Advertisements

Posts Tagged 'Tim Burton'

“Musicals aren’t very realistic. If they were, there’d be an orchestra starting to play right now, with me saying, ‘Let me tell you something about musicals…'”

Given the embarrassment of riches that Glee had at the Emmy nominations today, it seems like an opportune time to post something I’ve been meaning to write for a couple of weeks now.

June was the occasion for a couple of short road trips on our part; our godchildren Matt and Erin were both Young Artists for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, and our friend Benjamin was performing as the title role in a production of Sweeney Todd in Cleveland. Time was a bit tight; Megan was teaching a Summer I course that met Monday through Friday, the final was on Thursday 17 June, and both OTSL and Sweeney closed on Sunday, 27 June. If I didn’t want to have to get a sub for Sunday services, that made our options somewhat limited, but we were determined to make it work, and we decided to head to St. Louis over Friday and Saturday the weekend of the 19th, catching the Saturday matinee of Eugene Onegin, and to Cleveland Wednesday through Friday of the next week for the Thursday evening performance of Sweeney.

We’d never been to St. Louis before, and Matt and Erin showed us a very nice time during our whirlwind visit. Under their tutelage, we experienced two very different kinds of pizza — what was explained to us as “San Francisco-style” deep dish at Pi Pizzeria (yes, as in 3.14 etc.), and then “St. Louis-style” at Imo’s, which has a very thin crust and is made with a peculiar local dairy product called provel. Very different beasts, but worth trying. I recommend getting some reasonably substantial toppings at Imo’s, otherwise the provel tends to be overwhelming; at Pi’s I strongly suggest taking advantage of their “bartender’s choice” option, where you tell the bartender what kind of drinks you usually like, they make you something of their own choosing based on that, and it’s something like two-thirds of what a cocktail would usually cost there. I was introduced to the Blood and Sand as a result, and I think I might have a new favorite bourbon drink.

We were also introduced to Ethiopian food while in St. Louis, and let me tell you, Meskerem on South Grand is absolutely fantastic. The food was delicious, the staff was knowledgable, and we were left wanting to seek out more Ethiopian food when we got home. My only lament was — Ethiopian food, where have you been all my life? (Yes, I know, Ethiopia.)

And, yes, we went up in the Gateway Arch. Won’t be bothering in the future — it’s a long wait, the lift is really cramped, and it’s not exactly like there’s much to do up there besides look out the windows. It’s a more impressive monument from the outside than the inside.

Saturday’s performance of Onegin was definitely worth the trip; Sean Panikkar as Lensky was the standout, to say the least, but the cast was great throughout. The one thing that didn’t work was, frankly, hearing it in English. I’ve been in the chorus for Onegin twice; once in Seattle back in 2002, when we sang it in Russian, and once at IU in 2004, when we sang it in English, using the same translation as OTSL. I also spent some time working on Lensky’s opera back in Seattle with a Russian coach who knew her stuff, and it’s a work that is near and dear to my heart. It’s also music that I associate with a very intensely emotional period of my life, and as a result it’s difficult to hear it and not get a bit of a lump in my throat. Thankfully, the silly English translation that everybody uses manages to clear out the lump pretty quickly; does anybody in real life actually use the word “prosaic” to describe somebody’s face? Would a group of gossiping women really say that somebody is “an odd one, a misanthrope and somewhat mad”? Does it really solve anything to call Tatiana’s name day celebration her “birthday”? I understand the various problems of translating opera librettos so that they match the music, but actually hearing the words in the house left me with the conviction that surely somebody can do better.

The real violence that the translation does is to the poor title character. Onegin is a very difficult man to understand for contemporary American audiences to begin with; he is a product of social expectations of which we have absolutely zero concept, and this particular English translation doesn’t help matters at all, transforming him into a dull bore, the least interesting character in his own story. The duel with Lensky and the underlying protocols that make the situation what it is are incomprehensible, turning Onegin into a cold-blooded monster rather than somebody who has no choice within his societal framework but to carry out the mechanics of the duel to their conclusion.

The difficult thing is that what we might broadly refer to as “sung drama” or “lyric theatre” is itself loaded with social expectations. I’ll get back to that idea, but as I was watching and hearing the performance, I realized that the expectations of the audience OTSL wants to reach are, frankly, operating at cross purposes to what actually makes Eugene Onegin work. The English translation actually obscures much of the psychological drama, it seems to me; by trying to make it “accessible” they manage to make it even more inaccessible. One hopes that a better translation would fix this problem, but then the trouble is matching the translation to what’s in the score, and that’s a totally different kettle of fish. Supertitles (which OTSL used anyway) aren’t a perfect solution by any means, but short of Russian becoming mandatory in American schools, I’m not sure that there is a perfect solution.

Watching the non-musical film of Onegin with Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler a week or so later, the problem was underscored for me even more. Often with only a facial expression, Fiennes is able to convey everything about Onegin that the English translation of the opera obscures for the poor operatic baritone — his ennui, his passive dissatisfaction with the expectations placed on him as a result of his social status, and his resigned compliance with those expectations regardless. He kills Lensky, not because he wants to, not because he’s a cold-blooded killer, but because that’s simply the expected outcome of the process Lensky’s challenge set in motion. Tatiana’s choice to remain faithful to her husband is also more extraordinary, because the film is able to make plain that she understands it would be socially acceptable for her to take a lover as long as she doesn’t embarrass anybody.

I’ll leave Onegin aside for the moment to discuss Sweeney Todd.

I first heard of Sweeney as a senior in high school; my choir director at the time brought it up as an example of how he thought Broadway musicals had largely become immoral trash. Still, when I started running in opera singer circles at Western Washington University, I found myself hearing about it in awed, hushed tones, and in anticipation of it being produced at WWU during my presumptive junior year and hearing all of this anxiety about “needing four tenors”, I finally saw the George Hearn/Angela Lansbury video. The following points were clear to me upon the first viewing:

  • I have great respect for my high school choir director and why he has the opinion he does, but I can’t disagree with him more; to dismiss it as immoral trash is to miss the point of the show.
  • Stephen Sondheim has probably the most morbid sense of humor I’ve ever encountered.
  • No wonder “legit” singers think it’s amazing.
  • There wasn’t a role in it for me.

As it worked out, as a result of various issues, political, artistic, and otherwise, neither the WWU production of Sweeney nor its numerous rumored replacement shows (like City of Angels and Into the Woods) happened until some years after I had dropped out (and then in apparently rapid succession). (Ironically, Sweeney seems to have happened my first year at IU. So, even though it didn’t happen in ’96-’97, it still happened during my junior year as originally concieved.) It nonetheless stuck with me — I watched the Hearn/Lansbury video a number of times, listened to the Cariou/Lansbury original cast recording, watched the Hearn/LuPone PBS broadcast, and with baited breath waited for tickets to go on sale for Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production with Bryn Terfel, culminating in my very first trip to Chicago in December of 2002. It goes without saying that when the Tim Burton film was greenlit (rumored since roughly the mid-1990s), I was there the first night. I’ll discuss my reaction to the film shortly.

The Chicago trip was interesting, no less so because my theatre critic buddy, editor-at-large, groomsman, and all-around dear friend Matthew Murray palled along for it, and he brought a very interesting perspective to the proceedings as somebody with a very heightened sense of the expectations of musical theatre as musical theatre, and not the expectations that opera people bring to the table. Certain artistic decisions that are acceptable in opera (like decisions to cut or not to cut certain numbers being up to the discretion of the production, regardless of what was done on opening night of the original production) were anathema to him; the restoration of the Judge’s aria and the tooth-pulling number, for example, were absolutely unacceptable as far as he was concerned. (I argue that, at least in terms of discussing the score as an organic whole, the score is incomplete both musically and dramatically without at least restoring the Judge’s aria, given certain musical quotations and references elsewhere in the show, to say nothing of making the Judge less of a one-note character. Yes, fine, it messes with the pacing, but that’s a problem for the director to solve.) In the musical theatre world, he argued, whatever the show looks like on opening night is what the show is; it doesn’t matter what was written, what was recorded, what was cut at the last second or for whatever reason. Anything other than what was done opening night is something other than the standard version of “the show.”

I’d also say that in general, the very things that made the performance appealing to me as an opera singer were exactly what made it lacking to him as a musical theatre critic. He came away convinced that opera singers should probably stay away from Sweeney Todd; I came away convinced that it’s exactly the kind of repertoire American opera houses should be doing.

Tim Burton and Sweeney Todd was a concept that struck me as a match made in… well, not heaven, exactly, but you get the idea. From the first time I heard his name attached to the project in the mid-’90s, I had an idea of what he could do with it. The show is Tim Burton-y enough on its own; surely there would be no better director.

Maybe the film that Burton would have made in the mid-’90s would have been a different beast from the one he made in 2007. I only saw the film once in theatres; I didn’t think it was horrible, but what he did was nowhere near as compelling as I felt it should have been. I watched it again at home before we headed to Cleveland for the first time since seeing it in theatres, and it seemed to me that Burton threw out a lot of what actually made the piece work, then overdid what was left, making the movie a grotesque half-adaptation. Again, it wasn’t horrible; it’s just that it’s now a Tim Burton Movie like every other Tim Burton Movie, fulfilling the expectations of the genre of the Tim Burton Movie, rather than being the special match of auteur and source material that it should have been. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are fine, I suppose, from a dramatic standpoint, but they just don’t have the range of vocal choices available to them to make the music part of the equation work. It’s as though Burton ultimately decided that he could handle the gore but not the tunes, so he over-emphasized the gore and hoped you wouldn’t notice that he’d reduced the impact of the music. In a lot of ways, the trouble does not lie with the script; there are some smart choices by the screenwriter in terms of conveying information cinematically that the stage version conveys musically, but in the final product, much of what makes the score work as an organic whole has been chopped up. Certainly the movie was not approached as a means to broaden the audience for the stage version; the stage version was approached as material by which to further the Tim Burton brand.

When we got to Cleveland, Ben talked a lot about the challenges he’d had during the rehearsal process. In a nutshell, as somebody who was first and foremost an opera singer working with primarily musical theatre people, he found that despite an intense dramatic focus during his operatic training, what he was doing just wasn’t sufficient for musical theatre purposes. His instincts regarding movement, delivery, presentation, and so on turned out to be virtually wrong in every respect for the purposes of what they were doing. I had had a similar experience ten years ago as Tony in a production of West Side Story, and the conversation that ensued about these musical theatre dabblings was very interesting. Again, it all boils down to expectations — does the drama direct the music, or does the music direct the drama? Is it enough to fit the drama in around the singing of the role, letting the music and libretto do their work, or is it necessary to fit the singing of the role in around the drama? Which has primacy, the text or the music? In musical theatre, the text is essential — in opera, as I found with the English translation of Onegin, the words almost have to be ignored.

And, to drop a hint as to how I’m going to tie this all in to where I started this essay, how do things like Glee wind up changing the audience expectations even more? I’ll get back to that.

The conversation involved playing a number of different clips of different people singing “Epiphany,” including Cariou, Hearn, Depp, Terfel, and even Christopher Lee(!). Terfel, Benjamin asserted, could not be taken seriously as Sweeney; he would get laughed off the stage on Broadway singing the role the way he does. He argued that an opera singer approaching the role needed to do their homework regarding performance tradition and convention just like they would for any other role, and take into account how people like Cariou and Hearn approached the score.

My own sense of the matter is that Terfel’s approach is a perfectly legitimate one, as long as everybody is approaching it the same way he is. In other words, everybody needs to be in the same show, whatever aesthetic the production uses. To give an example of what I mean, I recently saw the movie W., and Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice is simply not in the same movie everybody else is. She’s not awful, like a number of reviews claim; she’s actually very good. The trouble is that she is approaching the part as though the film were an SNL sketch, bringing a level of almost cruel, caricaturizing detail to her performance appropriate to that aesthetic, but she’s the only one doing that, and sticks out like a sore thumb as a result. If you’re going to do Sweeney Todd as an opera, do it as an opera, with everybody on the same page about doing it as an opera. If you’re going to do it as musical theatre, do it as musical theatre.

The other interesting thing about what Ben said is that, in effect, an opera singer performing the role of Sweeney with an eye towards musical theatre conventions and traditions is still approaching the role with operatic methodology. This is somewhat borne out it one of the reviews of Ben’s production, which said that at times he calls to mind Cariou and Hearn too much. Matthew Murray once said to me that the difference between being an opera singer and a musical theatre performer is than as an opera singer, you’re going to spend most of your time doing what other people have already done; in musical theatre, the hope is to create something new. Perhaps, then, what a real musical theatre approach would be would less take into account what Hearn and Cariou did and be more interested in what nobody has done before.

But then there’s still the trouble of musical style. The fact of the matter is, whatever happened in the rehearsal process, Ben was one of the two or three most consistent people onstage in that production with respect to faithfully presenting the score and libretto as written, musically and dramatically, and he seemed like he actually belonged in that show. A lot of the cast, to be honest, sounded like they were trying to sing Rent. Watching the Hearn/Lansbury video again, one thing that comes across is that it is very much a product of a previous generation of musical theatre, and has far more in common with Oklahoma! than Avenue Q or Mamma Mia!. To an extent, it almost seems as though you can assemble a cast that will be able to act the show but not sing it in the style for which it was written, or a cast that can sing it but might be toned down dramatically somewhat, because musical theatre people these days are simply trained with a different set of — you guessed it — expectations in mind.

So what does the success of Glee tell us about what the expectations are these days? Is sung drama only workable for today’s audiences if it is self-conscious, flamboyant and ironic, a jukebox show, limits the songs to “source” performances, or some combination thereof? Certainly the musical expressiveness of an opera like Onegin, in which time essentially stops so that the singer may emote, isn’t going to play well to most audience members’ expectations, at least not without a chuckle or two — and ironically, singing it English only seems to elicit more chuckles. We can understand far more easily Ralph Fiennes looking silently with longing at Liv Tyler than a baritone singing about it, no matter how gorgeous the music. “Because it’s actually realistic,” is often the rejoinder, except that 19th century Russian aristocracy didn’t speak or write letters in English in their homes or in the court, and if they did, it wasn’t with Fiennes’ cultured Suffolk accent. Whither “realism” in that case? “Well, that’s suspension of disbelief for a cinematic convention,” one might reply. Fine, so people will draw the line somewhere.

Even Sweeney, a product of the late 1970s, seems to overdo it for 2010 audiences — I read a review of Burton’s Sweeney that said, essentially, this would be an interesting movie if the songs didn’t keep interrupting the actors from actually telling the story. I suppose that this person’s response to analyses of how the music and songs actually do tell the story (the Beggar Woman’s melodic material being quoted in “Poor Thing,” for example — whoops, the Beggar Woman’s stuff was mostly cut, so I guess that won’t work) would likely be something like, “Well, that just doesn’t work for today’s audiences.”

I’m strongly tempted to see a correlation between this point of view and the transformation of musical experience from being communal and live to individual and canned (or at least processed). How do most people listen to music these days? Are they singing with their friends around a piano, or at least listening to CDs on a stereo with a group of people? No, they’re sitting on the bus with earbuds in, and their iPod is probably at least in part a way of shutting out any kind of communal contact. Are they listening to it live, in a room intended for that purpose? No, it’s probably at least autotuned and amplified, if not prerecorded. If the music is communal, they’re probably not paying any attention to it beyond its function as background noise anyway. If the music is live, then it is likely they’re singing along so loudly it doesn’t matter what the performers are doing, turning being an audience member into ritual self-indulgence.

Bottom line, I suppose, is that sung drama perhaps presupposes a social context in which music is experienced socially. That doesn’t really exist in the present day, beyond karaoke and concerts where everything is prerecorded and/or the audience isn’t really listening to the performance. Without that context, doubtless musicals and operas aren’t going to make much sense. The rise of the jukebox show was perhaps inevitable after Moulin Rouge!, but I have to think it’s a snake that will eat its own tail eventually. What then? Is it just not an artistic idiom that will survive in a world that can only tolerate anything less than hyper-realism if it has a gallon of self-aware irony on top?

I don’t know. But I don’t think I’m going to tune in to Glee anytime soon, Emmy nominations or no Emmy nominations.

Advertisements

Something I don’t usually do…

I’ve kept my comments here restricted to a few general categories — more to the point, there are a few things I’ve avoided talking about. I don’t talk about politics here (although perhaps some stances are indirectly discernible), I don’t generally blog about what I do at work (mostly because that would generate an even smaller number of readers; I work a desk job, and there’s not much to say), I don’t say much (with some exceptions) about my personal life, and I don’t for the most part do things like movie reviews.

Well, this isn’t going to be a movie review, exactly, but it’s going to be about movies, and it’s going to deal with, in large part, a movie you had a statistical likelihood of seeing this last weekend if you bothered darkening the door of your local movie theatre at all between midnight last Thursday and Sunday evening. (No, shocked as you may be, I’m not talking about Mamma Mia!)

I’ve been a Batman guy for a loooooooooong time. There was a little Brave and the Bold digest my mom brought me home once when I was probably about five and home sick; it collected this neat little Batman vs. Deadman story which was drawn by Neal Adams — “You Can’t Hide From a Deadman,” originally printed in Brave and the Bold #86, Oct/Nov 1969 — and I was hooked ever since. It was still a few years yet before I started reading comics regularly, but I remember coming in on the tail end of Batman: Year 2, reading Ten Nights of the Beast, The Killing Joke, and A Death in the Family when they were first printed (The Dark Knight Returns I came to about three years late or so just ’cause it looked kinda ugly to this ten year old when I first saw it on the shelves — let’s face it, I was just too young to get it), and I was definitely at the movie theatre on 23 June 1989 for the first night the Burton/Keaton Batman was playing, which I saw three times that summer while it was still in the theatres. A tick over nineteen years later, maybe not much has changed.

I’ve also been a Christopher Nolan guy for a good bit. I saw Memento three times when it was in theatres, and keep in mind that meant, at least for the first couple of times I saw it, driving about half an hour to the arthouse which was playing it. I talked it up to whomever would listen, took friends to see it, bought David Julyan’s score CD, bought the DVD (both versions), and so on. I bought (and quite liked) Following when it came out on DVD, and while for various reasons had to miss Insomnia when it was in theatres, I’ve enjoyed it on DVD since (but, truthfully, it remains the one I’ve seen the least number of times — maybe that’s nothing to lose sleep over?).

For me, getting to know a director’s work is getting to know what kinds of themes interest them, what kinds of images they consistently use, what they like to do with structure, which actors they re-use, who scores their movies, what kind of pattern they’re continuing (or establishing) with new works, and so on. To put it another way, a director is always infinitely more interesting to me when there is something more I can get out of one of their movies by placing it in the context of the rest of their work.

Which brings me to The Dark Knight. There are major spoilers to follow from The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Memento, Following, Insomnia, and The Prestige, so do read at your own risk.

I’ve seen it twice now; I was lucky enough to get in on the viral marketing IMAX ticket giveaway, only because I live in a market where two hours after the site went live there were still tickets available (although only just — I was 164/170), and thus saw it 50.5 hours before most of the rest of the world had a chance. I also saw it again (in IMAX, natch) last Friday night. I’ll get the easy stuff out of the way first: some movies are overhyped. A couple of well-edited trailers, a flashy marketing campaign, and a couple of glowing early reviews can all add up to a disappointing experience in the actual cinema because in the end, it’s “just a movie” and doesn’t cure cancer. The Dark Knight is not this movie — it is every bit as good as you’ve heard, and gets better on repeat viewings. Everybody brings their A-game, be they in front of the camera or behind the camera, be they in a big role or a small role, and they craft a crime epic for the ages along the lines of Heat or The Departed or L. A. Confidential. This isn’t Tim Burton’s self-aware, dark-but-comic freakshow; this isn’t Joel Schumacher tweaking your nose. And — I say this as somebody who saw Iron Man twice and who thinks it was absolutely terrific — this also definitely isn’t Jon Favreau’s bright, flashy, action-adventure story in which A Flawed But Ultimately Good Man Learns Something While Wearing A Costume. The Dark Knight takes the idea of a “comic book movie” and elevates it to a whole new genre and a whole new level of filmmaking; you’ll either like that or you won’t (I’ve read some reviews that say it’s pointless to try to elevate source material which is absurd to the core to the level of Hamlet), but if your reasons for not liking a movie like this have to do with the title character being dressed as a bat rather than wearing a shirt and tie, that’s really your problem, and not that of the filmmakers.

One thing about the story – two years ago, when the title was revealed and Nolan said it was “quite important to the film” (http://www.batman-on-film.com/batmovienewsarchives48.html), I immediately understood it to be a double entendre with “the dark night”. Putting that together with the recasting of Rachel Dawes rather than creating a new character (seeming to point to the need for somebody in whom we were already invested emotionally), I believed from that moment on that Rachel was going to be dead as a doornail by the end of the film. Sure enough. If the rumors are true that Rachel was originally supposed to be Harvey Dent in Batman Begins until there was a studio note saying “We need a chick in the pic, stat”, then that was a great way for Nolan to take it and run with it.

Okay — I haven’t said anything new there. You’ve probably read a dozen reviews which have said something similar, so I’ll move on now to what I really want to write about.

The Dark Knight keys off of several important ideas set up in Batman Begins; definitely that of “escalation,” established in the closing conversation in BB between Gordon and Batman, but also very much the repeated line, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me” as well as the notion that Batman isn’t just Bruce Wayne in a mask; it is in fact who Bruce Wayne actually is.

And as bleak as people are saying it is, the two important things with which you’re left at the end of the movie are a) nobody on either boat pressed the button and b) Batman did not let the Joker fall to his death — a correction of a huge misunderstanding on Tim Burton’s part nineteen years ago, and a clear indicator that Batman has decided that “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” is no longer a clear enough line in the moral sand, not when your enemy has no rules whatsoever.

All well and good. However, looking at it through the lens of Nolan’s other work, bigger themes start to emerge. Much has been made of how much Nolan likes to play with time, but that’s really window dressing, a story-telling tool rather than a theme (and it’s telling how, as he has matured as a filmmaker, he’s done it less and less). Identity, on the other hand, has been a key question in his movies from the get-go; Following and The Prestige study characters who deliberately take on other identities but then find that they can’t just simply go back to normal when they’re done. The narrator of Following turns himself into somebody who seems slick and clever and affluent, emulating Cobb as much as he can at Cobb’s own encouragement, but in doing so he makes it impossible to prove that Cobb ever existed and/or that he’s not, in fact, Cobb — which was, of course, “all part of the plan” in the first place. Angier and Borden in The Prestige both are leading double lives (I’ve always thought it was particularly clever of Nolan to cast as his leads actors most famous for playing superheroes, and that it added a fascinating subtext to the film), and must maintain the “act” at all costs, to the extent that their lives are quite dependent on it. In trying to figure out each other’s magic tricks, Angier and Borden are actually solving the problem of who the other person actually is.

Memento‘s Leonard Shelby, on the other hand, is an examination of how our natural identities depend on how we experience time and form memories — if we can’t, we’re slaves to external sources of information, never able to trust our own instincts about who we are. As a result, Leonard can never stop mourning the death of his wife, because his own perception of time (or lack thereof) can never provide any distance from it. It will always have just happened for him.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight bring many of these concepts together. Bruce Wayne, as depicted by Nolan, his brother Jonathan, and David Goyer, has assumed at least one identity (if not two, counting the “playboy Bruce” persona) which changes him and those with whom he interacts permanently. At the same time, the whole reason he does so is because, to a certain extent, he can never get past the trauma of losing his parents, because the one way he knows to heal, revenge, has been taken from him — and he realizes it won’t necessarily do what he hopes for anyway. One way or the other, he’s permanently emotionally stuck, much like Leonard Shelby, and this drives him to take on the dual persona (which is itself an interesting inversion of Bale’s character/characters in The Prestige, Borden — two men having to lead one life). To apply Memento‘s questions, then — can Bruce trust his own sense of who he is? Is the Batsuit really a message he sends to criminals, or a message he’s sending to himself, much like Leonard Shelby’s tattoos? To apply The Prestige‘s questions, can he stop being Batman without causing himself, to say nothing of others, harm?

Several of the films deal with familial loss; Memento and The Prestige both with the loss of a wife under circumstances which are left ambiguous, Batman Begins obviously having the murder of parents as a pivotal point (but also has Ra’s Al Ghul talking about taking vengeance for a murdered wife), and The Dark Knight has the murder of Harvey Dent’s fiancée as a major engine of the plot (while also showing Gordon’s wife mourning his death in the line of duty). All of these cases are motivators for vengeance, but in The Prestige in particular it’s clear that Angier’s lust for revenge eventually wanes, and he continues out of the sheer momentum of hatred — “I don’t care about my wife, I care about his secret,” he spits out halfway through the movie. Looking forward, perhaps we can surmise that Bruce Wayne eventually faces the danger of being Batman just to be Batman, with no particular purpose driving him.

One can draw a line of connection between Dormer’s corruption in the name of catching the bad guys in Insomnia to what Gordon and Batman choose to do at the end of The Dark Knight; if it can be proven Dormer planted evidence even once, then it calls all of the convictions to which he’s contributed into question. In TDK, if Harvey’s spree as Two-Face is made public, their efforts to fight the mob will have been entirely in vain. Bending the rules to make the criminals pay is a slippery slope in Nolan’s universe, one with very real consequences. Even if everything ostensibly turns out all right, somebody will have to pay the piper — and sometimes it’s the wrong person.

(By the way, Nolan has mentioned that Aaron Eckhart was looked at for Memento. I think one can look at Eckhart’s Two-Face for a glimpse of what he might have been like as Leonard Shelby. I think that was a career-defining performance for Guy Pearce, so I wouldn’t have it any other way, but Eckhart would have been really interesting in the role. Different from what we got, but definitely interesting.)

In terms of recurring visual motifs — there is always a “lair” in Nolan’s film, a location where the main character’s dark secrets are hidden and their true identity may be found. This goes all the way back to Following, where The Young Man takes Cobb to his apartment under the ruse that it’s somebody else’s (and of course Cobb knows what’s going on immediately). In Memento it is the basement of the abandoned building where Jimmy Gantz’s body and Leonard’s real clothes have been left. In Insomnia it is Finch’s cabin. In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight it is the Batcave (or its temporary replacement). In The Prestige it is the theatre basement where all of Angier’s “prestige materials” are kept. More often than not it involves “going down” someplace; I will leave others more qualified to speak about Jungian psychology to discuss the implications of the “descent” into the place where one keeps secrets, potentially even from oneself.

Breaking of legs is something which has shown up twice in a row now — Angier falls through a trapdoor and the cushion has been removed, shattering the entire limb from the looks of the brace he’s put in, and Batman drops Sal Maroni from a height which is just enough to break his ankle (although Nolan is far more subtle about showing Maroni with a cane later than he is with Angier). Being a year and a half out from a broken ankle myself and still recovering to some degree, both of those moments make me squirm each time.

Casting is an interesting point — Nolan doesn’t quite seem to have the “stock company” of David Mamet or, to a lesser degree, of David Lynch or Tim Burton, but three films in a row now have starred Christian Bale and Michael Caine. To some extent, Bale, Guy Pearce, and maybe Following‘s Jeremy Theobald, too have a visual continuity I can’t quite explain — distinctive faces which wear woundedness well, maybe. Bale and Pearce definitely have a carved-out-of-wood quality — and I don’t mean that in a bad way — to their facial and bodily structures (harder to say with Theobald). Hugh Jackman and Aaron Eckhart are somewhat the opposite — classically good-looking men who you want to like and have be the ostensible good guys (which, naturally, is what makes their characters more interesting when they turn). Mark Boone Junior has had significant supporting roles a couple of times, Theobald showed up in a bit role in Batman Begins, and Larry Holden is quite the chameleon, going from L. A. lowlife Jimmy Gantz in Memento to the dapper D. A. Finch in Batman Begins (as well as having a bit in Insomnia). He gets really interesting performances out of people, be it well-established character actors like Joe Pantoliano or Andy Serkis or people harder to define, such as David Bowie — who, by the way, I really wished would have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nod for Tesla. He was onscreen for all of ten minutes, maybe, but he owned every frame in which he appeared. I’d love for Nolan to find a reason to cast Carrie-Anne Moss again — her appearance in Memento is still the most interesting thing she’s ever done, in black vinyl or out of it, as far as I’m concerned. (Probably, since she’s being cast in “mom” roles now — at all of 40! — she would be out of the running for a future cinematic appearance of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Maybe she could play Selina’s mother, Cougarwoman?) Gary Oldman disappears so completely into the role of Gordon that it’s hard to tell if Nolan is actually giving him any direction or if he’s just getting out of the way.

So — back to The Dark Knight for a moment. What’s ahead? Where can a third Batman movie potentially go Or, to put it another way, what in the world do they do to top this one? And I think the answer is, they need to not bother trying. They need to go in the opposite direction and do something smaller, grittier, more – dare I say it – intimate. Maybe even something which feels more like a stage play than a movie – I don’t know, something more like Memento (and maybe even with David Julyan scoring rather than the Zimmer/Howard team, good as it is). They’ve set it up well to go in that direction – Batman is on the run (although presumably Bruce Wayne is not, since his being outed was prevented), his relationship with Lucius is strained (if not severed entirely) so that he won’t be able to just go to him with gadget requests anymore, and so on. Somehow he’ll have to repair what the events of The Dark Knight have broken, but that’s going to require operating on a smaller scale for awhile, I expect. Robin could work within this thematic framework, but it seems unlikely they’d go that way. Presumably in a third movie we’d be able to return to Wayne Manor, which itself could thematically represent some sort of shift back to the status quo.

In terms of what this means for a villain – hard to say. I would say that the Riddler could work on the thematic level – possibly something like Saw, only, y’know, worth watching. I’d be really surprised if the people at the helm wanted to revisit the character. Hard to say. I wonder if maybe somebody like Talia wouldn’t work, perhaps continuing her father’s efforts? It would certainly tie into what’s come before, and with Batman as a reluctant outlaw, there would be the element of temptation for him to join her on several levels. Catwoman could be done easily within the rules of Nolan’s universe, but I doubt Warner Bros. wants to go anywhere near that character for awhile.

(Here’s an idea – what about a Gotham Central TV series set in the Nolanverse between TDK and film #3 — The Dark Knight Returns??? — ? If Batman is having to be in hiding to some extent, then he can just be a vague, undefined presence to some extent who doesn’t have to directly appear.)

(Which reminds me – having watched the Gotham Knight DVD a few times now, too, I’ll say that presumably, Anna Ramirez was used instead of Renee Montoya because the powers that be didn’t want Renee Montoya to wind up as a dirty cop. That said, “Crossfire” now makes less sense as a result, not more – unless the point was to make her fall be even tougher for those who figured she was just a generic Montoya stand-in. Also, the Goyer segment doesn’t exactly jive with what we see of Crane at the beginning of The Dark Knight, but at the same time, Gotham Knight appears to also forget that Wayne Manor burned down during Batman Begins, so it’s not an exact match anyway.)

(I will also note that I think the Joker could be recast. Likely? No. Possible? Yes. Nolan would just have to do what he did this time, which is find the best actor for the job.)

(Okay, enough with the parentheticals.)

(I mean it.)

Maybe the biggest clue is in the final scene. It’s clear that Nolan and co. regard the Batman/Gordon relationship as the moral foundation of the particular stories they’re telling. That may seem obvious, but I think it’s very much underscored in the last scene of TDK, which is a clear counterpoint to the last scene of BB. For example –- Gordon telling Batman “thank you” and him replying, “You don’t have to thank me” seems to be very much a reference to the last line of BB, and in general both scenes function to wrap up the moral point of the preceding story and establish what the guiding principle will be for the next one. Given that, as much as escalation was the driving force of TDK, can we surmise that Gotham learning to accept the hero they need will be the plot engine of the third film?

Enough for now. I have plenty to say about all of this, but this is already quite long. I’ll come back to it another day, maybe.


Advertisements

Richard’s Twitter

adventures in writing alexander lingas all saints bloomington all saints orthodox church american orthodox architecture american orthodox music american orthodoxy Antiochian Archdiocese Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America Antiochians books byzantine chant cappella romana chant church architecture ecclesiastical chant ethnomusicologists ethnomusicology fellowship of ss. alban and sergius Greece Greek greek food greekness hazards of church music international travel tips ioannis arvanitis joe mckamey john michael boyer kurt sander Latin liturgical adventures liturgical architecture liturgical music liturgical texts and translation liturgy liturgy and life lycourgos angelopoulos medieval byzantine chant Metropolitan PHILIP militant americanist orthodoxy modern byzantine architecture modern greek music music as iconography my kids will latin and greek when they're newborns my kids will learn latin and greek when they're newborns orthodox architecture orthodox architecture is bloody expensive Orthodox choir schools Orthodox Ecclesiology orthodox outreach orthodox travel pascha at the singing school Patriarchate of Antioch Patriarch IGNATIUS IV Patriarch of Antioch publishing random acts of chant richard barrett in greece richard toensing rod dreher sacred music st. vlads st john of damascus society Syriac the Bishop MARK fan club the convert dilemma the dark knight The Episcopacy The Episcopate the only good language is a dead language this american church life travel we need more american saints why do we need beautiful music in churches?

Blog Stats

  • 225,368 hits

Flickr Photos

Advertisements