Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Batman in 1980s/90s: Michael Keaton


Sam Hamm: Our guy is basically insane and Batman is a manifestation of his insanity (Anthology)

Tim Burton's Batman world mirrored the roots of the character, in many ways thanks to the creative involvement of Bob Kane.
One must have in mind that at the time the general public's perception on batman was that of a constantly smiling, blue/grey hero in tights, mainly due to the 1960's TV show and the cartoons that followed which featured Batman.
Burton and his creative team really pushed the envelope as far as they could at the time, and brought him back to the roots while adding original ideas such as black makeup around the eyes,  the suit being a black armor and the sculpted expression on the mask.

The character goes back to roots and presents not a  typical hero, but a Gothic character who truly is insane, has a split personality disorder and doesn't mind killing, as his original version. Burton’s Batman is the Batman Bob Kane first envisioned when doing the early, pre-Robin issues with a bit of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns Batman also in for good mix.

Michael Uslan (producer): I only let Tim see the original year of the Bob Kane/Bill Finger run, up until the time that Robin was introduced (DVD)

Keaton's hero is dark, mysterious and melancholy--"the way I created Batman in 1939," says Bob Kane, comic creator and a consultant on the film. (USA today 1989)

Bob Kane: At the beginning I drew him as a vigilante, very mysterious, dark and broody (20/20 1989)

Jon Peters (producer): This Batman would be a comic book Gothic,  a dark fable that would restore Bob Kane's original gloomy luster (Newsweek 1989)

Sam Hamm: The idea that interested us the most was to go back to the original Bob Kane notion, and we thought that that was the version that would give us sort of the most antre to the story which we wanted to tell, to go kind of dark mysterioso myth, that we could also say that we're going back to the roots of the character, you know, were kind of peeling away all the detours the character's taken over the years and trying to zero in on what this original concept was (Anthology)

Burton's Batman movies are a mix of German Expressionism, Gothic literature (which features characters with psychological and physical terror and mystery), fairy tale, the art of silent movies, Opera and conventional filmmaking (all of those confirmed by Burton)

Michael Keaton portrays the Dracula Batman of the roots, a stoic figure which is like a ghost, intimidating with silence and just his presence

Batman in the script is referred to or described with such words as the Bat, Black Apparition, Black Figure, Human Bat and Black Spectre

Expressionism is a mode of representation whereby internal feelings and abstract concepts are displayed externally, often at the expense of realism and artistic convention. Expressionist art usually has a surreal or fantastic quality to it, presenting distorted aesthetics through which the true nature of a thing is belied in its external countenance (Catwoman's patchy suit - Selina's patchy and fragmented personality, Batman's suit - his inner darkness and psychosis, the Gothic look of Gotham with gargoyles - the dark and evil nature of the city, etc). In narrative terms, Expressionist films were often preoccupied with dark subject matter such as evil and madness (Keaton's Batman, Joker, Catwoman = madness, Penguin-evil)

Tim Burton: “It was the strength and simplicity that I really loved about the expressionists’ work. That and the fairy-tale element.”

"I love things like Hunchback and Beauty and the Beast" (San Diego Tribune Batman article, 1989)

"That’s why I like this material, there's an operatic tragedy really to the whole thing" (BR audio commentary)

Here, Batman was not placed predictably as main character because it would take out all the mystery and spookiness out of him. In this Gothic version of the character, Batman is shown as a dark avenger, a creepy and shadowy phantom who we never get to know well and see much. Just like the characters in Gothic literature, such as either the phantom from Phantom of the Opera or the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, we only see the glimpses of him, and we don't see much of what Phantom of the Opera is doing, but rather see glimpses of him and get to know his story through other characters' point of view. In Gothic stories the characters are like vampires or phantoms and we see them only through the eyes of other, normal people. And he's a mystery. He sleeps upside down, sits alone in the dark and stays away from people, living in a castle with only a butler. He's a perfect Gothic character, in many ways similar to and as interesting as Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Elfman's score filters Hermannesque themes through a Gothic sensibility and the result is heroic and sinister all at once.

Kim Basinger: It really is the Phantom of the Opera of the 80's (Inside The Summer Blockbusters 1989)

The genius of Burton's conception was in decenteralizing the superhero. By closely pairing Batman with the Joker, Burton showed two halves of same obsession. The strong similarities between hero and villain became the new movie's focus. Burton realize what the makers of the “Superman” movies did not, that “Star Wars” Darth Vader was as, if not more, interesting, than Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. A Manhattan bank employee told Newsweek: “Batman is the best of both worlds, a hero who looks like a villain.” Truth to tell, the Joker was more interesting than Batman, which reaffirmed Burton's philosophy by showing how substantially “Batman” rewrote the rules of the American superheroand Hollywood entertainment. (NY Times' Emanuel Levy)

Tim Burton: Again for these characters, they have a tragic beginning, the middle and end and that sort of opera tragedy goes with this material (...) He's a man whose dressed as a bat, it doesn't get anymore operatic than that in a certain way (...) You know that's an opera , you can see why it's an opera, it's such a grand sort of phantom of the opera kind of thing (BR Commentary)

What drew Burton was "that I loved the extremes, the operatic quality of the characters. (...) I loved that basic good vs. evil, night fable, Phantom of the Opera stuff." (San Diego Tribune 1989)

The bat symbol, like the mask from The Phantom of the Opera, has become an icon of gothic glamour--a talisman for those seeking light entertainment from the dark side.(Maclean, 1992)

Bob Kane: The first year of Batman was heavily infuenced by horror films, and emulated a Dracula look (via BRT)

It is also worth noting that Michael Gough played Lord Ambrose d'Arcy in 1962's Phantom of the Opera and Max Shreck is a name of the actor who portrayed the creature in 1922's Nosferatu

Naturally no origins were shown in order to preserve the mystique character.

Sam Hamm: You totally destroy your credibility if you show the literal process by which Bruce Wayne becomes Batman (Cinefantastique 1989)

Also, it's yet again simply reconstructing the original Batman story.  In Burton's films, Batman is a mysterious Gothic figure who sometimes kills the criminals he comes across, similar to the Batman of 1939. Though the character is introduced in Detective Comics #27, we don't Batman's origin until Detective Comics # 33, similar to how the audience doesn't see Batman's origin until shortly before the climax. Detective Comics # 27 begins several weeks after Batman has begun fighting crime, similar to how Batman begins with muggers already talking about Batman.

Tim Burton: "This guy wants to remain as hidden as possible, and in the shadows as possible, and unrevealing about himself as possible, so all of those things - you know, he’s not gonna eat up screen time by these big speeches and doing dancing around the Batcave"

"Again, I felt less is more with him in the sense of who he is. (…) Michael’s eyes - it goes back to kind of like silent movie acting. I like when people sort of just look. It’s a movie so you kinda get more between the lines then you do [from] the actual lines (…) There's a loneliness to that character and witheldness. He’s a character that is sad and is private"
"Even when he's standing there looking there's an electricity about him. Again this is why I wanted him for Batman because its all about that."
(BR audio commentary)

"I wanted Michael from the start. I knew he could do it after working with him on Beetlejuice. And there is something in his eyes, a dimension of feeling, even with the mask on."(San Diego Tribune 1989)

"Michael has this explosive side. All you have to do is look in his eyes and you know he's nuts" (Newsweek, 1989)

Keaton was stunningly perfect for the Gothic expressionist presence he was suppose to portray, similar to the one in Murnau's Nosferatu (another Expressionist Gothic story in which characters worked with presence and eyes) which was also one of Tim Burton's favorites. Like Burton said, they were going back to the silent movie acting with presence and stare, with which Keaton did wonders

Bob Kane: Michael Keaton has an edge about him. (...) [He] has a maniacal quality that Nicholson has, the same craziness going on in the eyes. (People, 1989)

Michael Keaton plays his part with a brooding style and style that suggests much more than meets the eye (Times 1989)

As already mentioned, this Batman is indeed insane, just as the original Batman was. This Bruce didn't put on a Batman suit. He was transforming into Batman

Bob Kane: When Bruce Wayne was 10 years old, his mother and dad were murdered coming out of the theater. This dramatic shock motivated him to become a vigilante. became, in his own way, as psychotic as the Joker, except the Joker fights against justice and for evil. They're mirror images of each other. (People, 1989)

Sam Hamm: Our guy is basically insane and Batman is a manifestation of his insanity (Anthology)

Michael Keaton: What makes it doubly interesting is that he's kind of psychotic. At first, I wasn't willing to take it that far, but Tim was more than willing to take it that far. I read the script thinking, 'This guy's really angry and depressed and dark (Boston Globe 1989)

For Keaton, Bruce-Batman is something of a schizophrenic (Times 1989)

Dan Didio (VP editorial, DC comics) It's about boy who loses his parents and can never overcome the grief for that (Anthology)

Tim Burton: Batman is dark, scarred, depressed. (Newsweek 1989)
There's tension and insanity. We're trying to say this guy is obviously nuts, but in the most appealing way possible (from Allison McMahan's Tim Burton book)

There's a strange nature about Keaton's Wayne. It is implied that it wasn't his choice, he did not choose Batman but Batman chose him. It's as if there was a reckoning, he was summoned to be Batman which added to his over the edge nature of almost snapping at any point (You wanna get nuts!?). He was compelled to become the Batman. And it was something that consumed him. He almost has no life outside of that suit and he himself can't explain it and admittedly tried to fight it before: "Look sometimes I don't know what to think of this. It's just something I have to do.  Look, I tried to avoid all of this but I can't. This is how it is"

Keaton does locate the troubled human inside Batman's armature. He is amusingly awkward wrestling with the threat that Vicky's inquisitive love represents. (Time magazine 1989)

Tim Burton: Thats what I appreciated about him as well. He's able to take that distraction and sadness and loneliness and intensity but then also have a humor without it calling too much attention to itself (BR Commentary)

Bruce's psychosis wasn't explored in numerous flashbacks but we certainly get to understand who he is. It's just conveyed in other ways. The fact that he mistakes himself for being in the costume when he is out of the costume. He enters an iron maiden. He has no one besides Alfred. He refers to himself as Bruce Wayne only some of the time. He sits in Wayne Manor alone patiently awaiting when to suit up.

Dan Didio: Batman's the real identity. Bruce Wayne is the secret identity, Bruce Wayne is who he is but it's just a shell. Bruce Wayne is just passing time until Batman can take over and Batman can be who he is. The wonderful aspect of Michael Keaton's portrayal is that you felt almost sad for him, the fact that he looked so uncomfortable in his own skin, in his own house, talking to people who were suppose to be his best friends. The you wonder where does he fit in in the world, thus when you see him sitting in the batcave in front of the console you realize this is where he belongs, this is where he should be (Anthology)

Also it is important to note that this Bruce is not a socialite. The most he does is host a gala and even then, he tries to hide among the crowd and refuses to even answer to Bruce Wayne. Even members of the press have no idea how he looks like. Most people in Gotham were only vaguely familiar with the name Bruce Wayne. There was no Wayne Enterprise at all and it seemed like his money just came from old family wealth, which allowed him to be a hermit stuck in Wayne manor instead of a socialite that the newspapers wanted to print about.

Even in the suit, he's a creature of the night and constantly keeps backing up into the shadow and keeps the interaction to a bare minimum (just like in the original portrayal).

Tim Burton: I thought a lot about the character. I wanted to deal with understandable human issues. Loneliness  is a big part of it. The kid's 10 years old and he sees something very bad happen and he shuts down. He becomes a very lonely, isolated person (Newsweek 1989)

He wants to remain as hidden and as silent and as unresponsive as possible, both figuratively and literally, and being this  Gothic phantom, naturally he's not present at the unveiling of the bat signal, and the only time he speaks to police and Gordon is when he says "we'll see" in Batman Returns without even stopping or looking at them (and again, as in the original portrayal).

Even when he asked Vicky for a date he picked his own house where they ate dinner alone in a big diner room. When he invited Selina for a date he also picked a secluded place, which is his home, far away from people and public places

Keaton's Batman is stoic, almost mechanical. When he sheds his armor, the emotional barrier remains. There isn't much shading to Keaton's superhero. That's the point. His psyche is scarred almost beyond repair. He's a vacuum, in danger of imploding. It is a riveting, understated performance. (St Petersburg times 1989)

What Keaton brings to his characterization of both Batman and his millionaire-playboy alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is a quality of coiled concentration, a wary vigilance. In his Batsuit, Keaton's movements are stylized, almost robotic, and the stiffness of movement carries Arthurian associations, as if he were indeed a dark knight, armored for battle
But as evocative as he is in his Bat regalia, it's as Bruce Wayne that Keaton announces his own arrival. This is a true star performance, subtle, authoritative and sexually vibrant.there's genuine pain in the performance, signs of a wounded man trying to shake free of childhood traumas.The Warren Skaaren-Sam Hamm script portrays Wayne as a realist who isn't sure himself why he does what he does. Driven by the vision of his parents' murder, his life is not his own. (Washington post 1989)

There's also more to the mysterious and disturbing personality of this Batman, as he's seen grinning occasionally without uttering a sound for no immediately apparent reason in sick context. The first time was when Bob The Goon threatened to kill Gordon if Batman won't release Napier (not as a reaction to Napier's comment about the outfit as some say), and in Batman Returns he smiles just before blowing a guy up to pieces

Lets also not forget the terrific idea of Bruce Wayne entering the bat cave via an iron maiden. A "tortured soul" both literally and figuratively.

Tim Burton: The iron maiden is a torture device, so you know, him being a tortured individual, you could see him connecting to that on some level emotionally and I thought it would be a good image (BR commentary)

All that leads up to his split personality which he confirms himself in both movies. When asked by Joker if he's Bruce Wayne, he says "most of the time" When first talking to Selina, he says "I mistook me for someone else" and during their date by the fire he's talking about "two truths", duality and even likens himself to Norman Bates and Ted Bundy. By the end of Batman Returns he states that he and Selina are both "Split, wrecked in the center". Worth noting is that at the masked ball in Batman Returns he was the only one not wearing a mask, meaning that his face , the Bruce Wayne name, was a mask (same goes for Selina).

Michael Keaton: I wanted to see and to show that transition when he goes from Bruce Wayne to Batman, the time when he’s about to don the suit and go out and wreak some havoc. That’s not a casual thing, obviously, it’s not putting on a jacket to go out for the evening. So what is that transition like? So there was a thing we did early on that showed him going into a sort of trance and it justified this shift in him. So we did that scene and it never made it into the film but I think helped me in a way. It was part of the way he became this other thing and even if you didn’t see it, it was part of the character and the way we created him. (latimes.com 2011)

As already mentioned, this Batman is like a phantom, a spook, and this performance wasn't just based on comic books and human beings, but bats as well, helping to craft the creepy and Gothic presence and performance of the character in the suit

Micheal Keaton: "I went to the source and read about bats." (USA Today 1989)

Tim Burton: Batman lives by night, and we wanted to explore the man behind him, Bruce Wayne, who really has a dark past to confront. It's a tale of primal emotions.(San Diego Tribune 1989)
I've always enjoyed the images associated with Batman. Somehow, they strike a very primal chord. Maybe it has to do with bats, because they're such great creatures. Show anyone a bat and right away, they'll perk up.
"They're very beautifully designed creatures, very primal, very old and very interesting. They're there throughout history, from Dracula to opera. When you see that image of the Bat logo out there now, it's like you've got the DTs or something."(Tornonto Star 1989)

Brian Bolland: "To me [Batman] looks good when he's kind of like monolithic and motionless somehow, just this shadow" (Anthology)

It was also Tim Burton who originated the idea of Batman changing his voice while in the costume. While it may sound to many nowadays like a natural thing to do, it was never mentioned in the comic books before 1989 and wasn't used in any of the serials or the TV show or any of the cartoons featuring Batman before 1989.

Tim Burton: “We’d try all sorts of movements. Then we’d say, ‘How about changing your voice?’ (AMC)

He only speaks when absolutely necessary, and when he does it's in a ghost - like whisper. When he does speak, you know without doubt he means what he is saying. The obvious way to play a superhero is a gruff yell, but Keaton dials it down to a whisper, which makes him seem all the more intense.

Batman changes in the second movie. He starts out as the same character in the beginning of Returns (although "[Tim and Michael] still saw him as a wounded soul" - Daniel Waters Fangoria 1992), he's in his study, sitting alone in the dark and there is only deafening silence. And then the bat-signal turns on and he has found his one and only purpose in life. That simple dialog free scene conveys a very important message about the character. At the end of Batman, Batman killed The Joker for revenge and in Batman Returns he becomes more consumed by the monster within himself as he took more pleasure killing criminals in the beginning of the film where he burns that guy in devil suit, straps the bomb around the strongman and shoots the spear gun into the clowns head. And then he meets Selina - "We can go home...together. Selina...don't you see? We're the same. Split. Wrecked in the center". This is a big growth of character for him. This is the first tie he opened up. With Vicky, he was always dismissive of her and she was always secondary to his crime fighting ("I can't think of it right now"). He lied to her that he's going away for a couple of days which was even before he knew about Joker's existence, he was constantly ignoring her calls and even completely ignored her in person in front of the City Hall. He looked even annoyed by her

It wasn't until almost at the end when he finally decided to tell her why he ditched her after one night after constant naggings from her and Alfred, thinking that she deserves the truth after all this behavior towards her. And also they went their separate ways because she couldn't deal with his dual personality and life, so she had to go. 
But with Selina, it's the first time he thought of hanging up the cape and leading a semi-normal life. After all these years of internal pain and revenge driven life, he meets someone who is hurting as much as he does inside, and also as fractured, someone who shares the pain - someone who understands. This is exactly the same thing as with the Frankenstein monster - he was an outsider who was hurting and all he wanted was just one person in the world who understood him, one person like him, to talk to and to spend his life with. And Selina was this Bride of Frankenstein for Bruce.

Tim Burton: It was kind of him opening up for the first time (BR commentary)

His pain was eased and he was now more in peace, lighter in a way and focusing on Selina. In her he saw a reflection of himself, that she was another psychologically damaged person like him out for revenge, so he attempts to stop her from killing Max Shreck by suggesting that he gets apprehended and this was Batman's way of protecting her from getting consumed by revenge the same way that he did after killing The Joker.

There's not much known about this Batman's upbringing's, but he is shown to master detective skills (figuring out Joker's identity, hideout and poison combination, going through old newspapers figuring out Penguin's true side and past murders etc - classic detective work with research and deductive/creative thinking), he's extremely knowledgeable in chemistry (figuring out the chemical poison code which police couldn't do) and even more so technology, since he builds all of his equipment alone and fixes and designs his gadgets himself, not to mention being able to figure out radio frequencies and ways around to jam the signals etc.

The moment when he slides down the tunnel to the Batcave in Returns, and instantly puts on his glasses as he touches the ground makes him look more serious, very intelligent, sciency and professional.

Christian Bale: [In answer to: which one of the previous Batmans added the most amount of credibility to the role?] I would say Michael Keaton because of Tim Burton and the way that he approached the movie (Rebecca Murray Int, 2005)



  1. I love this blog.

  2. Amazing. Very interesting and well researched

  3. Michael Keaton would be proud.

  4. Kudos to the writer of this article and for Michael and Tim who gave us this dark Gothic portrayal of my favorite comic book character

  5. I love how he often backs up to the shadow and gives this psycho look

  6. Keaton is my Batman. His eyes say it all. Kilmer was admirable, Clooney flat out wrong, and Bale best in Batman Begins, but sidelined somewhat in TDK. I'm all about the Keaton.

  7. What a shocking contrast it was. Before that movie people thought of Batman as a smiling blue guy driving around in a convertible in tights , and then you suddenly had this guy in black armor sitting in the darkness thinking about his parents getting murdered. Its still unbelievable what Burton did back then and how far he pushed the envelope

  8. This is the second post I read on this blog and at the same time a second masterpiece I read.

  9. I loved the article, very well researched, and your insights about the character and the movies are very interesting.

    I have a suggestion for you to consider: in the first movie,there is a turning point in Batman's methods: at the beginning of the movie he is not killing criminals (he does not kill the crooks on the roof, he does not kill the gangsters at Axis, where he even tries to save Jack Napier).
    The turning point is the flash-back scene, when he realizes the Joker is the same man who killed his parents: that is like a trigger in him. First thing he does, send the batmobile to Axis and blow it (with Joker's goons inside), the attack of the batwing (killing more goons and trying to kill the Joker) and finally the intentional murder of the Joker.

  10. Yeah, someone mentioned it to me once and came up with an interesting theory of an arc of the character, that the lust for revenge of his parent's killers made him lethal and that in Returns he warns and tries to save Catwoman from the same path when he cautions her against killing and revenge. While its a very nice arc I personally think its accidental, although Im not excluding a possibility that it was intended

  11. Porbably you are right, taking into account that the first two acts of Batman89 come directly from Sam Hamm's script, while the third is mainly what Warren Skaaren rewrote (thus Hamm in the DVD extras pledging innocent for making the Joker the killer of Batman's parents). So maybe they are slightly different views of the character.
    In Returns, though, it always struck me as hypocrissy from Batman to preach Selina about killing Schreck when he does his own share of killing in the movie (and smiling!)

  12. The way I see it with what he said to Selina is that through her he saw himself and learned better. I also acknowledged that in the article

  13. Bale wasn't "sidelined in TDK" ... his nuanced and more subtle potrayl, particularly of Wayne is what harnesses and weights the film. The film is about Gotham City's reaction to this craziness that has shifted into their world (Batman / Joker) ... so it wasn't supposed to be a character study of Wayne ala Batman Begins. So I don't even see that as a legitimate complaint. Especially if you're going to use it as a means to say Keaton is "your Batman" and the other ones aren't. Because even stated in this article, Keaton's Batman was never the focus of any of the films. They purposely kept him mysterious as possible. B89 does a better job of it than Returns, but that is another talk all together. Keaton's Batman rules. As does his whole take on it. The neurotic, quirky, recluse, socially awkward Wayne ... and the mysterious spectre, underplayed phantom Batman. Tells you how great of a character we can have that we as an audience can have 3 completely different interpretations ... yet we have two of them that have gained such a following (Keaton and Bale's). My only wish is Returns would've been a better movie. Burton was better when he was kept in check by WB, Sam Hamm's more respectful script, etc. Batman '89 is a top three Batman movie, for sure. The 3rd act is alittle nuts and loses its way, but in terms of entertainment, it's up there with the best of them.

  14. Best article on the site!

  15. michael fucking keaton..can pull off being so hilarious as Beetlejuice and pull of being so spooky as Batman.he truly is versatile

  16. This is one of the best blogs I've ever read, very detailed and with a lot of interesting trivia!!! Michael Keaton rules!!! If you want to join my page on Facebook;


  17. Reading this just made me love the Burton and Keaton films so much more. Excellent blog, it's amazing how I've seen Batman and Batman Returns so many times, but I missed out on all the subtle details. I can't believe how so many people just brush them off as 'style over substance'. They deserve so more praise and so does this blog. Bravo!

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  19. I have been reading the many articles on this blog for months now- absolutely love the Keaton article- sums up my thoughts exactly! I've made a short film on youtube inspired by Keaton's portrayal- love to know what you guys think :) http://youtu.be/nbcMR3qk4nM This link is for part 1 or 3. Comments are welcomed!

  20. Excellent article, loved it.

  21. Some of this info came from me. I'm "theMan-Bat" at superherohype. The scan with the underlining is from me from a Sam Hamm interview in my Comics Interview Super Special (1989). If you could give me some credit for that I'd appreciate it.

  22. Some of this info came from me. I'm "theMan-Bat" at superherohype. The scan with the underlining is from me from a Sam Hamm interview in my Comics Interview Super Special (1989). If you could give me some credit for that I'd appreciate it.

  23. absolutely. Im building a website where Ill move everything, Ill give the credit where its due