Thursday, November 10, 2011

When does 'Batman' take place?

Not many may know, but despite the feeling of timelessness of the Tim Burton universe that he created for his Batman movies and which the 1992 Animated Series emulated, the movie is actually set in a specific year. The year is actually confirmed at least 3 times in the movie.

The first time the year the movie is set in is revealed is when we are introduced to Vicky Vale. Take a look at the headlines in Gotham Globe that she's reading. One of them mentions Mexican President Miguel Aleman being hailed on American Parade. That event happened during Motorcade parade in 1947 when President Truman and U.S. gave President Aleman a very warm welcome


The second clue can be found in another newspaper in which the headline says "Universal Service urged by Truman in Princeton talk: President speaks from steps of Nassau Hall at the Close of Bicentennial festivities" . Of course this event also happened in history. The closing days of Princeton's yearlong Bicentennial celebration, the final weekend of which, from Reunions through Commencement, saw Princeton hosting a remarkable collection of people and events -  President Harry S. Truman delivered a national address from the steps of Nassau Hall during Commencement in 1947.

The third clue can be found in the very same newspaper, in another headline saying:  "Mayor Hague Ends 30 years in the Office". Frank Hague was a mayor of Jersey City from 1917 to 1947.

The newspaper also mentions Ferenc Nagy as Hungary's Prime Minister. Nagy was elected for this title in 1947


Also, the date on the newspapers doesn't reveal the year but says "November 7, Friday". November 7th fell on a Friday in 1947
All this is visually confirmed by the look and architecture of Gotham City which represents the Industrial Era America, 1940s in particular



Anton Furst, the designer: We imagined what New York City might have become without a planning commission. A city run by crime, with a riot of architectural styles. An essay in ugliness. As if hell erupted through the pavement and kept on going' (Time 1989)

The fashion also represents that certain time period, with everyone wearing hats and clothes from the Al Capone era.


Most of the technology reflects it as well if you take a look at the microphones, typewriters, cameras


and guns. For example, Bob the Goon's handgun is a Col M1911A1. Joker's goons either use World War II hangunds, Webley Mk IV, or M1928 Thompson also called Tommyguns.


Even the machine gun in the Batmobile ,Browning M1919, is an old gun used during World War II and also in latter decades


Of course there's no shortage of surreality in Tim Burton's movies, and the time frame is no different. While the movie is set in 1947, there are elements in it placed from a completely different time period that stick out yet are fully accepeted. One of such elements is Vicky Vale who represents the contemporary times, 1980's in particular. With her clothes and style she is very unlike the 1940's women presented in the movie. For example, Alicia and other women are presented as perfectly matching the timeframe with their appearances like makeup, clothing and fashion


Vicky is an outside element who fully represents the 80's


That idea is even underlined by the fact that her portfolio consist of photos of models who are clearly representing the fashion of the 1980's


She is truly a relict from the future and even her accessories come from the 80's, such as her Nikon camera or her phone. The interesting thing is that she's actually only a visitor in Gotham , and she comes from someplace else.
Then there are cars from the 1970's and 1980's such as Plymouth police cars, and some weapons from 50's. Small audio tape recorders and 80s Prince music are also present, which all create a surreal mix of various elements from different eras mixed in together

To add to the confusion, even though the world is that of 1947 and gets through the same historical events as the world did that year, and experiences the same fashion trends and looks, the year is actually 1989 -  that is the date given on the Wanted poster handed out by Lt. Eckheardt


To sum it up, as one of the posters said, its like if 1947 somewhat existed in 1989. It's pretty much 1947 with elements of 1989, not the other way around. As a side note, there's another clue to the actual time on the CIA files that Joker got his hands on. It states the the nerve gas has been discontinued in 1977


21 comments:

  1. I like the fact Prince is prevalant in the 40's in this verse.

    Gothamstreets, or anybody are the Schumacher films canon with Burton's films?

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  2. Schumacher totally didnt get it. Except for Gough and Hingle and one mention of Catwoman there was no connection to Burton films. He created this Barbie city and completely discarded the Gothic and 1940s Depression era World that Burton created. But officially Schumachers movies are continuations of course, its up for fans to decide

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  3. Dont forget the stylized score of Danny Elfman which had plenty of instruments and elements of the gangster movies from those times.

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  4. I like to think that the older movies take place in different dimension or reality

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  5. Its like if 1947 somehow "survived" up to 1989

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  6. I think in 1947 there were no colur tv sets, like Bruce Wayne's. Obviously there is a surreal point of view which allows these anachronisms.

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  7. OR its a different reality or dimension where 1947 sort of exists in 1989

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  8. It isnt really 1989 with elements of 1947, its more like 1947 with some elements of 1989

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  9. First of all, there's no way of knowing that the newspaper Vicki is reading is a CURRENT newspaper. The office obviously has several decades worth of old papers, and maybe she decided to have a peek at one of them.

    Second: In 1989, there were still plenty of 50- to 70-year-olds around who remembered 1947 (and, to a lesser extent, 1939 - the year Batman was created) as if it were yesterday. And some 50-year-olds look remarkably young: Jack Napier, for instance, is supposed to be no older than 30 in this movie (the shooting script confirms that he's only a few years older than Bruce Wayne), yet he's played by 52-year-old Jack Nicholson. So for all we know, we could be watching a "historical reenactment" - after a 20-year-lag - performed either by the people who were actually there back then or people who look a lot like them. Who knows? This could actually be taking place in the 1960s, when there were even more obvious cultural holdovers from the '40s.

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    1. Nicholson played OLD MAN JOKER - so old that he was an adult shooter of Bruce's Parents. Which is NOT canon in the comics. Joker didn't kill the Waynes.

      But it works (meh) in the 1989 film because of the age difference in Nicholson and Keaton.

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  10. Actually we do know that its a current newspaper. Three of the mentioned historical events are taken from the same first page as the "Batman cracks Joker's Poison Code" headline

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  11. Gothamstreets your articles are always amazing,

    whats your favorite depiction of Gotham in the movies? Mine is Burton's Returns Gotham with all the fascist architecture, German expressionism.

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  12. Same here, althought each Gotham fit its story. For example the totalitarian Gotham would be out of place in Batman begins and Begins' Chicago setting wouldnt be exciting in Returns

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  13. All of the pre-Nolan Gothams have been special to me. I thought Anton Furst's filthy, ugly Gotham was really scary. I absolutely loved the Frank Capra-style Gotham created by Bo Welch. The one in BATMAN FOREVER was okay, but in BATMAN & ROBIN they overdid it.

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  14. Some more timewarp craziness, this time form Batman Returns:

    *Ted Bundy exists and is a known serial killer. (Bruce Wayne dialogue to Selina)

    *And yet, only about 30-40 years earlier (whatever Penguin's age is), Gotham was something out of circa early 1900s (judging by Penguin's parents' dress and house furnishings, Pee Wee and Simone)

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  15. Right. It was exactly 33 years later, so if subtracting 33 from 1947 it would match the early 1900 look and fashion. So thats very much consistent with the first movie in this regard, but as always, theres plenty of elements from the early 90s

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  16. Here's an argument that they take place at the time they were made (late 1980s to mid-1990s). Gotham City is celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding in the 1989 film. Most comic-book fans put Gotham either in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania; let's say New York. The state of New York officially entered the Union in 1788 - so New York City would've celebrated its 200th year as a truly American city in 1988. That was the very year the Batman movie was made!

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  17. Well, since the WANTED poster flat out says 1989 and since the anachronism is so strong, I do believe it happens in late 80s. Your argument is another very good one. But since the world looks like 1940s and events of the '47 take place, its safe to say that this is basically an alternate reality

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    1. Another indication it's an alternate reality; theres a freakin' Batman!!!!

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  18. This articles reminds me of something I have noticed about comic book adaptations; they usually update the setting. X-Men: First Class did take place in the 1960's, though.

    Usually, adaptations of comic book heroes, no matter how many decades after the character's debut, appear as contemporary stories. For example, the 2008 Iron Man took place in contemporary times, even though it arrived 45 years after Iron Man's debut. (Exceptions, where the World War II roots of a property did appear in a TV or movie adaptation include Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, which initially took place in World War II, and the Salinger Captain America film, whose early scenes took place during World War II, as well as Captain America: The First Avenger).

    Interestingly enough, despite the success of the Indiana Jones films (the first three of which took place in the 1930's), period piece adventure films set in the 1930's have tended not to produce sequels. These usually feature pulp heroes and comic strip heroes, not native to comic book heroes. Examples: 1968's The Devil Rides Out, Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze (1975, before the first Indiana Jones' film's release), Dick Tracy (1990), The Shadow (1994), The Phantom (1996). None of these films produced sequels. Also The Rocketeer (1991) and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) did not produce sequels. Brendan Fraser as Rick O'Connell did appear in three Mummy films, the last of which did not feature Imhotep, that take place circa the 1930's.

    Come to think of it, the 1997 version of The Saint did not produce a sequel, but it came closer to having a domestic gross equaling its budget than some of the other films noted. This version of the Saint updated the story to the 1990's.

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  19. Excellent article, as always. Batman and Batman Returns are two of my favourite movies, so it's good to see them getting a heck of a lot of respect and analysis here. Good work.

    I might add that the Batman script on display in the London Film Museum notes the year as being 1989.

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