Sunday, August 7, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: Batman (1989)

The Story:  Hallowe'en's coming. The costumes are coming out of moth-balls. Here's a scene featuring the one get-up that shows at every party, because the idea's just too powerful and too easy to get and everybody knows it. Plus, it's easy to do. And since The Dark Knight, you don't even have to do it well.

This scene is the "coming-out party" for "The Joker" from the Tim Burton version of Batman, done in 1989, on the 50th anniversary of the title character's creation. A "Batman" film had been talked about in Hollywood for many years, but nobody had the right "formula" for how to present it. "Batman" has always followed "Superman" in media: first, in comics. then as cheap movie serials, then television, with "Batman" making a bizarre addition to pop culture by emphasizing the bright-colored "antic" nature of the medium, which was labeled as "camp." Audiences didn't stay focused for long (two and a half seasons), so when "Superman" made his big budget movie splash in 1978, a "Batman" film seemed a natural next step. But how to play it? Like the television series, or like Superman: The Movie

It took Warner Brothers Studios (who own DC Comics, the owners of Batman) eleven years to figure it out. 

The Joker had been flitting around Batman since those days in 1939—he was one of the first of the Batman "rogues gallery" (in fact, there were not one but TWO "Joker" stories in the first issue of "Batman" comics. In the 60's, the Joker was a little late to the game, not showing up on the Batman TV series until the third week (after The Riddler and The Penguin).

Over the years, though, "Joker" has become THE Batman villain, eclipsing all the others (and the one the writers seem to have the most fun using to compare and contrast with the Batman—order versus chaos, that sort of thing).  In the beginning, he was just another freakish hood, robbing banks, killing people. Then, he was softened to be more clownish, with an off-beat sense of humor as to how he'd pull off crimes. In the 70's, the comics writers took him back to his roots—murderous, mad, and motiveless. Lately, he's become truly grotesque in the dark "New 52" world of the comics—with a forked tongue, and now wearing his own face as a mask. Yeesh. 

The scene, as displayed, could use Danny Elfman's antic circus music in the background, but you've got the videos for that. 

The Set-Up:  A robbery by the Grissom gang, a notorious gangster mob in Gotham City, has been stopped at the Ace Playing Card Co.  One of the victims of the police shoot-out is Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), first lieutenant to Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) and rival for the attentions of Grissom's woman, Alicia (Jerry Hall). A stray bullet has hit Napier in the face, and despite his best efforts, The Batman (Michael Keaton) cannot prevent the hoodlum from falling into a vat of toxic chemical waste. Incredibly, Jack survives, but an early morning visit to a butcherous physician cannot help matters on the face of it. 


The private elevator HISSES open. JACK steps out, bundled up in a trenchcoat, muffler, and slouch hat -- his face concealed from view. He plops in the big plush swivel chair behind Grissom's desk.
GRISSOM (O.S.) That you, sugar bumps?
Grissom WADDLES IN fresh out of the shower, a towel wrapped around him. Using a smaller towel to dry his hair, it's a moment before he sees the bundled-up figure at his desk.
GRISSOM Who the hell are you?
JACK It's me. "Sugar Bumps."
GRISSOM Jack? (advancing cautiously) Thank God you're alive. I heard you'd been... 
JACK Fried. Is that what you heard?
Jack stands and gestures him over to the empty chair. Grissom moves when he sees the gun pointing at his belly.
JACK Over a girl. You must be insane!
Grissom surreptitiously reaches for a desk drawer.
JACK Don't bother.
GRISSOM Your life won't be worth spit.
JACK I been dead once already. It's very liberating -- You have to think of it as therapy.
GRISSOM (beginning to panic) Jack, listen -- we'll cut a deal --
JACK Jack? Jack's dead, my friend.
JACK You can call me...
JACK ...Joker.
He flings away the hat. RIPS THE MUFFLER from his face. And --
as Grissom gasps in shock --
stands revealed in his full horrendous glory. His flesh is bleached bone-white. His hair is a luminous seaweed-green. And his cheeks are torn and puckered from the bullet wound, TWISTING HIS MOUTH INTO A HIDEOUS, PERPETUAL HARLEQUIN'S GRIN.
JACK And as you can see, I'm much happier.
Jack begins to GIGGLE, building to hysterical LAUGHTER.
Grissom makes a lunge towards his desk drawer.
EXT. GRISSOM'S BUILDING - NIGHT We TILT UP the facade of the skyscraper, arriving finally at the TOP FLOOR: a PLATE GLASS WINDOW spiderwebbed with cracks where Jack's bullets hit.
Darkness. JACK -- or, as we'll know him from this moment on, The JOKER -- sits in Grissom's swivel chair and surveys the moon-drenched city.
JOKER (nostalgically) Gotham City.
JOKER It always brings a smile to my face.
As he swivels in the chair he notices a copy of the Globe (now blood-splattered) lying on Grissom's desk.
JOKER: "Winged freak..."
JOKER: "...terrorizes"
He picks up the paper and starts HUMMING.
JOKER Watch it, Batman. Wait'll they get a load of me.
JOKER Oooooooo....
JOKER  Ooop.  Ooop....
Joker begins to GIGGLE, building to hysterical LAUGHTER.


Words by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren

Pictures by Roger Pratt and Tim Burton

Batman is available on DVD from Warner Home Entertainment.

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