Thinking back on Batman (1989)

I enjoyed MovieBob’s recent brief look back at why Batman (1989) mattered. But i also think he really didn’t dig very deep.
So here are my further thoughts:

the premise of this video is neat, but there’s no meat. (no real insight or criticism into the movie. It all just seems to be context to support the established premise that batman 89 was pretty important culturally. Does anyone disagree?).

But WHY was Batman’89 so important?

I think the key is that Burton dug up the old german expressionism film-making of Fritz Lang and Robert Wiene, and shoved it into an 80s action movie. It’s still a cartoony script, but the SHEER AWESOMENESS of german expressionism meeting action is what made it so fucking amazing. (and i think this explanation of Burton’s goals/inspiration is upheld by the bizarre character of Max Schrek in the sequel. You might remember this character better as “Christopher Walken in a weird white Andy Warhol wig.” Well, I went and looked up the name Max Schrek, wondering what batman comic it was from, and found : it’s the name of the iconic actor who played Nosferatu in 1922. ohhhhhhhh. then things fell into place). I think expressionism taps into the core of what makes movies work: putting our dreams on screen. it’s an important and underutilized technique.

The other reason this movie was so important, which is barely touched on by MovieBob is : it ENDED the 80s muscle-bound action movie genre. Go watch “Inferno: The Making of the Expendables” (it’s currently streaming on Netflix), and you’ll get Sylvester Stallone’s explanation of why the 80s action movie died. He says something like “the moment they let Keaton strap on muscles, it was over [for real men like me].” I think that’s very important if you study film. I think it’s important, culturally, to see what pop audiences want from their mainstream action movies.

In the 60s people wanted “tough old men” (like Lee Marvin), which shifted into young innocent men in the 70s after Vietnam (like Bruce Lee. see also starWars/logan’sRun/theWarriors), which turned into muscle bound power-fantasy men in the 80s (like Sylvester Stallone), which turned into enigmatic costumed comic book heroes through the 90s (like Michael Keaton). And now we may be deep into a new power-fantasy WOMAN standard (bizarrely celebrating muscular women as the tough fighters we all aspire to be. Which works more as a cerebral or cultural celebration of women than as a reflection of people we interact with every day).

I think this progression reflects cultural values. We valued old war heroes in the 60s, then we valued our young men and asian culture after vietnam, then we did coke and valued American machismo in the 80s, and then we turned inward and became a culture obsessed with the trite regurgitated myths of our childhood comic books in the 90s. Most recently we’ve been obsessed with empowering noble women (or perhaps just afraid of celebrating angry powerful men).

Maybe a better point to make here is : Hollywood no longer makes tough old men movies, or karate movies, or muscle bound action hero movies. After the massive blunder of Batman&Robin, you might say they no longer make goofy expressionistic comic book movies. These days comic book movies have become well crafted character dramas. So what is the modern action movie for the common person?
…Transforming Robots i guess. bleh. We celebrate the sexless non-human (eek!) and the alien. perhaps it’s a way for America to subconsciously celebrate what is outside of itself. and then what?

… I expect we’ll soon see a celebration of the enhanced man. The Matrix kind of led the charge into this (coming out of a 90s obsessed with mysterious black clad heroes), but then fucked itself with sequels about war. But I expect we’ll soon go back and celebrate the ideas of making everyone more powerful through physical/cyborg-ish enhancements and/or brain tampering. Because it reflects what’s really happening with iphones and ipads and the internet.

… or maybe we’ll see the rise of animal action stars. Maybe it’s time for Benji to make a raging blood fueled return to the big screen, protecting humanity from itself. People seem to love to anthropomorphize their pets. Maybe rise of the planet of the apes led the way on this one. I expect michael Bay’s upcoming TMNT (with heroes rewritten to originate from space instead of from mutation) will be wildly popular.

– Anyway. I’ll be curious if MovieBob’s next Batman-retrospective videos will address why Burton’s first Batman movie was so strong, then the sequel pushed people away. And then Schumacher’s first Batman movie was so strong, then the sequel pushed people away. That seems really weird to me. Why did this happen?!?

– I also hope he’ll mention something about Daniel Waters (writer of Heathers, who was brought in to help with the Batman Returns script). Just because Daniel Waters is one of my favorite writers, and I’d love to hear anything at all about him. nom nom nom.

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