Category Archives: Pop Culture

From Gotham to Gautham: Batman: The Movie (1966)

Batman 66 Poster

Twenty-seven years after Batman first appeared on the comic book page and seventeen years after he last appeared on the silver screen, 20th Century Fox released Batman to theaters. Of course, this wasn’t a new Batman on film, but rather a spin-off movie of the popular television series, the first season of which had aired between January and June of 1966. The loud colors, tongue-in-cheek humor, and satire made teenagers and young adults dig the show, while the same colors, action, and cool gadgets made younger viewers rediscover Batman.

The popularity of the TV series, which only lasted three seasons between January 1966 and June 1968, kept it in reruns and was my first live-action Batman in the late-1970s/early-1980s. The show aired nearly every day and like The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves, in this time before cable television had taken a grasp on the world, it was common for these holdover shows to air a lot. To me, Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin were Batman and Robin for a great many years. When my father brought home Batman comic books, I couldn’t understand why Batman’s ears were so long and I couldn’t see his eyes. So I drew the eyes in. I remember playing with my Mego Pocket Superheroes Batman and Robin and mimicking the horns that played every time Batman or Robin punched someone in their brawls.

This is what superheroes looked like, once upon a time.

This is what superheroes looked like, once upon a time.

Batman: The Movie seemed to air on Sundays. Not every Sunday, but once or twice a year, usually on channel 56, out of Boston. It was cause célèbre. It had four of the best Batman villains, the Batmobile, Batboat, Batcycle, and Batcopter, and an exploding shark! And don’t even get me started on the bomb!

And I sometimes wonder why I didn’t have more friends when I was a little kid.

The Daylight

The cast is pretty good. Adam West and Burt Ward look like Batman and Robin and Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Granted, West may have been able to work out a little for the role, but overall, his jaw is pretty Batmanish and he looks physically able to do some stuff. Burt Ward looked young enough to be, if not a boy, definitely a teenager. They also seem to really enjoy being these heroes. They relish the dialogue and silliness of it, but never give in to it. They play it absolutely straight.

Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Lee Meriwether, and Frank Gorshin play the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and the Riddler in a delightfully frantic way. They seem to understand what the show was about and seem to enjoy their roles, chewing up the scenery as they go. Romero as the Joker, even though he wouldn’t shave his mustache, is perfect. He represents the Joker’s lighter days from the 1950s and into the 1960s, when the Comics Code Authority were at their height. Meredith as the Penguin is phenomenal. He is the leader of the group of villains and is somehow simultaneously mean and hilarious. As the Penguin, there’s a gleam in his eye and you both fear and love him. Lee Meriwether stands in for Julie Newmar, who had prior obligations and couldn’t reprise her television role for the movie. Meriwether is excellent as Catwoman. She slinks across the screen, playing verbal ping-pong with Adam West. The Catwoman is pretending to be a Russian reporter and Bruce Wayne definitely has a thing for her. It’s great.

I actually want to single out Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. He’s the best of the villains in this movie, though he’s not given as much to do as The Penguin or Catwoman. He’s off-the-wall one moment and then very dark, even scary, the next, only to return to his hyperactive ways. Of all the villains, Gorshin makes the Riddler seem the scariest. His face can go from dead serious one moment, to insane laughter and glee. Perfection.

"Go get 'em, Rocky!"

“Go get ’em, Rocky!”

In terms of capturing what the TV show was about, the movie succeeds quite well. Shot at the very end of the first season, and released during the summer between the first and second seasons, it is an epic story that could easily have been several episodes, but uses the big screen to open things up. There are shots of Wayne Manor that one doesn’t see in the series, for instance. Also, the movie introduces three new vehicles in this Batman’s world: the Batcycle (with sidecar), the Batcopter, and the Batboat. Shots of the Batcopter flying over 1966 L.A. are priceless.

Batrific!

Batrific!

The small political statement that’s woven into all the silliness is also pretty cool. The writer, Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who was the head writer of the series, interjects some politics into the movie. The villains decide to kidnap the United World Orginization’s Security Council (a play on the United Nation’s Security Council), whose members spend all their time bickering and not getting much done. They argue so much, they never see the colorful villains in the room with them (see the above group shot of the villains) or realize they’ve been dehydrated into multi-colored dust and then rehydrated back to themselves, almost. There’s also a jab at then-president Lyndon Johnson, as well as the government selling old military vehicles.

The satire and parody of 1950s Batman comic books as well as the movie serials is pretty good, as well as the way comic books had to be watered down after Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent nearly destroyed the American comic book industry. Having Batman and Robin be deputies of the law, saying things like they are pro-police, and even having the police take their hats off to them as they fly by in the Batcopter, is all amusing.

I couldn’t possibly mention this movie, or the TV series, without giving some love to the Batmobile. For a generation, this was the real Batmobile. Last year I went to the Rhode Island Comic Con and saw the Tim Burton Batmobile, it was cool. But not as cool as seeing this Batmobile would’ve been. From its exterior to its interior, this car is a beauty. Love it.

Vroom!

Vroom!

The Darkness

For a big screen foray of an adventure series, it still feels an awful lot like the TV show. Perhaps the budget they were given for the movie wasn’t as large as it could’ve been. Maybe I’m writing this from the viewpoint of having seen Superman and General Zod destroy a huge amount of Metropolis. Whatever the reason, it’s not as big as it could be.

Some of the jokes fall flat. After recently watching the IFC marathon of the series, the movie feels watered-down. The jokes aren’t as sharp. The shark? It’s ridiculous, and I guess that’s what they were going for, but doesn’t feel very pop art funny.

"Whew! A little higher and he may have bitten my-- Robin! Send down the Bat-Shark Repellent!"

“Whew! A little higher and he may have bitten my– Robin! Send down the Bat-Shark Repellent!”

The real darkness of not just the movie, but of the entire run of Batman, was its lasting impact. In the early 1960s, in response to the popularity of new comic book heroes like The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and, generally, all of the new Marvel characters at that time, DC decided to try to breathe new life into their comics. By recreating the 1940s character The Flash as a hip, young man with no ties to the original, DC spawned the Silver Age. One of the things they decided to do was to bring Batman back to his more serious roots, while changing the costume up and making him seem cooler to the kids of the time. Carmine Infantino is the artist credited with giving Batman the yellow oval.

Just as the new Batman was debuting in comic books, ABC aired Batman and the decision was made to make the comic book more like the TV series. By the early-1970s, with the show dead by a few years, editor Julius Schwatrz wanted to bring a more serious tone to DC overall, making it even more like Marvel. He experimented with Green Lantern and Green Arrow, two heroes that were not selling very well. When they succeeded, he moved the creative team from that book to Batman. The team, writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, brought Batman into the 1970s by updating him and his cast. Robin was now off at college, appearing when needed. Bruce Wayne left the huge Wayne Manor and moved into a penthouse apartment at the top of Wayne Foundation, which was run by Lucius Fox. The Joker became a killer again.

Here’s the thing, though, unless you actively read the comics–and there weren’t many who did–nobody knew of these changes. Mention comic books, and it’s Biff! Pow! Whammo! Sound effects that hardly ever made their way into the actual comic books before the TV series, never mind after! Batman and Robin were planted deeply in the mind of the general audience as Adam West and Burt Ward, sliding down Batpoles, using Bat-Shark Repellent, and serving public service announcements within dialogue. The damage done to the comic book industry as a result of the constant reruns of Batman almost killed it many times over. And even as Richard Donner’s 1978 masterpiece Superman: The Movie made people aware that comic books could be brought into modern times and be relevant, one can’t help but wonder if the relationship between Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his sidekicks Otis (Ned Beatty) and Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) would’ve been different without the Batman TV show still so planted in the minds of viewers. And even now, in 2014, when comic books and comic book characters have become huge business, there are still articles and news stories that insist on using silly sound effects as a lead-in or in the title.

"Shit just got real, Dick."

“Shit just got real, Dick. Shit…just got real.”

Dawn

Serious comic book fans like to bash the Batman TV series and 1966 movie (the entire Adam West/Burt Ward series/movie has come to be referred to as either Batman 1966 or Batman ’66) for its silly take on the characters but the series and the movie are fun to watch. If you were born in the 1970s, you saw the show and movie on TV all the time and Adam West was your Batman. Hell, when I was younger, I dismissed the series as silly and insulting. Of course, this happened right around 1989, the year I turned 12, and that’s a tough age anyway.

For better or worse, Adam West left his mark on the character of Batman, a mark that wouldn’t be removed until 21 years after the cancellation of his TV series.

"I'm...Batman."

“I’m…Batman.”

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Robin Williams, or Laughter & Tears

My heart broke tonight. I’m devastated. One of my heroes is gone.

About quarter past seven, I quickly went onto Facebook and the third status update read: Not Robin Williams. The next two were news stories.

Dead, said the first.

Dead, apparent suicide, said the other. I stopped then.

“Oh no,” I said, voice cracking.

“What? What’s wrong?” Pamela asked.

I told her. And then I cried.

There have been few celebrity deaths that have made me cry just from the news. Sometimes reading or hearing about those they left behind–family, children especially, friends–and usually after the fact. I cried when Clarence Clemons died. I’d seen him twice on stage, rocking with Springsteen. I knew it meant a fundamental difference in the music, and I knew that it’d mean a lot to the members of the E Street Band, because the band has been together for around 40 years. I may have cried when John Ritter died 11 years ago this September. He was a childhood idol and one of my favorite actors. And he was so young, in his early fifties.

Tonight, the loss of Robin Williams hits me so goddamn hard.

I know I’m not the only one. I’ve glimpsed, briefly, at Facebook, and have seen similar feelings from those better than me. I think of his friends and family, his children, and I feel for them.

Tonight I lost a hero. And he did it to himself.

Look, I’m not trying to be melodramatic. I’m not crying as I type this. But Williams was a ball of lightning on stage. In film, he was excellent. My favorite roles of his were the serious ones. Dead Poets SocietyThe Fisher KingOne Hour PhotoGood Will Hunting, and even such cameos as in Kenneth Branagh’s Dead Again. I had my first date to Mrs. Doubtfire. I owned action figures and dolls of Mork from Ork.

I have equated my teaching style to my mentor, mixed with Robin Williams. I don’t mean Dead Poets Williams, either, I mean stage Williams. Going from one side of the stage to the other, breaking into voices, grabbing whatever is around to riff off of or to make his point. I mentioned Springsteen before and I recently compared him and Williams. Both come out on stage to a crazed audience and within five minutes, they have huge sweat circles under their arms, and within fifteen minutes, they’re soaked in sweat.

When Williams was on stage, everything was on the table. If it was in his head, he used it. Word is, he would often send checks to other stand-up comics for accidentally using their material in shows. Not because he was stealing it (Dane Cook, right?) but because it was something he’d heard once somewhere and it just came out in his machine gun-like delivery.

He was the stereotypical clown who was sad on the inside. His admitted drug use in the past, recent bouts with alcohol and drugs were obviously him self-medicating. I keep seeing the term comedic genius written about him. I don’t think he was a comedic genius, so much as a genius. He got things, he understood them, and he made it so you could understand them and laugh. There’s a moment in 2002’s comedy special Robin Williams Live on Broadway when he sips from a bottle of water (there were easily two or three dozen on a table) between jokes and he lifts the bottle near his face and says, “Liquid gold. In twenty years, you’re all going to fighting for this stuff.” I believe he goes on a short riff about it. I thought of that off-hand joke in recent weeks with the news that one of the heads of Nestlé has stated that water shouldn’t be a right for everyone, and that the company is maintaining their water bottling plants in places hit by horrible droughts around the United States. Robin Williams knew, man! He knew because he’s a fucking genius.

Was a fucking genius.

Was.

Goddamnit.

He was a fan of science fiction, too. Probably of all fiction, but during his brief show, Robin Williams @ Audible.com, Williams interviewed Harlan Ellison, and the knowledge he had of the field was amazing. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you know how Harlan is one of my heroes*. He and Robin Williams were friends. Good friends, from what I can tell. Williams did a Sci Fi Channel special about Harlan Ellison (you can see him with his groovy Patch Adams hairdo). He also appeared in the documentary about Harlan, Dreams With Sharp Teeth. By the way, if you can find Robin Williams @ Audible.com anyway, listen to it. He had some great interviews with some interesting people. Anyway, they mention a benefit that was held for Ellison for something and Isaac Asimov was there, and this one, and that one, and you could hear the awe in Williams’s voice, all those years later (the show was done around 2000 or so). It wasn’t a shock to me when Williams made the film adaptation of Asimov’s story The Bicentennial Man.

Oh! One of the interviews on the Audible.com show was with John Irving, writer of the novel The World According to Garp, whose the film adaptation was one of Williams’s first serious film roles.

They say when you’re feeling something deeply, to write it down. That’s what I’ve done here tonight. A status update or 140-character Tweet couldn’t get my emotions through.

I’ll be looking out for his comedy specials, sure to be aired in coming days. I’ll find my own copy of Live From Broadway and watch it. I know I’ll cry as I laugh, just as I cried the first time I heard the three-minute sax solo in “Jungleland.” I’ll finally get around to watching World’s Greatest Dad and Death to Smoochie, and Popeye, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid.

Perhaps the demons that made Robin Williams kill himself are the same demons that made him a genius. Maybe it was his genius that fed the demons. Either way, Robin Williams was not a perfect man, he was troubled and caused trouble in his own life, but he also brought light to people. Friends, family, and us, his audience.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. I wish we could’ve helped you as you helped us.

___________________________

* I’m throwing around the word hero, I know that I am. Influence doesn’t sound right, diggit? To say Robin Williams or Harlan Ellison, or Springsteen or Stephen King are influences is 100% accurate, but it doesn’t read as well as I’d like it to. Not right now. So I’m going with hero.

From Gotham to Gautham: Batman and Robin (1949)

Batman 49 Poster 3

Ten years after his debut in Detective Comics #27, Batman returned to the big screen in the Columbia Pictures serial Batman and Robin. This go-around, Batman/Bruce Wayne is played by Robert Lowery and Robin/Dick Grayson is played by Johnny Duncan. Alfred (Eric Wilton) returns and Commissioner Gordon (Lyle Talbot) and Vicki Vale (Jane Adams) make their debuts. This time, Batman and Robin are up against the enigmatic Wizard, who plans on using a massive remote control to take over the world. I think. I can’t really remember what his overall scheme is.

Like the 1943 serial Batman, Batman and Robin is fun to look at nearly 70 years later as a relic of a time gone by rather than any mastery of filmmaking. As with the first serial, one gets the sense that the producers are chomping on their cigars, not worrying about plot or realism because children (boys, mostly) are the main audience.

Batman and Robin is a sort-of-sequel to Batman. In the first episode, it actually shows clips from the previous serial as the narrator explains who Batman and Robin are, yet I don’t know if it is an actual sequel. This serial was released five years after World War II and any mention of Batman and Robin being secret agents for the U.S. are gone. They are crimefighters. It was also released six years after its predecessor, which would mean many of their original target audience might have outgrown their anticipation for such a release. And with different actors playing the roles, it makes the strong case against this story being a sequel that much stronger.

The Daylight

Robert Lowery is a better Batman in some ways than Lewis Wilson. He’s a tad more Batmanish. The costume is even slightly better…I think. Batman doesn’t get rescued as much and he also doesn’t get his ass handed to him as often.

"I'm Batmaaaaa..."

“I’m Batmaaaaa…”

Vicki Vale making an appearance is good and she’s only the damsel-in-distress a couple of times over the 15 chapters.

No uncomfortable racism. Political correctness may suck sometimes, but what was going on in the first serial was over-the-top.

The overall storyline isn’t that bad, I guess. I’m stretching here…

The Darkness

Robin is too old. Douglas Croft looked like a kid in the first serial. Johnny Duncan looks like a man in this serial, but is forced to be the Boy Wonder. His voice is almost as deep as Batman’s! His acting is all right, maybe even better than Lowery’s, but it’s odd seeing this man play Robin.

"Now, Dick, how many times have I told you that you're the Boy Wonder! Now go shave those arms!"

“Now, Dick, how many times have I told you that you’re the Boy Wonder! Now go shave those arms!”

Batman is an asshole. I mentioned in the last essay that Batman/Bruce Wayne plays mean jokes on Alfred, and is very flippant about his girlfriend’s concerns. She needs help and he comes up with some lame reason for not helping her so he can run off and help as Batman. In this serial, Batman is just…well…an asshole. His (ass-)holiness pops up throughout. An especially great asshole moment is in episode 8. Someone points to Vicki Vale and asks, “Who’s this?” Batman smiles and responds, “Oh, don’t mind her. She’s always taking pictures nobody ever sees.” I mean, how much more of a douche can you be? Well, this Batman has ways. Alfred is the butt of jokes again. He ribs Vicki Vale tirelessly. He’s just an asshole.

Vicki Vale is a fairly strong woman character in this serial, but she does very little. There’s a point when The Wizard has turned himself invisible that Batman and Commissioner Gordon ask if she can use her camera to take The (invisible) Wizard’s picture with an infrared bulb. She asks, “And just how do you focus on someone you can’t see?” To which Basshole–I mean Batman–replies, “That’s up to you to figure out.” And she accepts this asshole’s “help.” She does what’s she’s asked to do, even so far as being able to have the picture not only see the invisible Wizard, but through his mask as well! Still, I wish she had more to do.

Plot inconsistencies. Of course. Moving on…

Guns. Again, there are guns that no one uses except for sometimes.

"Don't move, Batman, because I may throw this gun at you and my criminal friends will fistfight with you, which will probably result in you falling and being saved in the next chapter by Robin, Vicki Vale, or chance."

“Don’t move, Batman, because I may throw this gun at you and my criminal friends will fistfight with you, which will probably result in you falling and being saved in the next chapter by Robin, Vicki Vale, or chance.”

Batman and Robin are horrible at hiding their identity and the world around them are morons for not figuring it out. They drive Bruce Wayne’s car. At one point, they pull into his driveway, and jump out, running into the house. They are spotted several times in and out of costume. The bad guys do believe Wayne is Batman at one point, only to get thrown off when Alfred dons the batcostume so Bruce can escape. The funny thing is that Alfred also manages to change his body to wear the suit perfectly. Well…as perfectly as this suit fits anyone.

"Hey, Bobby, look! Batman and Robin are driving Bruce Wayne's car again!"

“Hey, Bobby, look! Batman and Robin are driving Bruce Wayne’s car again!”

The costumes are horrible. All of them.

"My costume is quite grand. Take back your words, Gauthier, or I will use my giant remote control to do something evil to you!"

“My costume is quite grand. Take back your words, Gauthier, or I will use my giant remote control to do something evil to you!”

The city streets (i.e., the Columbia backlot) never has anyone walking on them. All the cars are the same, Mercuries, even the police cars, which don’t look any different than civilian cars. The backroads and country around L.A. is as prominent as in the first serial, and…and…and…

Dawn

The mind spins. Again, the fun of watching these serials is seeing a piece of cultural history on display. These are not perfect films. The acting is shoddy, the writing is bad, and the production has little value or art. I can recommend this only to the hardcore Batman fan who wants to see a piece of the character’s history. After these 15 chapters played out, it would be seventeen years before Batman hits the silver screen again. Inspired by…these serials.

Also check out the website Batman On Film for a great write-up on the serials. I used this, as well as the Wikipedia entry as sources.

"I'm Batman!"

“I’m Batman!”

From Gotham to Gautham: Batman (1943)

Batman 1943 Serial Poster

Four years after Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27, Batman and Robin hit the big screen for the first time in a Columbia Pictures movie serial. The story is told in 15 chapters and is amusing to watch with 70 years distance. The plot concerns Batman (Lewis Wilson) and Robin (Douglas Croft) trying to foil a scheme by the evil Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish).

This movie serial came out at the height of World War II and there is quite a bit of propaganda and outright racism. Dr. Daka is a Japanese spy whose goal is to use a radium-powered ray gun to help overthrow the United States. Batman is employed by the U.S. government to stop Daka’s plan. This involves Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend Linda Paige (Shirley Patterson), her uncle, and zombies. Not risen-from-the-dead zombies but mind-controlled people controlled by Dr. Daka. Batman triumphs with the help of Robin and his butler Alfred Pennyworth (William Austin).

(Did I spoil that for you? I’m sorry. But in my defense, this is a 1943 movie serial aimed at kids and featuring a comic book superhero. This is 43 years before Frank Miller’s game-changing Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One stories where anything could–and does–happen).

Until I decided to do these essays, I’d never seen this version of Batman. I knew of it, of course, but hadn’t seen it. (Nor had I ever seen a movie serial). So my first viewing of this serial was as a 34-year-old adult.1 It must have been pretty cool, though, to be kid in 1943 and seeing these chapters. Yes, there are some changes from the comic book (Batman as government agent is but one) but it must have still be pretty nifty (or whatever the slang was back then) to see Batman and Robin fighting bad guys on the big screen. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

The Daylight

Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft seem to work well together as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin. You get the sense that they’ve been working together a while. Wilson is pretty good as Bruce Wayne, giving him an arrogance that is almost mind-blowing at times. Croft gives Dick Grayson/Robin just enough boyish charm to appeal to the boys in the audience but is tough enough to hold his own. As a matter of fact, Robin tends to save Batman more often than the other way around in this serial.

"It doesn't matter, Dick. We're still better superheroes than Ryan Reynolds will be in 68 years."

“It doesn’t matter, Dick. We’re still better superheroes than Ryan Reynolds will be in 68 years.”

William Austin as Alfred Pennyworth is also quite enjoyable, though not in a serious manner. Alfred is the comic relief of this story which is essentially about the Japanese taking over the United States, turning Americans into zombies.

Shirley Patterson as Linda Paige, Bruce Wayne’s oft-suffering girlfriend. Yes, she has moments of eye-rolling “I’m a woman and am therefore helpless” but she doesn’t hold back from putting Bruce Wayne in his place. Her uncle had just been released from prison and is kidnapped and she wants to look for him. When she asks Bruce for his help, he essentially tells her he can’t because he has some sort of inconsequential thing to do. She gets angry, tells him to buzz off, and then leaves. More on this later.

The action. Ranging from 26 minutes to 13-and-a-half, every chapter has at least one fist-fight, some have two. And because they comprise a serial and they wanted the kids to spend their dime next week, too, each chapter has a cliffhanger that puts Batman in some sort of jeopardy.

For modern audiences, this serial is an interesting look back on an artform that helped inspire what television series would become. It is also an interesting look at that time period and what entertainment was like. One of the charms of the serial is the low-budget feel. In one fight scene, Batman’s cape falls off in one shot and reappears on him in the next. In another chapter, Batman is climbing off a fire escape and some stuff falls out of his cape. After rewatching it multiple times I still don’t know what it is. This is low-budget, let’s get it done filmmaking.

Robin wishes he could touch a girl without his gloves on.

Robin wishes he could touch a girl without his gloves on.

The Darkness

Lewis Wilson may have been pretty good at getting Bruce Wayne’s “devil-may-care” attitude down, but he also plays Wayne/Batman as a jerk. This is not his fault, though, rather the writers Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, and Harry L. Fraser, as well as the director’s (Lambert Hillyer). By the end of the first chapter (“The Electric Brain”), Batman and Robin have gotten their hands on Dr. Daka’s ray gun. In the second chapter (“The Bat’s Cave”), Bruce Wayne decides to scare Alfred, winks and nods at Dick Grayson, and then blasts something right near Alfred. The older man looks like he may have a heart attack while Bruce and Dick yuk it up. This kind of behavior happens throughout. Alfred is often the butt of the joke, or Linda is basically told she’s second fiddle to whatever plans Bruce has that day. Her uncle is missing and she keeps getting in trouble, but Bruce shrugs it all off so he can run off and be Batman. And as Batman, he’s kind of weak.

More than weak, Batman sort of sucks. While it must have been great to see the comic book character on the big screen for the first time, I wonder how the boys (and girls?) in the audience took to their hero being so ineffective. Batman is picked up by the bad guys and either thrown over the edge of something or nearly thrown over the edge of something in almost every chapter. In chapter 14 (“The Executioner Strikes”), Batman is trying to save Linda in an obvious trap (he knows it’s a trap) and the thugs walk in. One thug immediately walks up to Batman and hits him with the butt of his revolver, knocking Batman out, quicker than it took you to read this sentence. I understand this is a movie serial and putting the hero’s life in danger at the end of each chapter is supposed to get kids involved enough to want to come to next week’s show, but making your hero look no better than the average man goes against why you’d do a Batman story anyway.

"I'm Batmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa--"

“I’m Batmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa–“

The racism in this serial is mind-blowing, especially in the ultra-politically correct 21st century where one is offended by anything. The first chapter begins in a desolate part of Gotham City known as Little Tokyo. The narrator assures the audience that it’s safe because the “shifty-eye Japs” have all been “rounded up.” The narrator is referring to the Japanese-American determent camps that the U.S. government forced its own citizens to live in during WWII in case they decided to align with their former homeland. Of course, there were no German-American determent camps because it was harder to tell those of German ancestry than those of Japanese. Dr. Daka is played by a Caucasian man á la Warner Oland’s portrayal of Charlie Chan. His headquarters is hidden within a cave-of-horror funhouse-type ride that depicts wax Japanese people performing atrocities to White people. In chapter 8 (“Lured By Radium”), going out to the country, the thugs stop by a Native American on the side of the road selling “Indian Artifacts”. One thug says, “Hey, Sittin’ Bull,” before asking whatever question he needs to. Chalk that up to the thug being a bad guy and all. But when Bruce, Dick, Alfred, and Linda stop, the old Native American speaks in that Hollywood Indian dialect, “Me don’t know…Me this and Me that.”

"Yes. In America, we can wear our underwear outside our muscle suit and up to our nipples."

“Yes. In America, we can wear our underwear outside our muscle suit and up to our nipples.”

Plot consistency. I know, this happens all the time (and will pop up throughout these essays) but they’re pretty bad here. At one point, one of Daka’s thugs say, “Hey, what if this Bruce Wayne is Batman!” Daka replies that Bruce Wayne couldn’t possibly be Batman because he’s too stupid and this and that. But by the 14th chapter, Daka says something about the possibility that Bruce Wayne may be Batman. Now, if this kept coming up, it wouldn’t have been a surprise, but it just came out of nowhere. Oh! And there’s the Radium ray guns plotline. After the small ray gun is confiscated by Batman, most of the serial is about Daka scoring more Radium to build a bigger, better ray gun to overthrow the United States. He eventually gets his Radium and has a ray rifle/cannon/thing. And then…. I couldn’t tell you what happens because it seems to be forgotten, either by me or by the filmmakers.

The fights. Oh, man, the fights. They are refreshingly not as slick as we’ve come to expect from Batman, but they are almost too realistic. If Batman is supposed to be one of America’s great secret agents, we’re in trouble. The fights are sloppy and usually end with Batman having his ass kicked so he can be saved by Robin in the next chapter.

Guns! Robin, the Boy Wonder, is given a gun at least twice in this serial. He usually fires into the air to scare the thugs working for Daka but in at least one chapter he holds the gun on them to keep them at bay. Now, it’s well-documented that Batman sometimes used guns in his early days, but by 1943 he hadn’t used a gun for 3 years, and Robin definitely wouldn’t have.

Speaking of guns, this is another thing I noted that can be placed in this section, the thugs only seem to have one pistol between them, and they use it to shoot only when Batman and Robin can find cover. There are several times in this serial when they have knocked out Batman (see above) and just leave him for whatever the cliffhanger will be. I know, I know, this happens all the time in movies and on TV, but considering their orders are to kill Batman, you’d think they might, well, kill Batman when they had the chance.

"Who shot first?!"

Who shot first?!”

The Dawn

I found Batman to be rather enjoyable, though not for the reasons the filmmakers meant. It’s a slice of history and made me think about what going to the movies must have been like for my father’s generation. It’s apparent that Columbia made the serial to cash in on the comic book craze that was in its infancy but didn’t really care about the source material. There is no Commissioner Gordon, instead there’s a Captain Arnold. There are no villains from the comic books and Batman and Robin are government agents, not just crime fighters. There’s no Batmobile. Batman and Robin are actually chauffeured by Alfred most of the time (or drive around as Bruce and Dick and then change in the back seat). However, this serial introduced the Bat’s Cave, which we all know now as the Batcave. It may have even had Alfred in its planning stages before he appeared in comics and may be the reason Alfred was in the comics. If you’re a modern viewer who is easily offended by the mistakes of our forefathers in terms of race and ethnic portrayals, then this serial isn’t for you. But as a way to view Batman in a way you probably haven’t yet, check it out. The serial is available on DVD, though I watched it here. Just don’t expect to do so in one sitting. The entire serial is about 4 hours 15 minutes.

Also check out the website Batman On Film for a great write-up on the serials. I used this, as well as the Wikipedia entry as sources.

_________________________________________
1 I originally wrote this essay a year before I did the Superman series of essays, so while the two Superman serials appeared on this blog over a year ago, it was two years ago that I watched this first Batman serial.

"I'm Batman." "And I'm Robin." "Shut up, or I'll shoot you."

“I’m Batman.” “And I’m Robin.” “Shut up, or I’ll shoot you.”

From Gotham to Gautham: An Introduction to Batman on the Big Screen

Bat-symbol

 

I’ve been working on these essays for two years. I began watching and writing about Batman on the silver screen back in 2012, around the time The Dark Knight Rises was to hit theaters. At that point, I’d only done this sort of thing once, for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. The plan stalled as life got in the way. I re-posted revised versions of the Nightmare essays (which I cleverly titled A Nightmare in Gautham) and then did a series of essays about Superman on the silver screen (From Krypton to Gautham) for the release of 2013’s Man of Steel. That fall, we experienced a Friday in Gautham when I took on Jason Vorhees and the Friday the 13th movies. By now, there were two Batman essays.

This being the 75th anniversary of Bob Kane’s (and Bill Finger’s) creation, I decided to finally finish the series.

It was a daunting task. Batman, like Superman, has been in a lot of movies and TV shows. Luckily, even his most famous TV incarnations eventually made it to the movies.

Batmen: Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Kevin Conroy, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale.

Batmen: Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, Adam West, Michael Keaton, Kevin Conroy, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale.

That’s nearly 30 hours of Batman, which somehow still doesn’t feel like enough Batman. It’s been quite an experience.

So sit back and let’s go to Gotham City….

Me in...ooohhh...1981? '82? Between 1980 and 1982. I am Batman.

Me in…ooohhh…1981? ’82? Between 1980 and 1982. I am Batman.

It’s a Beautiful Day In This Neighborhood, or Why Mr. Rogers Matters

This will be my second time writing about Fred Rogers, the first was back in September 2011 when I was still attempting to write my ill-fated MediaBio blog. The reason I’m returning to the man the world knew as Mr. Rogers is because of his importance.

My wife and I have introduced Genevieve to TV. More precisely, our TV. I mean, the shows we watched as children. She’s been on a Muppet Show kick (which kind of sucks because the 3rd and, so far, last DVD set came in yesterday, and while the show had five seasons, only three have been released) and via Amazon Prime my wife introduced her to classic Sesame Street  (being my daughter, she prefers The Muppet Show). Prime also has Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Now, I’ve known the power Fred Rogers had for a long time, but especially since the incident I related the last time I wrote about him:

It was 2005, somewhere between May and July, and things had been a little bleak. I’d been separated from my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we finalized our divorce in September 2005) and was working at a local bookstore, which I would’ve loved had they paid me what I deserved, treated me the way I deserved, and otherwise didn’t have their heads up their asses (not all of them, just those who were in charge). I sat down to eat my lunch around 11:30/noon, and I only had twenty cable channels. My choices were game shows, talk shows, or PBS. One PBS channel was running Sesame Street. Blech. Another was running Teletubbies. Barf! The last had on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to leave it on. I quickly realized that I remembered the episode from my childhood. I sat watching this show that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, mesmerized. At the end, Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and said in that way he had, “Just remember that you are special. That there’s no one else in this world like you, and that you are important.”

I can’t explain it. I began weeping.

***

I remember that day nine years ago like it happened yesterday. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.

So now Genevieve will ask to watch it and she was sick for the last few days so we put it on. She’ll end up playing, but Pamela and I are good with that, because we’re really the ones watching. I’ve seen episodes from before I was born. I’ve seen episodes from long after I stopped watching. I don’t understand why I never had Courtney watch it. I’m ashamed of myself.

The thing I keep noticing is how actually good and kindhearted Fred Rogers was. His meticulousness is evident in the show and the fact that he kept it pretty much the same from 1968 through 2001 is astounding. While Sesame Street changes with the times, Mr. Rogers’s set didn’t change in all that time. Picture Picture didn’t suddenly become a flat screen TV. The Neighborhood of Make Believe never got more complicated puppets or 3D characters. Hell, the same actors worked with him throughout!

I’ve cried several times recently watching episodes. Here’s a for instance for you:

So today, we were working our way through his 5-episode arc about work called “Mister Rogers Talks About Work.” The next-to-last episode featured him going to Wagner’s Market to buy some groceries. We get to meet some neighbors and see how a grocery store worked in 1984. While walking down the cereal aisle, he comments on how when he was a little boy, he’d want to get one of everything in the aisle, and the rest of the store, but how his parents wouldn’t let him get one of everything and he learned that people couldn’t get everything they wanted.

After getting his items, which shows him being friendly to everyone, he returns “home” and puts everything away, explaining how as a parent, there were reasons he had to say no to his children and that children can’t get everything they want. Then he announced it was time for make-believe.

So Mr. Rogers goes over to the bench where he operates Trolley and there’s a top hat there, closed. He pops it open to show his Television Neighbor, and as he takes it off and sits down says, off-hand, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world.” And then he sits down and gets Trolley.

The main theme of this episode is that not everybody can have everything. That choices have to be made and it’s the grown-ups in a child’s life who makes the choice. Once the child grows up, s/he can make the choice. This isn’t said with a snarl, or a wagging finger, but with love and respect. And even though that should be enough, it was the off-hand comment made as he was sitting down, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world,” that got me.

And there are! You and I, as adults, don’t need Fred Rogers to tell us this…but we do! How often in the busy grind of our lives do we stop and really pay attention? How often do we let life beat us down? The human mind is nearly limitless with imagination yet we begin to kill it the moment a child goes to school and is told to stand in line. Lines are important, so is order, but, as Mr. Rogers states at the end of the episode, so is play.

Fred Rogers ended his show in 2001. In December 2002, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On February 27th, 2003, he died.

There has been no one before his death or since that has been able to sit down and speak to a child through the television without talking down to him/her but still being the adult. Some critics say his message to children, that they special, is the wrong message to send. I disagree. We are all individuals, there is no one else like the person we know ourselves to be, yet Mr. Rogers also gave us a message of love, of helping one another, of tolerance. Of peace.

I feel, in this time when 24/7 news talking heads, Twitter and Facebook hate and shaming, and mass-violence and teenage suicide rates are through the roof, Mr. Rogers’s message is needed more than it ever has been before.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for the love you showed me. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for what you taught me when I was five, 28, and now 36. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for being you. There is no one like you.

Riding the (Radio) Waves, or Listen to Me, Mom!

Sorry about the silence of the last…oh…shit. I just looked it up and my last post was in February! Bad blogger! My apologies, my adoring public. I could give you the grocery list of reasons—being a teacher with grades due, stress, parenting a teenager, stress, parenting a toddler, stress, being a husband, stress, and stress—but I don’t want to bore you. What I want to do is:

1. Assure you that I’m alive and well and will return here with a real post sooner than later.

2. Let you know that this Saturday, April 12th—which happens to be the great David Letterman’s birthday—I will be making my first appearance on The Tim Weisberg Show! I first met Tim back in 2011 when I was invited to so his other radio show, Spooky Southcoast, which he co-hosts with Matt Costa. Tim has been very kind since then. I don’t know what we’ll talk about but probably pop culture stuff. Since we’re around the same age, we’ll probably fall into mutual fondness for bad 1980s cartoons, horror movies, and other such stuff. Either way, I’m pretty excited because I’ve enjoyed being on the radio in the past and Tim and I seem to get on pretty well.

I’ll be appearing on the 8 o’clock hour of the show. You can listen on the WBSM website or on the RadioPup app. Of course, if you live in the Greater New Bedford area on the Southcoast of Massachusetts, you can hear it on your actual terrestrial radio, on 1420 AM.

I’ll try to be entertaining. I promise.

A Very Gauthic Christmas, or My Favorite Christmas Songs

Since I haven’t posted in awhile, and since it’s the holiday time of year, I decided to post something festive. Maybe it’s that I had both the teenager and the baby with me for the last few days and the baby is conscious of presents and fun. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older, but I seemed to have been craving Christmas music lately. So I decided to post my favorite holiday music for you. Keep in mind, this list is not set in stone and could change by tomorrow, but it’s mine and I love it.

So…

10. Blue Christmas as sung by Bruce Springsteen

This is a recent addition to the list. By that I mean, it’s only a few years old. I’m not a huge Elvis Presley fan but one of my favorite songs of his is “Blue Christmas.” Back in 2010, Springsteen and the E Street Band played a show in Asbury Park, New Jersey that was taped. It was to promote his re-release of 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and new album of previously unfinished and unreleased tracks from that era The Promise. The show featured only tracks that appeared on The Promise. Except for this song. I love the way Springsteen arranged it and the general atmosphere of the performance. Also of note, it would be the last “live” recording of Clarence Clemons with the band. He died the following June.

9. Happy Christmas (The War is Over) by John Lennon

Let’s call this one my Artsy Fartsy entry. I don’t know the words, it’s not on my iPod, but I still know it and like it. And it’s John Lennon. Come on.

8. Frosty the Snowman as sung by Jimmy Durante

I wouldn’t have even thought of this if not for a recent trip to the grocery store where this was playing. We grew up watching these specials and sometimes, the versions from those specials are what sticks. That’s the case here. Besides, it friggin’ Durante!

7. Jingle Bell Rock as performed by Hall and Oates

I love Hall and Oates. There. I said it. “Maneater.” “Your Kiss is on My List.” Egads, need I say more?! This song, along with its tongue-in-cheek hokey video, was a part of childhood I always loved. And I just like the song, too.

6. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Gene Autry

Look, if you grew up with parents who came from the 1950s or 1960s, you had this song played every Christmas. Growing up, the Gene Autry original was my least favorite version. Now, it’s the version. Well, maybe except for…

5. Silver Bells as performed by The Chipmunks

Christmas with the Chipmunks was the Christmas album in my household growing up. I loved it. “Rudolph” and “Frosty” and so many others were done in that madcap Chipmunks way with Dave Seville yelling constantly at poor Alvin. It was my life, only instead of Dave it was my parents and instead of Alvin, it was me. “Silver Bells” was a rare exception. It’s sung by Dave Seville and is a little sad. As a kid, I liked it but it was…well…quiet. Now, it’s the only version of “Silver Bells” I hear in my head.

4. Christmas in Hollis by Run D.M.C.

If you were growing up in the 1980s, and you were open to rap, you love this song. The video is even better. I remember my parents being…shocked? upset? amused?…that I liked this song and probably thought it was just a phase. Yeah, well, guess who rapped it to a 1-year-old the other day? That’s right. This guy!

3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town as performed by Bruce Springsteen

I love the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I loved the stop-motion animated special. I did not love the Springsteen version. Until recent years. The video shown is good, but the original recording from 1978 (I think, maybe ’81?) is where it’s at. The verse after the sax solo shows a reckless abandon and joy that is pure Springsteen and pure rock n roll. It’s a fun song, okay?

2. All I Want For Christmas is You by Mariah Carey

Yes, I love this song this much. I am not ashamed. It’s a damn good song. I like the music. I love Carey’s vocals. It’s a song that makes me happy. So there.

1. The Chipmunk Song by Alvin and the Chipmunks

This is Christmas to me. This is my favorite song on Christmas with the Chipmunks. It is my favorite Christmas song, period. It made me laugh when I was a kid. I could relate to it. It was just fun. And it still makes me smile. Love it!

***

Honorable mention goes to “Must Be Santa,” a song I never heard recorded but loved to sing in elementary school.

For me, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday. It’s a day (or time period) to spend with family and friends, to be together, perhaps exchange gifts, eat, and have fun. And enjoy some music. So have a happy Christmas, if you celebrate. If you don’t, go be with people you love, eat, and sing some songs anyway. We could all use a little more of that, right?

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