Every once in a while a movie comes along that sweeps the nation in a perfect storm of pop culture and merchandising. To some this is nothing more than the studios using in-your-face marketing tactics to suck every last dime out of your wallet. For me it’s about finding a way to keep the experience alive long after the movie is over.
Batman had always been my lifelong hero. I was a comic book connoisseur from the day I was born and followed his adventures religiously. The movie landscape was much different in 1989 – superheroes were still a small underground niche and not the Hollywood juggernauts they’ve become today. It took a real effort to seek out your heroes and find ways to experience them in other mediums. At the time I was forced to ingest every campy Adam West rerun I could find just to get my onscreen Dark Knight fix. Then the world was changed forever. Then came Tim Burton’s Batman.
I counted down the days to the release. How would Mr. Mom do as Bruce Wayne? Would they light the Bat signal? Where was Robin? My mind was full of questions and speculations. Then word got out that the movie was dark. Frank Miller dark. My parents decided to see the film before me to deem if it was appropriate for my young and developing mind. “You’re not quite ready for it,” my mother’s choice words echoed through my ears. How in the world would I, one of the biggest Bat-fans on the planet, ever experience the zenith of my Caped Crusader’s film career? Merchandising!
CEREAL: The black box and bat crest stood out like a sore thumb in the sea of colorful, vibrant, cartoon-ridden cereals. It basically tasted like a poor man’s Captain Crunch and would shred the roof of your mouth. One day, my mom forced me to eat a bagel when I showed her that the cereal had given me the ability to spit blood. Regardless, this is what Batman wanted me to eat, so I was going to eat it. Best of all, a plastic Batman bank came with almost every box. Easily the safest way to guard your allowance from clown faced psychopaths and little sisters.
ACTION FIGURES: I had them all. Batman, Joker, and… um, Bob the Goon. The vehicles were also amazing. The Batmobile could split apart and came with a hollow plastic “shield layer” to protect it from car thieves and vandals. The Batwing shot missiles and had a trigger controlled claw to clasp poisonous balloon floats and your friends nipples. I even had the Batcave which allowed you to reenact (what I imagined were) the most action packed scenes from the movie. Mostly just having Batman hang upside down from gravity boots and watch TV (okay, the Batcave kind of sucked.)
PRINCE SOUNDTRACK: Apparently Warner Brothers forced Tim Burton to place music from Prince into the film. This was right before Prince used to write slave on his face while trying to break his contract with Warners. Go figure. I instantly fell in love with the movie inspired concept album, though most of the sexual innuendos and pop-funk subtleties were lost on my six-year-old self. Partyman, Scandalous, and especially Batdance became my Summer anthems. My babysitter even allowed me to watch the music video on MTV which featured a bunch of Jokers and Batmen having a dance off with Prince literally stuck in the middle (he was a weird schizophrenic amalgamation of the two or something.)
TRADING CARDS: With the trading cards I was able to piece together the major beats and plot points of the film. Creatively I used my brain to put the film together scene by scene…and that’s when it hit me. If I wasn’t allowed to see the movie I would simply recreate it. I would put on my own production of Batman for the entire neighborhood to watch and I would perform the meatiest role of all, the Joker.
THE PLAY: Thanks to Batmania, I found it easy to assemble my own neighborhood theater troupe. Of course one of the older kids had issues with my casting ideas and he threatened to beat me up if I didn’t let him portray the clown prince of crime. I was then demoted to pulling double duty on the two shittiest roles in the film, Boss Grissom (heavy breathing***You’re my***heavy breathing***number one***heavy breathing***guy) and the whiny reporter played by Arli$$. Disappointed with my new onstage personas, I took a more active role in the direction of the play. Here I found my true calling; working with actors, pacing the action and choreography. Basically I was directing the show. The play went off without a hitch. We had a twenty minute first act followed by a Prince dance routine/intermission, and then ended the show with a climactic stage battle to the death (the eleven-year-old Joker would jump off my deck recreating his tragic end.) We played two shows and received a standing ovation both times. I was able to take the joy I received from Batman and use it to create a shared experience with my friends and local community.
Months later when it came out on video, my mother finally decided I was mature enough to see it (I don’t know how mothers gauge these things, perhaps she measured my growth by my new found leadership skills.) The movie was everything I wanted it to be and more. Because of my waiting I was able to turn a simple movie into something that surrounded and engulfed my life. I lived Batman for an entire summer and no film in the world would ever take its place. Well, that was until the next year when my friend uttered the following: “Have you heard about this new movie coming out this summer? It’s called Dick Tracy and it looks super rad. We should buy the t-shirts.”
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Remember BATMANIA and the Summer of ’89 ?