LE CARRÉ DIEM: A Most Wanted Man

30 June, 2016 at 6:41 pm (batman, film, le carré diem)

PREVIOUSLY: Commissioner Gordon ultimately takes over MI6 after discovering the Kingsman mole in his midst. Remember: everything is in continuity.

CURRENTLY: I first saw this film in the cinema, where the experience of watching it was weighed down with the knowledge of the death of its star, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman died of an overdose of heroin between the film’s premiere at Sundance in January of 2014 and it’s wide release in September of that year, and reports and remembrances in the interim painted a picture of a man who was intense in his work and seemingly unable to leave that intensity at work. So while watching his portrayal of a man bent under pressure to stop the next global terrorist act, it was difficult not to imagine him carrying that intensity around with him, and looking to chemical relief. It made it hard to watch, and made me feel complicit in his demise, because this was the kind of intense emotional work that I wanted him to labour under, to provide for me. I’m not sure I wholly understand the message that Haneke was going for in Funny Games, especially as I have no desire to ever watch it, but it has filtered through to me that the film is about villains’ agency to fulfill the audience’s desire to watch terrible things happen, that their motivation is not as characters but as avatars for our collective desire for bloodlust masquerade. We are supposed to feel guilty for what happens to the characters. Similarly, I felt a twinge of responsibility, however accurate, for providing a marketplace for Hoffman’s lack of catharsis.

the Viking paperback edition of A Most Wanted Man by John le CarréBecause I spent my initial screening of A Most Wanted Man watching Hoffman’s onscreen pain, and projecting his apparent real life pain onto that performance, there were some aspects of the film that I missed the first time ’round. In particular, I missed entirely that this film was post-9/11 storytelling and filmmaking. I certainly didn’t catch or remember the introductory text mentioning that the planners of the Sept. 11th attacks planned their assault from Frankfurt, and the multicultural port city continued to actively search for future terrorist activity that might originate with their Muslim populations. It isn’t given undue mention subsequently, but in his notes on still photos he took during the production, director Anton Corbijn makes an explicit reference to what is the background to everyone’s actions and motivations. While narrating images from scenes where the Muslim Chechen at the center of the story spends his time holed up in an abandoned apartment, tossing paper airplanes around the space, Corbijn says that Issa tossing the paper distractions at the plastic construction sheeting in the apartment is “Obviously… a reference to 9/11” (p.106).

I was astonished by this claim, and if it had been made by anyone other than the film’s director, I would have dismissed it as the worst kind of symbolic and interpretive overreach. However, when I noticed that the first British editions of both the hardcover and paperback print runs of A Most Wanted Man had also seized upon that image, I began to feel like I was the fool who hadn’t notice the glaringly obvious visual miming. However, when Corbijn later uses that same plastic sheeting as a metaphor that allows Issa “visually [to] go from a ‘terrorist’ to a ‘martyr'” (p. 109), I returned again to my comfortable stance that this imagery was more than a little abstruse, and that it’s injected meanings might be falling well short of the viewer.

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April 18: “THE” Batman

18 April, 2014 at 10:34 pm (batman)

It’s the 75th anniversary of Batman. DC Comics has released a commemorative logo and Warner Brothers has teased a animated homage. There are some variations as to when this should be recognized: Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of “The ‘Bat-Man'”, has a cover date of May 1939, but Bleeding Cool has traced it to a copyright date of March 30 of that same year. However, ComicVine declares that the street date, the day which the March-copyrighted, May-labeled issue of Detective Comics was actually on newsstands was April 18, 1939, and today is that anniversary.

The problem is that, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, while a rose is a rose is a rose, Batman is not Batman is not Batman. The “Bat-Man” is not Batman is not BATMAN™. While criminals were already recognizing the striking profile and showy costume of the “mysterious and adventurous figure” in his first appearance, his appearance, identity, tone, name, age, mission, code, et al. have all changed over the last 75 years.

Detective Comics #27: The 'Bat-Man'

[Bleeding Cool]

People will talk about a character’s staying power, how he is able to maintain relevance over successive generations by being able to be reinterpreted during each age. My contention is that this means the character really isn’t so much a character as a small set of characteristics.
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Supercut: The Bat-Turn

19 July, 2012 at 11:11 pm (batman)

In 2007, when Christopher Nolan was filming his future blockbuster The Dark Knight, they didn’t yet know how successful it was going to be, and so people actually bothered to do all sorts of publicity press about it. On June 14, 2007, a number of nerd blogs were granted press access to a promotional photo of the Batman suit, which had been revamped since Begins. Now, the suit is revamped for every movie, usually for simple reasons like: it’s hot, it’s heavy, it’s difficult to get in and out of. And when there’s continuity of creative personnel, the returning actors and directors like to try and streamline the process of not having to wait on the mechanics of the giant bat-suit in the room. Later that same week, Entertainment Weekly published this same promotional image (with a bizarre claim of exclusivity) and the all-important caption:

[T]he cowls of past suits were firmly attached to the neck and shoulders of the costume — necessary to maintain that iconic silhouette and to prevent the actor from moving around inside the mask. The new headpiece — modeled after a motorcycle helmet — is separate from the neck, so star Christian Bale can now swivel his noggin side to side, or nod up and down.

“The first time an actor playing Batman can turn his head!” trumpeted the blogs, forgetting that Bat-actors prior to 1989 wore costumes made of cloth, which wasn’t quite so restrictive.
Small changes in the Batsuit between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight
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Batman Reunion

19 June, 2012 at 7:54 pm (batman)

Batman Returns came out 20 years ago today.

1989 Warner Brothers Batman BrochureI’m 36, and I had just finished my seventh grade year when Batman came storming into the theatres in 1989. I had seen the trailer for it a month earlier in front of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and I spent that summer suffused with Batmania. I repeatedly poured over a flyer of Warner Brothers Batman merchandise that I’d acquired at a screening of UHF, not just wishing that I had the cash for the garish, sideshow denim jackets, but also scanning the photographs for details about the costume, which I drew and redrew, trying to deconstruct and understand every gadget and widget of the costume. At age 13, I’d had enough experience trying to make Halloween costumes that I understood that a dress pattern from JoAnne Fabrics looked like one thing on the paper packet and a completely different, disappointing thing on one’s body. The 1981 Superman Movie Book had showed me that even Kirk Alyn had “baggy tights” in the original Superman movie serial, and despite desperately trying to catch reruns of Batman, I was always disappointed with Adam West’s barrel chest. But this new armored costume, while a departure from the lean ideal of Neal Adams and Jose Garcia-Lopez’s iconic work for the DC Comics Style Guide, caught my fancy with its attempts at real-world practicality.

While I was too young and too broke to do anything beside dream about those gaudy Batman baubles, Batman made a reputed $500 million in merchandising in addition to the $285 million worldwide gross in ticket sales. So when the sequel was announced, the marketeers jumped on board. Choice Hotels, Diet Coke, and McDonalds all featured ad tie-ins, and when the film came out, they were rebuked for marketing to children who were younger than the PG-13 content suited. The script was primarily by Daniel Waters, of Heathers notoriety, and it belied the “POW! BAM! ZOOM! Comics are for kids!” mentality that seems forever associated with superheroics. The 1989 film may seem laughably corny by today’s standards, but I remember the grim, unrelenting confrontation between Jack Napier and Jack Palance and being thoroughly creeped out by it. It took me three or four times to watch the Joker crispy-fry his dubious crime syndicate colleague with his joy-buzzer without peeking at it through protectively splayed fingers. That sort of nastiness only works on the very young, and the young turned out in droves to see it. A Concord Monitor article by Emily Laber has quotes from children as young as five years of age going to see it. And yet, the popular perception according to the previously linked AP article seems to be that Batman was too dark, and Batman Returns would alleviate that problem. Marketeers certainly believed that line, despite a crop of subsequent parental protest by those irate that PG-13 might actually mean what it stood for.

I remember attending the high school graduation of my senior friends when I was a sophomore and being surprised at the number of people excited about the imminent release of Batman Returns. People older than I, cooler than I, were eager to talk to me about my anticipation of Returns because they could be unabashedly thrilled by the prospect of more Bat-action. And since I was an odd comic nerd, inexplicable but harmless, letting their anhedonic defenses down in front of me would have no social repercussions. It didn’t last, of course. One of my best friends walked out of the film because her boyfriend found the Catwoman psychotic break scene too tedious and maudlin to be borne. The ironic humor and the lack of cleanly executed action scenes didn’t quite appeal to the masses. I mean, the film topped a year that made almost $5 billion based on ticket sales that had risen to a whopping $5, and one in five tickets sold that year was for a Warner Brothers film. So it didn’t do badly by most standards, but when it was announced that Burton wasn’t directing the third film, and that Keaton wouldn’t be starring, there weren’t many people I spoke to at the time who seemed very put out.

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Bruce and Tim and Dick/ With their pumped-up kicks/ Better run, better run

8 June, 2012 at 9:59 pm (batman)

I like to tell my students that I’m an official, franchised member of Batman, Incorporated, and will produce my official Batman Card upon request. But, upon reflection, I decided that I also needed to walk the walk. Figuratively and literally.

Related Links:
+ Converse: Create Your Own DC Comics Chuck Taylor High-Tops
+ The Beat: Heidi MacDonald reviews the design process
+ ComicAlliance: Bethany Fong orders some Catwoman kicks

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BATMAN: and Friends

22 December, 2008 at 11:30 pm (batman)

Bat-lightsaber!I’ve played around with the new Brave and the Bold cartoon, as I’m always willing to at least try a new spin on the Batman character, but come away dissatisfied. It’s not just that the character is bright and poppy and has a permanent cowl shadow more reminiscent of Adam West’s mask than the effects of actual light sources — after all, I don’t begrudge the Batman that smiles over in DC KidsSuper Friends. No, cuteness is not my problem, it’s just not being written for me, despite the presence of Blue Beetle, Plastic Man, and a bat-utility belt that comes with a frickin’ lightsaber! My friends with children seem to enjoy it, so it’s clearly reaching some demographic that simply doesn’t overlap with my little Venn radius.

No, my Batman-related joy has been almost entirely British in the recent past. I stumbled upon an announcement that Lily Allen was releasing a song on her new album called “Guess Who, Batman?”, which had a marvelous campy Riddler quality to the whole thing. And when I heard that Allen felt that she was “becom[ing] a character in a comic” and two songs off the new album, I became quite excited about this whole thing. The first single — if pre-release internet buzz-leaks can be called “singles” — “Everyone’s at it” was quite catchy, and the interesting Madonna-parody ironic self-awareness of “The Fear” definitely intrigued.

This was all well and good because after seeing Ms. Allen on both Never Mind the Buzzcocks and The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, I had given her variety show Lily Allen and Friends a try and found it to be the dullest collection of pseudo-hip tripe I’d encountered in quite some time. The BBC told me it was boffo with the kidz, and I was relieved to discover that this was merely so much spin. Not that I wanted a charming young person with glasses to fail utterly, but it was so, so, so dull, that I just wanted to chalk it up to overenthusiastic marketeers and forget all about it.

It turns out that, reviewing my iTunes data, that I don’t have much by Ms. Allen, and that what I do have, a) I only repeatedly listened to a very select few songs, and b) I may have confused her frequently with Kate Nash. Embarrassing and predictable, I know. Still, it does make the fact that I enjoy the first two “singles” from It’s Not Me, It’s You that much more of a nice surprise. Check out this post from Pretty Much Amazing for a vast sampling of tracks from the record, including the vulgarity-titled one, which is the song rumoured to be the Batman track. I don’t hear it myself, which may be why the Caped Crusader’s name no longer graces the track list. Which sort of makes this entire thread a bit moot.

So let me close with this, instead: if you really loved me, you’d be bidding to get the naming rights to a recently discovered species of bat. Sure, the current bidding is at five thousand dollars, but isn’t it worth it to have the name rhogeessa batmanueli forever ensconced in the Museum of Natural History? What price nerd infamy?

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BATMAN: Apologia

1 November, 2008 at 1:13 am (batman)

Well, I did not dress up for Hallowe’en this year. The intent was dress up as Trapper John from Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, complete with Hawaiian shirt and golf umbrella, but I had the devil’s own time finding a red and white tropical shirt in later October. Not entirely sure why — it strikes me as just the time of year that one might need a primary-coloured equatorial pick-me-up in one’s wardrobe, but apparently both department stores and secondhand shops disagreed with me.

Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in M*A*S*H

This isn’t the first time I haven’t dressed up on Hallowe’en, but it’s the first time in a long time. And this is the result of a rather slippery slope… a few years ago, I decided that it wasn’t worth it to pay upwards of a hundred dollars on pieces and components to make a Hallowe’en costume just perfect, and since then I’ve even stopped planning my costumes months in advance. So this costumeless year is the clear result of eroding standards, and for that I apologize.

By means of recompense, I offer you the following pictures of people dressed up as Batman. The first is my niece, Gabriele, Jokerized through the Dark Knight: Ha Ha Ha application for the iPhone. You know and I know that she’s been Jokerized, but when she sees the picture, she claims that she’s Batman in it. And who’s going to argue that point with a four year-old. The next was just blogged by Kiel Phegley and reblogged by the Comics Reporter, and the third and fourth are something I found and saved back in April: Andy Warhol dressed as Robin, the Boy Wonder. Enjoy.

Polaroids of people dressed as Batman

EDIT: This seemed thematically appropriate, so I’m adding it on: the last image is Ms. Macdonald of Stately Beat Manor dressed up in the clan emblem.

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18 December, 2007 at 7:25 pm (batman)

It’s been a while since we’ve had a Batman-themed post, so here’s a still from the newly-released trailer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming sequel, The Dark Knight:

Gotham's mayor and Lt. James Gordon in The Dark Knight

I realize that this isn’t the most dynamic, stunning, or cinematic image from the trailer. It’s not Bruce Wayne cradling his bat-mask despondently, it’s not the Joker standing in the middle of the street, it’s not the infamous bat-cycle, it’s not Batman’s silhouette against the Gotham skyline. Nope, it’s Gary Oldman with a moustache and some other bloke. Not especially promotional.

BatmanuelUntil! Until you realize that the some-other-bloke in particular is none other than Nestor Carbonell. Carbonell has been doing a good job for himself recently playing a series of hot, vaguely psychotic toughs in fare like Cane, Lost, Smokin’ Aces, and Daybreak, but I choose to believe that the reason why he was cast in this role was not due to his rakish good looks and his suave, leaderly demeanor. No, I think it’s a fabulous nerd cameo, because Carbonell has played Batman’s Latin analogue in the live action series of The Tick. That’s right: the second Batman movie features Batmanuel.

Best nerd cameo ever, I claim. Although, like on Lost, it may make it a little difficult for me to take his scenes seriously.

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Flying in the Face of Leviticus 11:23

26 October, 2006 at 5:41 pm (batman)

From Heidi MacDonald comes the news that Batman, according to one scholar, exemplifies the Jewish ideals of struggle and self-sacrifice. I don’t have a lot to say about this, primarily as I am not intimately familiar with the Jewish ideal of struggle. But also because, well, it’s not really news; it’s angle.

I quibble with the concept of “angle” in news, as I worry that stories are published, not because they have useful information, but because they have a cute hook. And that informative pieces are skewed by the need to sidle into the story through the angle. I remember reading, many years ago, a newspaper article about a blind lawyer. The article was confused as to whether it was a profile of an individual overcoming adversity, a portrait of the technology that enabled him to operate on an equal level with his sighted colleagues, or the fact that he viewed himself as a “crime-fighter” and sent his vanquished foes photocopies of his license with the name “Batman” over his name. The last bit? All angle. It gives the profile an edge to keep the reader beyond the headline, a way of getting them into the story. He’s not just a lawyer, he sees himself as a Force for Justice. In the comics press, the angle would be that a blind lawyer identified with Batman and not Daredevil. And if the article hadn’t pre-dated the Ben Affleck film, the mainstream press article could have used that angle as well.

By J.H. Williams III, from DETECTIVE #821Regardless, the mere fact of Cary Friedman’s writing wouldn’t have had sufficient oomph to catch the eye of editors and readers without the Batman aspect, the Batman angle. And while the obvious question is, “Yes, but it is news?”, I posit two alternate queries: a) Sure, Batman’s Jewish. What isn’t Batman? He’s everything. b) Of course he’s Jewish. What superhero isn’t representative of some Jewish ideal?

Superheroes representing religion came forefront in the public consciousness when Bryan Singer has Superman crucify himself for the sins of humanity in this summer’s Superman Returns. Many people were dissatisfied with the whole Superman = Christ imagery, but it didn’t bother me, as I felt it was portrayed with more grace and dignity than the doves and halos that tend to populate every John Woo flick. Also, I had always associated Superman with religion since listening to Michael Shapiro speak on NPR about the 100 most influential Jews of all time, a list that began with Moses and ended with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, creators of the extraterrestrial boy in blue. And since a great many superhero creators were Jewish, so I naturally associated Superman more with Moses than Jesus, but it’s difficult for Americans not to find or make Christ parallels in anything, given enough time, and Superman’s had an awful long time to slowly morph from his original intent to the pure American boy scout he is today.

Batman, though? Sure, he might represent the mantle of personal suffering, and maybe he does sacrifice his own happiness to help “repair the world”, but I’ve always associated Batman more with Catholicism than with Judaism. Probably because of the classic jokes, but also because of the pervasive crucifixes used in scenes where Bruce Wayne visits his parents’ graves. Adherents.com, a website dedicated to the cataloguing of information about religious beliefs, notes that former Batman writer and editor Elliot S! Maggin always considered Batman to be Episcopalian, and I consider that to be the final word on the matter — particularly since the Episcopalians are more tolerant of homosexuality.

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Holy Crap, Batman

14 February, 2006 at 4:16 am (batman, comics)

Full-sized Lego model of Batman, ganked from THE BEATA final Bat-comment: I haven’t read Frank Miller’s All-Star Batman and Robin; I’ve skimmed it. I’ve skimmed the first issue, which featured some ludicrous dialogue, and some ludicrous artwork. Jim Lee is well-renowned for the hyper-idealized physiques of his figure work, which are rippling and sexual and refined in a superheroic sort of way. I have grown to find them both stiff and tiresome, despite the fact that are technically quite excellent. Issue number one featured a two page — ahem! — spread of Vicki Vale getting dressed, and the third issue pushed the veil of irony even further by having a lengthy T&A segment starring a woman who beats up a bunch of guys after growing past tired of being objectified. There’s some interesting writing going on prior to this last sequence, because Miller can’t avoid playing arround with narrative structure. But because I’ve only skimmed it, I can’t honestly say that it justifies the rest of the OTT schtick.

Miller’s Batman: Year One and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns are the conceptual and thematic bookends of the contemporary Batman mythos, and so one naturally wants to give Miller the benefit of the doubt when it comes to redefining and reinterpreting the character for the current generation and reflecting the current worldview. His Dark Knight follow-up, Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again was worrisome, and All-Star is baffling, but this newest press release seems to indicate that the premiere bat-scribe has gone bat-shit crazy.

During his WonderCon panel, Frank Miller discussed his next graphic novel. Once again, Miller returns to the world of the Batman, this time with Holy Terror, Batman!. Though the title plays with Robin’s classic catchphrase, the book deals with a serious subject. Gotham has been attacked by Al Qaeda and Batman sets out to defend the city he loves. The book, which Miller has inked through 120 pages, is expected to run roughly 200 pages total.

Miller proudly announced the title of his next Batman book, which he will write, draw and ink. Holy Terror, Batman! is no joke. And Miller doesn’t hold back on the true purpose of the book, calling it “a piece of propoganda,” where ‘Batman kicks al Qaeda’s ass.”
IGN, 12 February 2006

Batman fights the original, pre-Crisis Axis of EvilThe justification for this is that Batman and DC superheroes have always been vehicles for American public sentiment, and that Batman fought Tojo and Hitler in the 1940s, and he should continue to participate in American martial wish-fulfillment. However, due to my current faith in Miller’s “satirical” edge or his ability to judge what core aspects of a character woudl appeal to a contemporary audience — and again, I haven’t closely read this stuff, I am going merely upon impressions gleaned from skimming — I predict that this book is going to be a massive train wreck. Back in the hype height of Sin City, it was anecdotally suggested that Miller was going to write and illustrate a comic about the life of Jesus, and comicdom went nuts! It was thought that this was going to be boundary-pushing, inventive, dangerous stuff, and the collective were eager for some daring, provocative stuff. I see now that this current Batman vs. Osama comic is born out of the same envelope-pushing sensationalist instinct, and I hope it comes to a similar nonexistent fruition.

Also? There’s already a comic called Batman: Holy Terror. Calling a book “Holy Terror, Batman!” therefore loses a significant amount of its punch.

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