of course. One, Batman vs. Superman is always a stupid concept, since Batman can barely hold his own against the Joker and Riddler, and Superman is, you know, Superman: superstrong, invulnerable, heat vision, flight, etc. Two, it's still Synder, and Snyder's never directed anything decent. The opposite, usually.
And three, Affleck, for all of his talents, doesn't project the intensity Batman is supposed to have. Here's something I wrote in 2008:
Christian Bale is the perfect choice for the caped crusader. He’s tall, dark, good-looking, and even before Batman, and certainly after, he tends to play intense, off-kilter guys, and that’s what you want for Bruce Wayne. This is a man, after all, who can do anything he wants with his wealth and chooses to put on cape and cowl and prowl the night in search of crime. He’s got to have a big chunk of himself missing. He’s got to be lost within his own passion. So why not use an actor lost within his own passion?
Has Affleck projected this in any role? He feels sleepy to me. The best acting I've seen him do was as George Reeves, TV's Superman in the 1950s, which was about the absurdity of a grown-up playing a strong man in tights. Now that's the norm. Now that's the goal. Which is the biggest qualm of all.
Oh well. As the saying goes: “Be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then be Batman.”
This is me in about ... 1967? During the Adam West Batman craze, no doubt. The cape is Batman's, the mask is Robin's, the belly is all mine.
Why Ben Affleck is All Wrong to Play Batman
Batman has to be fierce and intense. He has to be crazy enough to dress up like a freakin' bat and hang out in Gotham City and fight crime. Michael Keaton embodied this intensity, Christian Bale embodied it even more. But Affleck? He's usually the mellow guy dealing with a short, short-tempered friend. See “Good Will Hunting” and “The Town.” He's pretty good at this. But intense? Not.
The best acting I've seen from him was when he played George Reeves, the original Superman on TV, in “Hollywoodland.” It's the anti-superhero movie that made up for Affleck's turn as “Daredevil.” And now he's going back to the superhero role? Did he not talk to George Clooney first? Clooney was as wrong for Batman as Affleck is. Both men are too cool, too even-tempered. You can't play Batman as cool and even-tempered.
Bad move for Affleck, who's recovered his credibility. Bad move for Warner Bros. and DC, who are attempting to recover theirs.
To play Bruce Wayne/Batman, you need something of the intensity of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale.
I've never seen that level of intensity in any role Ben Affleck has played—with the possible exception of O'Bannion.