Wednesday, October 28, 2015

same bat-time

Robin: The way we get into these scrapes and get out of them. It's almost as though someone was dreaming up these situations - guiding our destiny.
Things like that only happen in the movies, Robin. This is real life.
Batman, the television show, was a cultural phenomenon. It was 120 episodes in 3 seasons of teevee, its first broadcasts were over a 26 month period from 12 January 1966 to 14 March 1968.  Very quickly, it became very popular, and then it cooled.

The show was a live action production of a comic book super hero. Here is a problem. They are comic book personages, they cannot be taken seriously; yet there are people who give comic books great gravity. Ignore them. The show was on at 7.30 p.m. Eastern time. It invited kids as an audience. Color tv was new, and the costumes, and practically everything was in bright candy colors on the show.  The main characters have become perennial favorites for Hallowe'en costumes, and it is easy to see why. They easily fit into a child's fantasy play life.

Now seasons of a television programme come complete on disc. One can go through all the episodes and compare.  And there are television channels that rerun the shows, creating more fans. And the internet has chat boards where opinions can be written. The third season was different from the first two, and was desperate. The only other programme televised in the evening more than once a week was Peyton Place, a soap opera. Most of Batman the episodes were self-contained, and not bound by chronology. Wednesday, the episode would end in a suspended death trap. The next night, the same time, same channel, matters would resolve and the villain of the week was defeated. People's opinions of different episodes vary widely. Those who care to comment like something of the series, but certain episodes are favorites and others are certainly not, but one fellow's disaster is another's prise and decidedly vice versa.

There was regularity. Children (and adults) like patterns, and are comfortable with such story telling. Rare was the show that did not have a choreographed group fight scene, with written sound effects as the comic strips had. Kids would play this out. No one died, or was injured in these fights. It was very easy for children to appropriate this acting into their play. This was also subversive to much of the story telling and attitudes of many. Rare was shooting on the show, the heroes never gunned. The episodes that i found detesting were with Ma Barker's machine guns, and the lame cowboy's pistoleros. Those characters wrongly drifted in. Westerns and 1930s gangsters are not super villain vehicles. They were out of place, and the actors (Shelley Winters, and Cliff Robertson were horrid—she yelling, and him with a face of the most idiotic disinterest).

Use of language and alliteration was fun. Costumes and color were bright. Ham acting was de jure. The word that comes up again and again is 'camp'. What is camp here? Farcical extravagance in presentation. The hero vs. villain, and the melodramatic gloomy narration ('Desmond Doomsday') had some suspense, but more comedy. Serious crime drama was not going to be the outcome, and television had enough of that; and now that genre is ridiculous in a different manner—'the procedural', or the protection of 'national security' to subconsciously and overtly instill fear in the viewer.

What made Batman work was the deadpan delivery of boy scout perfection and ultra seriousness in Adam West.  Any story of fiction involves a suspension of disbelief, i do remember Batman with his tongue planted in his cheek. He is wearing a cape and cowl over tight pajamas. Five year old 'Bobby' jumping from the couch with a bath towel about his neck fits.

Most of the first two years it is "Holy Establishment, Batman!". But...there is subversion. Some of the best performances, with the best lines, are by the arch-villains. Julie Newmar [in attractiveness and charisma, only Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden compare] is superlatively good in several ways. Frank Gorshin (Riddler), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), and Cesar Romero (Joker), with Newmar (Batwoman) were the core episodes. Police Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) played intensely dramatic seriousness even better than Batman, but overall the police were pretty worthless:  "The day I've dreaded has finally arrived, O'Hara! We'll have to solve this case ourselves!".

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