Thursday, April 10, 2014



That little 'sister' of mine, Doreen Lester Scrawcrunch, is becoming more and more irritating. On my breakfast tray, instead of my usual fresh squeezed orange juice, Starbuck's cappuccino, and selection of fresh fruits and breads, there was a mess of grits and some microwave sausages with what looked like congealed bacon grease thrown over it all. I am a dancer! I can't eat like this. When I voiced a complaint, she told me I wouldn't get my din-din and to lump it. I have the feeling dinner may be rat flambĂ© the way things are going. The phone is still out so I wasn't even able to call Spago's 'To Go' hotline. To add insult to injury, she was wearing my Bustopher Jones from my GlamourPuss collection of designer gowns. Fortunately, it looked ridiculous on her.

I spent the rest of the morning on the terrace, sketching out new designs for the Vicki's Secret line of intimate lingerie, soon to be available at a Pic and Save near you. The Thinga Thong has been a great success. For the career gals, I've got the Erin Brockavich inspired Erin Go Bra and, for the June Allyson set, there's the new Waste Panty. In between details of lace, elastic and under wiring, I made good use of my binoculars. Johnny Carson has installed new window treatments in his dining room and the maid at Brad and Jennifer's spits in the ice water pitcher before putting it in the refrigerator.

I cannot descend the stairs to my magnificent Ottoman inspired home theater without assistance so I had to make do with my smaller bedroom set-up for my afternoon film. My choice today was Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster, Batman with Michael Keaton in the title role. I did a small role in this film as a killer mime who aids Jack Nicholson's Joker, but my ten minute solo tap-dance through Gotham city was cut for reasons of time. They promised to put it back as a DVD extra but the footage seems to have disappeared from the Warner's vault.

Batman is one of the comics more enduring superheroes and one of the most accessible. All intelligent humans acknowledge a dark and moody side to their nature - millionaire Bruce Wayne found a way to personify his as the caped crusader, fighting injustice and evil as he sees it. Batman, unlike most other comic heroes, has no super powers. He's a normal man - fabulously wealthy and in top physical condition, but without super strength or spider webs or other fanciful traits. His skills are understandable as a combination of training and technology.

Tim Burton, the iconoclastic director, was handed the reins of a new Batman franchise in the late 1980s. The property had been filmed before, as a free-wheeling pop TV series in the 1960s with Adam West, but Warner Brothers wanted something different this time around and believed Burton could give it to them. Burton raised Hollywood eyebrows with his casting of Michael Keaton, best known for his comedic roles, in the title part. There was speculation that the film would flop. Burton however, together with his brilliant production designer Anton Furst, set about to create a whole new visual feel and look for the world of Gotham City - creating a bleak, decaying metropolis, full of shadows and mystery. Warner Brothers had a huge hit, and a successful franchise until Joel Schumacher ran it into the ground with his mishandling of later installments.

In this introductory film, we meet Batman, a solitary fighter of crime in the dark streets of Gotham City (a thinly disguised, dystopian New York); he's a loner, is mistrusted by the authorities, and chased by the press who want to know his story and his motivations. We soon learn that Batman is the alter-ego of philanthropic millionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton). Wayne is somewhat mysterious himself, closeted in his enormous home with his butler, Alfred (Michael Gough) and seemingly disconnected from people. Wayne falls for Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), a photojournalist who, together with partner Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl), is trying to track down the mysterious Batman.

Much of Gotham is corrupt and under the control of crime boss Grissom (Jack Palance). Grissom discovers that his lieutenant, Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), is having an affair with his beauteous mistress (Jerry Hall) and arranges for him to be killed by the police during an industrial sabotage break in at a chemical plant. The arrival of Batman, however, changes everything and Napier falls into a toxic chemical soup. The chemicals render him insane and change his facial structure and coloration making him into the famous Joker. The Joker soon consolidates crime in Gotham under his own leadership and puts various nefarious plots in operation and it's up to Batman to stop him.

The success of the film rests squarely on three pillars: Impeccable casting in several of the lead roles, Solid direction, and the ravishing visual design. Michael Keaton, while not an obvious choice for Batman, brings both a gravitas and a sense of danger to the role. He has an innate ability to suggest turbulent waters under a placid surface. His scenes as Bruce Wayne, in particular, allow us to see a disturbed individual who could be compelled into what could easily be classified as madness. Jack Nicholson, as the Joker (beating out both Robin Williams and Tim Curry for the part), relishes his chance to play a true comic book villain and gives one of his most physically expressive performances ever. The supporting cast are also fine. The weakest link is Basinger's heroine. The role was originally cast with Sean Young (who had to be replaced after an on set injury). Young is able to project a sense of danger in her characters while Basinger is just too wholesome - she can do wounded flower but nothing about her suggests danger or exoticism and the romantic subplot suffers for it.

Tim Burton's direction is fine, if not as original as some would like to believe. The climactic sequence, for instance, in which Batman and the Joker battle atop a decaying Gothic cathedral is stolen from a combination of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Orson Welles' The Stranger. (At least Burton steals from the best when he steals). Burton uses his camera to explore the shadowed corners of his vast sets and seamlessly transitions from the night world of Batman to the day world of Bruce Wayne.

Anton Furst, boyfriend of actress Beverly D'Angelo, won an Oscar for his dazzling sets. His creation of the nightmare of a decaying, once great city is the true heart and soul of the film and one of the chief reasons for its success. He established a tone of neo-gothic grittiness that had an incredible influence over the look of urban films in the 90s and echoes of his work can still be seen on the screen. Much of A.I. and Minority Report, for instance, would not have the look they do without his pioneering efforts. Unfortunately, he died a suicide much too young after suffering from some life reverses.

The film is worth another look, especially to remove the memories of the vile later sequels. Add it to your collection. The DVD has a decent widescreen transfer and sound, but is unadorned. There are no extras other than some production notes and cast biographies.

Toxic green goo. Symbolic broken pearls. Deadly mimes. Armor clad Batmobile. Defaced Rembrandt. Undefaced Francis Bacon. TV anchor pimples. Giant hot air balloons. Twisted plastic surgery implements. Upper crust casino party.

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