Paranoid Movies

I first watched the 1978, Philip Kaufman directed, remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers when I was about 17. At this time in my life I knew that I perhaps loved movies more than the average person might, but was yet to find my feet as someone who knew the difference between something that I merely liked and something that was truly great (at this time, subtext and symbolism was easier for me to spot in books than in movies, something that is ridiculous to think about now). Part of my education in loving and watching films did not come from doing GCSE Media studies (which seemed to focus more on the different lighting of different scenes in The Bill) or from a formal Film Studies academic qualification (never made it to university at that age), but from being an insomniac who often watched Mark Kermode’s Shooting Gallery on Channel 4 in the middle of the night. It was a great thing to be watching at that age. The artsy short films mixed with Kermode’s informative introduction allowed me to get the most out of each of them, and I was rewarded with seeing some of the greatest films that I have ever seen. But the main thing that Mark Kermode and Shooting Gallery taught me was how to watch a movie – how to pay attention to what the camera is doing, how certain characters are lit, what sounds can be heard off camera, the importance and significance of costume design and colour, and so on.

It was after an episode of The Shooting Gallery that I first saw Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. To me, it was a Smorgasbord of things to feast my eyes on and tax my brain with using my new found knowledge. The sound was incredible and unsettling, the camera work and editing are jumpy and jarring and the overall look is washed out and sterile. The plot is a basic sci-fi/horror mashup of aliens assimilating humans and taking over the Earth, but where its strength lies is in the absolute lack of monsters and beasties. Instead the horror lies in the distrust that the characters have of one another and of the outside world. There are many moments where characters complain that their loved or otherwise close ones are different or not themselves, but specific examples are never given as to how. The only cues to something being seriously amiss do not come from things that are in the foreground of the movie, but in the background. Things seen in the distance show a world gone seriously wrong, but those focusing purely on performances of principal characters will miss these. It is within these moments that the movie launches itself into the realms of greatness. As everything is just out of reach and yet very much there, it leads to a hugely disturbing watch that makes you the viewer become both scared and, more importantly, paranoid.

I say paranoid because I do not think of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers as being a horror movie so much as an sticky, uncomfortable piece of cinema that makes you jumpy without realising why. To me, there is something very powerful about the distrust that people have with those around them and find it much more unsettling than scary aliens or even the unseen noise of something like the Blair Witch. And, for my money, nothing does it better than Kaufman’s movie. John Carpenter’s The Thing comes close, but cheapens itself by visual effects and crappy characters. Perhaps it’s my Englishness seeping out of my pores, but I react to things being unspoken much more to things being shouted. As it turns out, I am quite a big fan of unspoken paranoia in movies. I’m not sure what part of the me this appeals to me, but it’s something that I often crave. I think that it’s because there is simply more reward in finding meaning and twists in things that are not overt; paranoid movies tend to layer themselves like onions with the full story only being revealed after multiple viewings. True horror or suspense comes not from malevolent third parties but from things within ourselves, perhaps simply the fear of fear itself. All I know is that I will take a faceless threat inhabiting the people of San Francisco over Jigsaw any day of the week.

5 other great paranoid films

1. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
2. All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, 1976)
3. JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)
4. Glorious 39 (Stephen Poliakoff, 2009)
5. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

Also consider…

North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Amadeus (Milos Forman, 1984)

Any thoughts or suggestions? I would dearly love some recommendations for other paranoid movies.

(NB: I did want to post a trailer or a clip from the movie to accompany this post, but there was nothing available. The trailer really does a disservice to this incredible movie.)

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Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Disclaimer Although I have attempted to keep this review spoiler free, I have discussed certain plot points of the movie. This review is meant for discussion purposes rather than a simple recommendation on whether or not to see the movie. Please bear this is mind when reading.

Ordinarily, when talking about things that are so close to my heart, I would give a warning about my possible bias towards the topic; opinions are to be taken with a pinch of salt. And yet, after returning from the cinema and discussing The Dark Knight Rises at length and having a night’s sleep, I find myself thinking that, in this case, there is no need for such disclaimer. The Dark Knight Rises is the ultimate fan’s movie without any shadow of doubt, but it’s also the ultimate action adventure, drama and thriller. It manages to not only outshine Christopher Nolan’s other movies in the franchise, it demonstrates just what can be done with the summer blockbuster.

The most striking thing about TDKR is how brutal and uncompromising it is. Fights are choreographed in a way that you feel the impact of every punch, kick and headbutt, but there is more menace throughout than these moments. The movie is, in essence, about a grand act of terrorism within a major American city. Just think about that for a moment. Traditionally, superhero movies have villains that you root for just as much as the hero (and come on – we were all cheering for The Joker in The Dark Knight) because the things that they do are tightly linked in with either their own ends or to simply antagonise the protagonist. TDKR is different – it shows what happens when the shackles of society are broken and things descend into chaos. For me, there were moments that didn’t feel like baddie-is-baddie-does so much as stirring up the emotions that I felt on the evening of 11th September, 2001, sat in a bar, in silence, watching the news. Yes, it’s corny and obvious to bring 9/11 into the mix, but Nolan’s take on certain events in the movie cast a vivid reminder to the helplessness of that day.

Another thing that deeply impresses is the pacing and structure. TDKR does not rush itself in getting to all out action at the expense of drama. The first act has been lambasted by some as being overdrawn or portentous, but to see this is to misunderstand the movie. We are told that 8 years have passed since the events of The Dark Knight, and that Batman has hung up his cape and cowl after taking the fall for the death of Harvey Dent (for the greater good, naturally). Bruce Wayne is now living as a recluse who never sees daylight and walks with a cane. And here the movie sits, painting a picture of where Gotham is at this point in time, unrushed and unfettered. Even when the action and story ramp up during the middle act, there is still a sense of deliberation, of not wanting to present all cards that are in hand. But this does not bore – it fascinates. Characters are given room to breathe and develop and audiences have time to bond with them in a way that lets them fully understand their motivations, triumphs and mistakes. And afterwards, the audience is rewarded by a bombastic final act that, without the slower paced opening, would merely be smoke and lights to satisfy the punter.

As with all of Chris Nolan’s movies, the story is complicated and demands that the audience pays attention. During the last hour there are twists and plot threads galore and those not taking notice of the smaller points may miss much of what is happening. But this is no bad thing. For too long movies have treated their audience like fools without attention spans, with every action over explained to the point of saturation. Truth is, there are times where the plot of TDKR is tough to follow. But that’s okay. It just demands that you have to concentrate. But you will. In the 8 o’clock showing on the opening night in a packed auditorium, I was amazed by how quiet the audience was during quieter moments. There was a feeling of concentration and commitment to the movie from everyone there. You and I are not stupid people, and neither are audiences of movies. TDKR rewards you for your attention.

I loved The Dark Knight, but I was aware throughout that it was not Batman’s movie, it was the Joker’s. To give Christian Bale credit, he knew this as much as anyone and, for me, downplayed the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman to compensate. There was nothing wrong with this as it suited that movie, but rest assured that TDKR is once again all about Batman. The inner conflict, strength, fallibility and morals of Batman are all laid bare en force, and the movie benefits from this. Seen as a trilogy, TDKR is more of a sequel to Batman Begins to The Dark Knight, in that it’s every bit about Batman as a concept and Gotham City as a construct. But, in spite of Bale’s absolutely stellar turn which has no real faults, the characters and performances that really take your breath away are Tom Hardy’s Bane and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle. Bane’s very presence is terrifying throughout, whith the sound design on his voice digging into your brain as something to be feared. Considering the limitations that Hardy had (Bane’s mouth is covered throughout the movie so most of the performance is in the eyes and body language) he puts in a stunning performance that conveys the character’s eloquent malevolence. Selina Kyle manages to steal the show in every scene that she is in. Her transition, near the beginning of the movie, from wide-eyed innocent girl to cool calculating criminal, instantly achieved by a lowering of her voice, a look in her eye, and a change of posture and movement, is a real treat. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which the character plays up to men’s perception of female stereotypes; in a scene early on she evades capture by crying hysterically while male cops charge past her, after which she stops and walks out the door, unhindered and unruffled. Given the state of DC comics and its attitude towards female characters at the moment, it is great that Selina Kyle is such a strong character. Even in a scene where Batman swoops in and “saves” her, it is in doubt as to whether she actually needed saving. Other performance highlights are Gary Oldman and Michael Caine, returning as Jim Gordon and Alfred and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as new character, Detective John Blake.

The direction must be applauded as well, not just for aforementioned pacing and structure, but for symbolism and drive. The concept of Batman being an Everyman is struck home beautifully by him brawling with Bane during fight sequences in the final act. The use of flashback to previous movies – to add resonance to current scenes – is powerful, especially with the Pit prison having much in common with the well at Wayne Manor that Bruce falls down as a child in Batman Begins. There are some incredibly moving and powerful dialogue and reveals, which I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say they’re there and hit hard. And the ending, with its open-to-interpretation approach, lets the audience come away with a feeling of ownership for the story told. Chris Nolan is not a master director who also makes superhero movies, he is a master director. There’s every bit as much depth and intrigue here as there is in his other greats; Inception, The Prestige and Memento. Special credit must also be given to the stunning and stark cinematography of Wally Pfister and the harrowing and unsettling score from Hans Zimmer which, together, create a sensual tour de force almost unparalleled.

The Dark Knight Rises is not a fantastic Batman movie, it’s a fantastic movie with Batman in it. Yes, it’s part of both a franchise and a trilogy, but it should be classed by the merits of the stunning piece of art that it is. Christopher Nolan has produced perhaps the most consistent trilogy in movie history, and TDKR is the perfect send off for such a quality collection. Batman fans will go and see it in droves regardless of notices. Cinema goers will do likewise. The movie does not need good reviews in order for it to be seen or turn profit. But the quality of the movie needs to be shouted about. Goodbye, Christopher Nolan’s Batman. We’ll never have it better than this.

“…so am I.”

My favourite song of all time is Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks. But to single something out as a favourite without just reason and thought is rather foolish indeed, so I thought that I should dedicate an entire post (with videos!) explaining my oh-so-strong feelings about this amazing song. If you don’t care then please feel free to stop reading now.

Firstly, it would be an idea to hear the song

My love for this song is pretty plain and simple – I feel that it was written for someone like me. Musically it hooks you in with a gentle but catchy guitar riff followed by a simple, poinient vocal performance by Ray Davies. There is no big chorus and no singalong moments (aside from the “Sha-la-la” before the chorus refrain), no guitar solos and no screaming, fist in the air triumphant vocal flourishes. If one does not take in the lyrics then it comes across as a very very nice song that one would be proud of writing. With the words considered, it becomes the greatest song ever written and recorded.

It is often said that The Kinks’ golden era can be bookended with notion of boy meets girl; from You Really Got Me (seething with sexual excitement) to Days (where Davies thinks back on this time with fondness). Interestingly, Waterloo Sunset does not fit into this at all, instead focusing on someone else’s story entirely. The focus of the song is the stretch of the river Thames in central London between – I think – Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge. The song tells the story of a nameless man watching the people living their busy lives, in particular Terry and Julie, a young couple in love. Like the best storytelling, Davies tells us details about the setting (“Dirty old river”, “People so busy”), giving us pause for thought about where we are. This is no tale of naive bumpkins – this is the story of a big city.

But in the big city comes loneliness and isolation. After it is emerged that “Terry meets Julie/Waterloo Station/Every Friday night” comes the single most telling and affecting line in the whole song:

“But I am so lazy/I don’t want to wander/I stay at home at night”.

Though it might be that the narrator is a malevolent being that miserably looks at the lives of others with disdain, I like to think that he is someone that dearly wishes to have love and a life outside of his window. It seems that life has denied him these opportunities but, being a stubborn and plucky sort, he chooses to believe that it’s his choice that he doesn’t do these things, simply because of his laziness.

In the third verse, he becomes more vitriolic with his snappy “Millions of people/swarming like flies/’round Waterloo Underground” but then feels sympathy for the young couple in love, saying “But Terry and Julie/Cross over the river/Where they feel safe and sound”. London, it seems, it a hive of drone like people clambering to simply get by in life and this is surely for the fools, but where there is love in the air, it sets people free.

The choruses also give an insight into our narrator’s view on life. The world spins by so fast right outside his window and it’s literally there for the taking, but “chilly chilly is the evening time”. Best stay indoors. Might be boring but it’s safe. At least he gets to take in the lives of others – of which there are plenty. And (this is vital) it does keep him happy. Yes, there is a sense of regret in missing out on all this fun and live, but it is too fragile and too brief to directly intervene with. The sunset that falls over Waterloo (presumably bridge) is indeed beautiful, but it lasts mere seconds. But from the safety of his window, he sees it day after day.

So yes, clever lyrics and a catchy tune, but what is it that makes this my favourite song of all time?

The thing that sticks in my mind is simply the fact that my favourite place in the entire world (and the place that I would like to scatter at least some of my ashes) is the south bank of the Thames between Westminster Bridge and the Millennium Footbridge. Of all the places I have ever been it is the most vibrant, beautiful and magical. I proposed to Kate here. I visit here every time I go to central London and I never get bored. I have had the great fortune of, on a warm, August evening, of seeing the sunset from the top of the London Eye. It is not a place to go as a group, it is a place to savour with a loved one or alone. It shows the greatest city in the world at its very best.

Waterloo Sunset sounds like the south bank feels. I’m not sure if this is down to retrospect or if there is something deeply engrained in the music that makes it so, but to say that Waterloo Sunset is the soundtrack of the place is selling it short – it is the sound of the place. I find it quite hard to visit without getting Waterloo Sunset lodged in my head while there. This to me is a very special thing.

I’m also an absolute sucker for songs sung by the writer who truly mean what they sing. This is obviously the case of people like Bruce Springsteen, but to have something as delicate and gentle as this without becoming bogged down with emotion or pathos is something very rare indeed. The words of Waterloo Sunset have as much humour of anything that Morrissey has written but falls well short of the sarcastic or saccharine. Ray Davies is an acerbic man, but possesses the most English of all traits – restraint. I’m not saying that this is a good or bad thing, but I will say that it fits in perfectly with the song as a whole.

And that is truly what makes the song so good. Every part of the song fits together so perfectly. Special mention should be given to Dave Davies for his incredible and considered guitar parts. Truth be told, the bass and drums are actually, technically, a bit crap (there’s a woeful timing error in Pete Quaife’s bass playing in the first verse), but they serve the song extremely well by remaining simple and keeping out of the way. And, artistically, a rhythm section can’t do better than this.

So there you have it – my favourite song of all time, considered and shared, I would just like to share with you some of my favourite verions of the song.

(In chronological order.)

This is a live performance by the Mk II Kinks in 1973. Dave Davies is on special form with some amazingly bluesy guitar work. It also has a great gospel sound that I’ve not heard in other versions.

Ray Davies from a British TV show at some point in the mid 70s. Possibly my favourite of all the versions that I’ve heard thus far. (I reserve the right to change my mind at any point, even if that before the end of this list.)

Ray Davies performing at the Glastonbury Festival in 1997. Great stripped down version. Lovely participation from the crowd. Also features an awesome shot of a man at about 2.38, full of emotion. Good economy of the guitar riff. And features Ray Davies in natty flat cap n’ mac combo.

Another Ray Davies solo performance, this time from the Electric Proms at the Roundhouse, Camden Town in 2007. This is the full choral version. It’s amazing.

I don’t think that anyone has actually done great job of covering Waterloo Sunset (not least David Bowie, who’s version makes me want to harm others), but there are a couple of nice versions to consider.

Peter Gabriel’s version gets a bit silly towards the end, but his voice does make a fair stab and doing the lyrics justice, even if he’s a bit wide of the mark sentiment-wise.

Not a great cover by Cornershop, but they get points for location of this performance.

Most contentious of all of the covers is the Eliot Smith one. It’s lovely, but manages to miss the mark on more or less everything that the song is about. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it, but I simply can’t believe the story that I fully invest in when Ray Davies sings it.

Thank you if you read this far and watched some or all of those videos. Please feel free to comment, I would honestly love to know your thoughts.

London Loves

I am unsure of where my interest in architecture started, but I often think of it as the very crux of my cultural being. I love music, films, video games, paintings/sculpture/installations both classical and modern, but I feel that it’s my appreciation of buildings, both in terms of form and function, that defines my aesthetic self. When cruising the On Demand TV channels, nothing piques my interest and excitement quite as much as a documentary about a structure, architect or architectural movement.

It’s a great interest to have because it’s (a) easy and (b) everywhere. Walking around London and you find that this is definitely the case with more or less every corner turned a trove of interest and intrigue. However, familiarity breeds apathy, and I often find myself walking around the same parts enjoying the scenery without actually marvelling in it. For my money, the Houses of Parliament (resplendent in their Victorian Gothic finery) is as good an example of architectural brilliance as you’re likely to find, yet, as I see them almost every time I visit, they have lost the vim that they really deserve.

However, upon wandering the streets of Chelsea (close by South Kensington tube station) I stumbled across an absolute marvel, located at 81 Fulham Road.

Photo by Amanda Slater (clickthrough to Flickr)

Michelin House, completed in 1911 as use for a tyre depot and now used as a top flight restaurant and furniture retailer (both affiliated with Sir Terrance Conran), cannot help but be taken in and noticed. The architectural style is very hard to pin down, being too industrial for nouveau and too flouncy to be moderne/deco. Vast stained glass windows of Bibendum (Michelin’s rotund mascot) reflect aquatic blues and greens, giving the impression of a grand church to the god of industry. In fact, the name BIBENDUM is the first thing that you really notice about the building, as that is the name the emblazons both sides of the building. (When arriving home I searched for more information using a tentative Google search of “Bibendum building London”.)

Taken with Hipstamatic for iPhone.
Another Hipstamatic shot. Details old depot building.

It is an absolute pleasure to experience such things with the same rigour as many enjoy countryside views and vistas. To my mind, there is every bit as much to enjoy in the urban landscape as there is in the rural one. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, of course, but I think that it is something that one should consider when idling in the big (or not so big) smoke.

“Radio is a sound salvation.”

This week, it was leaked that the the BBC was to axe some of its services, namely a large chunk of their internet based content, its services for young adults and the radio stations Asian Network and 6Music.  Twitter and Facebook ignited, questioning things as far removed from one another as the BBC’s broadcasting remit and the high pay of Chris Moyles.

I should know – I was one of them.

Most of the attention seems to be focused around the rumoured closure of 6Music.  It is certainly the one that personally affects me the most.  For those that don’t know, 6Music is pretty much the only alternative radio station in Britain with any true integrity, featuring well informed and intelligent DJs (and George Lamb, boom boom) playing the music that you feel they would like you to hear.  Within three hours of daytime listening, you will have probably heard a range of music from the likes of The Beatles, Florence and the Machine, Massive Attack, Squeeze, Elastica, Focus and The Buzzcocks.  Yes, there is a playlist in use and yes, you tend to hear those songs more than others, but one gets the distinct impression that this was carefully picked based on what the audience has asked for rather than simply making money.  Which is, after all, what Radio 1 and Radio 2 tend to do.

A cursory glance around the protest pages of social networking sites and comments on news websites tells you that the average 6Music listener feels a real and true kinship with the station, of which they feel fiercely loyal.  My own experience seems to be echoed by many — a lack of faith in radio as a medium of varied and good quality output that was only rescued when 6Music was finally heard on either the DAB or online.

6Music’s success comes not from being an “alternative” radio station at all; in fact it’s so much more far reaching and diverse than many people would give it credit for.  There are shows for all types of people (rock shows, dance shows, funk and soul shows, reggae and dancehall shows at el) who have a varied and fervent interest in all types and kinds of music.  The only thing that is never heard is the production line, Airfix pop that seems prevalent on other stations.  6Music will not appeal to fans of Girls Aloud, Tiesto and, possibly, Razorlight, but frankly this is no bad thing.

Except, apparently it is.  6Music’s listenership is pretty poor when compared to others owned, run and commissioned by the BBC.  This probably has everything to do with 6Music being a digital only station, which means that it can’t be listened to in the majority of cars and radios out there.  If it were an FM station, it’s listening numbers would, I should think, undoubtedly increase dramatically.

And this is ultimately where the BBC would falter.  The statement that came from the BBC after the leak was reported in The Times suggested that the station was a failure and, therefore, would be taken off the air.  Which, sad though it is, makes a fair amount of sense.  I’m sure that there were those in the world who loved the BBC1 soap, Eldorado, but no bugger watched it, so it was axed.  But — and here’s the rub — there is a massive difference between something failing because it is poorly realised or because they is a lack of audience and something failing because it has been under nourished by the logistical systems that put it into being.  Imagine putting Dr Who on BBC3 only or putting the X Factor on in the middle of the night.  Things would be different, no?

But even this isn’t enough.  The BBC then went on to say that they felt that they were taking away valuable listenership away from independent commercial radio stations by having 6Music.  This argument houses two very fundamental flaws.  Firstly – if no-one listens to 6Music then is it really jeopardising these independent radio stations?  Yes, not a lot to the BBC is probably huge to a smaller radio station, but surely once these listening figures have been scattered around like dandelion seeds on a blustery day, they are going to seem insignificant to individual stations.  And secondly (and even more basically) – if this is the case now then surely this was the case when the station was first launched.

I have focussed on 6Music because I am a dedicated and loyal listener whose days will honestly be that little bit more drab without my fix of (what I consider) quality radio.  But I must say that the thought of any cuts made by the BBC across the board are a travesty.  I’m sure that there are countless others who feel the same about the Asian Network.

What really smarts about all of this is that the BBC is non-profit making and funded by the British public. Rather than simply increasing its production of what is already drilled into us by the mainstream media, they should be dedicated to providing a diverse mix of content for everyone regardless of taste, culture or age. The BBC is unique in the way in which is funded and therefore have a responsibility to ensure that their output is as varied and far reaching as possible.  And the removal of two of its broadcasting stations, one of which represents cultural identity, is surely a step too far.

A Boy and His Bat – My Life With Batman

My love affair with the Batman (or The Dark Knight to give him his more modern moniker) started, strangely, not within the bustling streets of some neo-metropolis but in the relative tranquility of Devon. I was eight years old and on a family holiday. We rented a house in the tiny village of Tipton St John (so small that it did not appear on any of the Ordinance Survey maps that we had brought along for the trip) and went sight seeing in such places of postcard beauty as Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary and Cricket St Thomas. Though very nice there was little there for me to be truly excited about. In fact, the only things that really stick out in my memory of the trip are the collection of the Readers Digest from the 1970s, buying a loaf of “toasting” bread and my brother, Simon, not only losing his recent purchase of a rare poster in a public toilet in Lyme Regis, but it still being there when he collected it later. The holiday was nice, fun, relaxing, but uneventful.

When driving back we decided to go to Exeter. Now, Exeter is not a city in the modern sense of the word, it’s more of a twee but large town that just happens to hold the cathedral that gives it city status. It has more in common with Ely or Canterbury than London or Manchester. While we were there, my brother, Paul, decided that we were going to go shopping and that he was going to buy me something for a fiver. Paul was the kind of brother that I loved and hated in equal measure. Once he told me that I was the “hardest” person in the world and then proceeded to beat me up, telling me that I wasn’t to cry because I was the hardest person in the world. But on other occasions he would buy me things, spend time with me when no-one else would and openly showed me his porn collection. This was one of those times.

As I was eight years old and clearly a man of the world, I decided that it was time to customise my bedroom and concluded that it was a poster I wanted. Paul told me that this was ideal, posters then (and still do) come in at under a fiver, so I was well away. To the nearest Our Price (RIP) we went quick smart. The posters on the whole did not do much for me. Too old for the cutesy cartoon ones and too young to understand the smut – there was nothing much on offer for me. Then one came into view that I simply had to have.

It showed a man dressed in black, standing next to an equally black car. The car was unlike anything that I had seen before, looking like the land speed record car, Thrust II, but infinitely more mysterious and sexy. The man in black was dressed with a cape and cowl. The cowl had ears on it, a ridiculous notion even for me at that age, but that didn’t matter. This man was the coolest thing that I had ever seen. I had to have it. Paul smiled and said “Oh, so you like Batman now do you?” and told me that there was loads of Batman around at the moment because there was a film coming out. I’d heard all I needed to. I bought the poster, which took pride of place on my wall.

The problem was that the Batman movie was certified a 12 certificate by the BBFC (the first ever film to be given the new rating, although I remember it being Gremlins 2) which meant that I had no chance of getting into the cinema to see it. Sure, I was a tall child, but not even I could pass for a child almost twice the age that I was. The hype surrounding the film was amazing. These days you seem to get this every summer when the next blockbuster comes out, but back then this was a new thing. Batman was everywhere, and I was loving it. The Lateshopper round the corner from my house even started stocking the fortnightly Batman comic, which I duly bought weekly (one to read and one to cut up and put on my wall in a mad DC Comics collage). It really didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to get to see the film any time soon. None of my friends were either, so all was well with the world.

In the October of 1989 I went on another family holiday, this time to Florida. This was more my kind of thing with theme parks and sunshine and crazy golf on a scale that Britain would have scarcely believed. In the Sunshine State I also bought a load of Batman collectors cards (that came with revolting chewing gum that one ate out of propriety rather than for enjoyment) which showed snapshots from the film. I was also bought, from my parents who were keen for me to have an interest, a making of the film book.

When I returned from this holiday I was the envy of all my friends because, although the Batman cards were available in Britain, they were substantially smaller than the ones that I had brought back from the states. However, my upper hand was quickly slapped away when my best friend, Chris, managed to get himself a pirate copy of the movie on video. This was something so great that it really didn’t matter who had what, it just mattered that we had it. The quality was terrible. In an age now where we can download high definition movies from the internet and pirating is as simple as ripping and burning to and from a media player, it is easy to forget just what pirates used to be like. Memories of my brothers trying to hook up two video players to record from one to the other and fusing the house out still sit in my memory. The Batman that we watched had a snowy picture that was bad even for video, sound that kept dipping in and out and a continual hiss that bore into your head like a subliminal message. But none of that mattered. We had seen the film that meant everything to us and we fucking loved it. Batman did not disappoint us.

Sadly the fad of Batman was pretty short lived. Within a year the posters had come down, to be replaced by Teenage Mutant Hero (or Ninja) Turtles, a god awful effort that combined mutant, ninja skilled turtles with crime in the rough back alleys of New York. But hey, I was young and impressionable then. But, unlike my friends, I kept believing in Batman as a hero and kept pining for more. Sadly for me, the only fix that I could get in the short time after the initial hype was the camp and really rather lame TV show from the 1960s. Sure, Batman was at least effeminate and at most, gay, the Joker was not scary and more of a prankster rather than a master criminal and Robin, well, was awful, it still kept the flames of excitement burning.

Unknown to me, in the years before the movie, Batman had been seen as a bit of a joke. In comic book circles he was regarded as an archetype for how superheroes simply should not be. Then came Frank Miller, whose comic series, The Dark Knight Returns, marked not only a return for Batman and made him more frightening and applicable to the cause and struggle of decent, hard working people than anyone before him. And, if Miller’s fantastic comic wasn’t enough to cement Batman’s reputation back into the forefront of the superhero alumni, then Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke did. Moore, possibly the most revered and influential of the modern day comic book writers, gave us the origin story of the Joker in a brilliant but brief story that provided enough inspiration for Tim Burton to make the Batman movie. My time was truly a great time to get into Batman.

Of course, at the time, non of this mattered a hoot to me. I was waiting with baited breath for the new Batman movie, Batman Returns, to be released. When I finally saw it I was both delighted and disappointed all at once. I thought that the places where Burton’s second movie were far darker and scarier than the original but I was in love with the Joker so it simply wasn’t as good. As if Batman movies mapped out my life, I then went to secondary school and forgot all about Batman for 3 years.

My parents separated when I was 14 and I spent a lot of time with my dad, who, though working abroad for a lot of the time, always made efforts for us to do things together when he was around. One of these things was a trip to the cinema to see the new Batman flick, Batman Forever. I was dubious but hopeful about this before going – I had by that time developed a knowledge of films and film-makers and knew that the change of a director could do huge things to a movie franchise. I thought at the time that Batman Forever was great, I loved the new, vibrant Gotham City, I thought that Two-Face was a villain that almost rivaled the Joker, I thought that Nicole Kidman was gorgeous and, although annoyed by his inclusion, empathised with Dick Grayson/Robin’s loss of parents and readjustment into another way of life. Looking back, my parent’s divorce probably gave me more in common with Robin than I then realised.

Of course, with my 25 years old hindsight I now know that the film is a stuffed turkey of a movie, a movie that, although better than its follow up, Batman and Robin, almost put Batman back in the doldrums laid out by 60s TV show. Yes, I thought that the look and gadgets were cool at the time, but they were totally in contradiction to what Batman stood for. After all, he is not known as The Neon Knight.

My interest in Batman waned after seeing Batman Forever. I have never seen (or will see) Batman and Robin on sheer principal and, having left school, been to college, loafed around and got myself a career, I didn’t seem to have a place in life for Batman. I had learned a lot about films and found my favourite era of movie to be the 1970s, where cities were socially dubious and grimy and the protagonists were all anti-heroes, trying to clean up the city in which they lived their way. I especially loved the movies Taxi Driver and Serpico. This is not to say that I lived in the past. One of the best films that I had seen in a long while was Memento, directed by British new hot-shot Christopher Nolan. To see a movie that was not about a character but about memory loss as a psychological condition was both refreshing and terrifying. Nolan was clearly a director to watch. He next movie, Insomnia, dealt again with what a lack of sleep will do to the mind rather than focus on character relationships and developments with equally (though more understated) consequences.

We were now in the new millennium. Some riveted by the new century, some pleased or disappointed that the world hadn’t come to an end, but most of us were bored. In this new millennium, film makers seemed to give the superhero a new lease of life. Sam Raimi’s take on Spiderman made $100 million dollars faster than any movie before it. Then 9/11 happened changing everything that we take for granted in our lives. And once again, the world felt like it needed heroes. Suddenly there was a plethora of these, all new sub-genre of movies. And they had some decent directors too, notably Bryan Singer (the wunderkind behind The Usual Suspects) and his take on the X-Men. Elsewhere there were films made of Daredevil, Blade (although the original was pre 2000), The Punisher, Hellboy and, more recently, Superman.

I was working as a Christmas Temp in HMV when I first heard of Batman Begins. Not all that surprisingly there were a few movie geeks that worked there and I fell in with them and we got to talking about superhero movies. Spiderman 2 had just come out on DVD and I said that, although I thought that the film was okay, Spiderman didn’t do anything for me as a superhero. Too clean cut. Too hormonal. Too keen to please his dead uncle. Allen, the then deputy manager, agreed with me. He said that the new Batman movie was going to be the one to watch. Ha, I thought, I’ve been burned before. But then he told me why it was going to be good. Firstly, it was to be a origin story and have no connection to any of the previous movies. And, more importantly, it was going to be directed by Christopher Nolan.

That night I remember having a rather one sided conversation with my girlfriend about how much I was looking forward to seeing the new Batman movie. But he’s not Spiderman, she had told me. But how did she know how I once felt about Batman? Especially with Christopher Nolan, the psychological director, in charge of proceedings. I was as excited about this as I was about any other film in my life, aside from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion when I had a massive crush on Lisa Kudrow. Things about the film just got better and better. Liam Neeson was going to be in it, as was Gary Oldman, playing Sergeant James Gordon. Even Michael Caine was in it, playing Alfred Pennyworth. Excitement grew even more when I discovered that Christian Bale was going to play Bruce Wayne/Batman. Forget all that sentimental stuff he did when a younger man (Little Women) – Christian Bale was hotting up to be one of the great action stars. He looked and acted right. The only problem was that he hadn’t actually been in anything all that good in an action role. Reign of Fire was okay, but nothing to write home about.

Batman Begins had so much potential that it was almost guaranteed to disappoint, mainly because no film can be that good. But I was wrong. Batman Begins was not only the best Batman movie by far at the time and the best superhero movie ever made but it’s one of the finest action adventure films of all time. Everything about the movie is more or less perfect. Nolan uses his gift of psychological direction to give the movie another disorder – phobia. Nolan skilfully remembers that Bruce Wayne does not love bats, in fact, he’s terrified of them, and it’s this fear that he manages to harness and draw strength from. It makes perfect sense that what scares the shit out of Bruce Wayne is going to paralysis anyone else with fear. Batman Begins also follows many of the long forgotten (or at least long ignored) sides of Wayne – he is a genius who crafts many of the gadgets himself, he has to act the foolish playboy in public so that people do not suspect him of being The Dark Knight. The movie also recognises that Batman is not a man but a symbol and pays homage to the group of people who keep this symbol alive. For the first time on screen we see Alfred as an equal rather than subordinate, we meet Lucious Fox of Wayne Enterprises and believe James Gordon to be a true friend, not foe of Batman.

I watched the film with such delight that when I finished watching it I sat and watched it again. Even sat here writing about it I feel an urge to put on it and enjoy it’s brilliance. My love affair with Batman was back on and it was stronger than ever.

The great thing was that I was, for the first time in my life, socially and financially free to pursue whatever interests that I had. Before, I had been very dismissive of graphic novels (thinking that the term graphic novel was very pretentious. I mean, they’re just comic books surely?) and would not have dreamed of admitting that I liked something as juvenile as a superhero. But then I figured that happiness never really grows up. I began reading the graphic novels/comic books that has been recommended to me by the good readers of Amamzon.co.uk and other relevant websites. The two works by Frank Miller that I read (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One) had a great effect on me and revealed Batman to not be the all conquering hard ass that I thought he had been previously, but being a vulnerable and insecure man who drives himself more on an unhealthy urge to validate himself rather than do the good of the people. I also read Jeph Loeb’s Long Halloween, which again gave a huge insight into Batman’s feelings of the city that he loves, and the criminals that he must encounter in it.

Yes, I had grown up. I managed to feel excited by The Dark Knight without having the need to sleep under a duvet with the Bat Symbol on it or eat my sandwiches from the Official Batman Lunchbox. And I’m quite happy with this. I am still in need of my heroes. I see the world as a scary place where no-one trusts anyone else and it’s seemingly only a matter of time until something terrible happens to the innocent. But I find comfort in the thought that there is this character, symbolically at least, who will always stare in the face of adversity and kick it in the teeth. That isn’t scared to do what needs to be done despite that moral and ethical ramifications . And who will always do the right thing. Despite being a grown up this still matters to me. Batman, you guided me when I was young and give me comfort now that I am older. I thank you and all that you stand for.