End of Summer (Camp) with a Bat, a Cat and a Clown

bat-cat-2-500x366

IT IS AN INEXORABLE, if lamentable rite of passage: revisiting mementos from one’s childhood and discovering that, to an adult’s eyes, they’re lacking.

But then, “putting away childish things” is how we avoid arrested development, a condition that impairs critical faculties, stymies meaningful relationships and makes one susceptible to things like libertarianism. (If, for instance, you re-read Ayn Rand and her porcine-fisted prose still seems eloquent, you’ve got some growing up to do; if you encounter her sophomoric metaphysics for the first time as an adult and are inexplicably smitten, you are, unfortunately, a lost cause, both morally and intellectually.)

When I was a child, you would have had to pry the bowl of Boo Berry from my cold, dead hand. Now I understand my teeth would rot on contact, even if I were able to score a box online (apparently this is actually possible; this is America). I used to think a Big Mac (washed down with that non-carbonated orange drink, obviously) was the height of culinary bliss, a sort of pre-adolescent ambrosia. I thought scary movies were, well, scary. In other words, I thought a lot of things. I was even correct about one or two of them.

I thought, for instance, that the Batman TV series was amazing. It turns out I was wrong. It’s not amazing; it’s sublime.

Bear with me. When’s the last time you saw (when’s the last time you thought about) Batman and imagined Adam West instead of, say, Christian Bale or Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, etc.?

It probably has been a while because, annoyingly, the old episodes are currently unavailable via Netflix and, until recently, even to purchase. And you’ll need a couple hundred bucks to satisfy your curiosity via the box set series. The show does still get airplay on certain TV channels. I know this because I have friends who have kids. Quite serendipitously, I was babysitting one of these little cherubs and per her request (!) we caught a couple of old school episodes. I’m here to tell you, without shame and with inexplicable enthusiasm, it was something of a revelation.

There are several angles I could take here, but my rekindled interest can be reduced to two words: Cesar Romero. The O.J. (as in, Original Joker).

JOKER

Folks, anyone born after 1980-ish probably can’t appreciate this, but for people of my generation, Cesar Romero was The Joker. I sort of recall reading the occasional comic book but don’t have any special memories of how he translated on the page. I do have memories of the laugh, the green hair, the purple suit and the unhinged antics that were, at once hilarious and horrifying. What I did not recall, since I was a kid at the time, was how irredeemably, magnificently campy the show was.

I certainly recall that the original Superman never resonated with me, in part because that show was not old school, it was antediluvian school. Plus, the George Reeves incarnation was always a tad too fascistic for my delicate sensibilities. (Incidentally, am I the only one to recently discover George Reeves died by a bullet wound that may have been suicide? Holy irony, Batman.) Then again, I’ve never been much of a Superman guy; in my formative years it was always Batman and Spiderman, both of whom were funnier, darker and more human.

Anyway, back to The Joker. Obviously Jack Nicholson was tapping into that campy vibe in 1989, but his role, however amusing, was over-the-top in ways that don’t age particularly well (kind of like the movie itself). Not many people would argue that Heath Ledger’s pitch-black, though still sardonic take was not a huge improvement. Nevertheless, before we crown Ledger’s uncanny performance the final word on the subject, we are obliged to return to the beginning. Have you forgotten how unbelievably perfect Cesar Romero was? Check it out:

Any questions?

Maybe it’s the fact that he was a bit older. It also didn’t hurt that his Cuban/Italian descent imparted a subtly exotic, almost indescribably outré edge. This is The Joker I grew up with, and it’s the only arch villain I can imagine actually rooting for—as a child or an adult. Just reading about Romero makes me happy. Check this out. The fact that he refused to shave his mustache—his decades-old trademark—for this role is so genius I can scarcely handle it: like the Joker himself, a recalcitrant rascal. How brilliant is that? The most incorrigible fiend played by an incorrigible, image-conscious movie star with prima donna tendencies? Bliss. And extra marks: if you look at photos or, if you’re smart, find some clips online, you can totally see the impossible-to-conceal ‘stache in each episode. Truth is always odder and better than even the best fiction.

And let’s do a quick sidebar for how outstanding the other bad guys were. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, anyone? Yes, please. And don’t overlook Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. This trio comprises an untouchable criminal triptych that could not possibly be improved upon. For irrefutable evidence of this claim, please appreciate this clip from the movie, wherein we have Penguin fencing with Batman (making appropriate Penguin noises), Romero’s brown hair obvious under the wig and The Riddler doing some bad ballet on board a boat: it’s the sine qua non of caped-crusading camp. This is the all-in Battle Royale (with cheese), a brawl that involves all the assorted players, because duh. And the capper, when our hero saves the kitten from drowning with the winking send-off “Bon voyage pussy!”. Holy blissful extravagance, Batman!

And lest we forget (how could we forget?) there is Catwoman. Can I get an Amen? I’m a rather huge fan of Lee Meriwether, and everyone has to appreciate the incomparable Eartha Kitt (from Season Three). But let’s not kid ourselves here: it’s all about Julie Newmar. The young me would like to say, Thank you, Catwoman. The adult me would like to say, Will you marry me, Ms. Newmar?

Her perfection as Catwoman, as a woman, period, would suffice, but seeing how she has remained engaged, politically active, and completely down to earth (and appreciative, after all these years, of her fans) makes her as attractive, eight decades on, as she’s ever been. (Swoon.)

And don’t think I’m sleeping on Adam West. I won’t (can’t?) compare him to the subsequent Batmen played in the various movies, but kind of like with The Joker, he did it first and he did it best. He is Batman. A gentleman, a humanitarian, a…dork. His (West’s) goofiness can’t be overstated, and that humanity gives the character a distinct vulnerability. How can you not love this guy?

In addition to everything else, it’s possible that Batman was the first series to jump the shark (or at least repel the shark). Consider the clip, above: obviously the series was straining to keep its edge (or appeal, or whatever) and by Season Three the producers/writers seemed to understand what may have worked in 1966 was not registering in late ‘67. The world, of course, was changing. Hence, we have the most camptastic—and transcendent—few moments of TV I can ever recall watching: Batman and Joker surfing. With bathing suits over their costumes In shark-infested waters, obviously. (And a handy, if obligatory bottle of Shark Repellent, because OBVIOUSLY.) With real surfers cheering from shore. This is a line in the sands of Santa Monica: you’re either with me or against me. I defy you to watch this clip and not join the party.

Summer may be winding down and all of us are getting older every second, but retaining a child-like joy for certain things is still the best way to keep age and cynicism at bay.

So, in closing and with eternal gratitude, the campy, iconoclastic genius of the show summarized in one scene (keyword BATUSI):

This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 9/16/15.

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Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Bern

IMG_6613 (1)

Hey Bernie Bros!

What’s up, fellas? First, I feel you. To a certain extent, I am you. I love me some Bernie, and, to establish some obligatory street-cred, actually knew who he was (and admired him) many years before he decided to run for president.

Secondly, I get it. Check this out.

I have to say, you younger dudes are reminding many of us of the obdurate blowhards who claimed, in 2000, that their only choice was Nader since (as Nader himself said, to his eternal shame) Bush and Gore were essentially two sides of the same soiled coin.

Here’s the thing: quite a few folks knew not only that this was bullshit, but that the feckless and untested Bush wasn’t remotely up to the job. Yes, it was infuriating to witness some of the most irresponsible media negligence of our lifetimes (little did we know it was a test run for the run-up to Iraq), but at least, without the literal benefit of hindsight, it was impossible to prove Bush would be incompetent in ways that made even our most cynical suspicions seem…naïve. Here’s the other thing: we already know, without even the slightest iota of uncertainty, that Trump is not merely a reckless, obscene and ignorant buffoon, but that his election will put the very concept of American democracy in jeopardy. Speaking of Iraq, imagine Trump…no, let’s not even go there.

So, with condolences and admonition, let me toss fifty well-intended turds into your oh-so-pure punch bowl before your precious, but increasingly nihilistic “Bernie or Bust” antics do our nation irreparable harm.

Joan Gage Photo Donald Trump
1. Donald Trump.

2. Trump’s VP? Google “Pence. Abortion bill”.

3. Take a quick gander at the GOP platform. And read this.

4. Imagine, for one moment, that you’re not white, or had a vagina. Or were gay. Or, if that’s too frightening and uncomfortable, what our country will be like for any and all of these folks.

5. Pretend (and this is probably the biggest stretch of all) that you ever, under any circumstances had to work a blue collar job.

6. Contemplate Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State.

Christie-baseball-pants-707x1024

  1. Contemplate Chris Christie. (Not even necessarily in any position of power; just contemplate him.)
  2. Imagine, for one second, this idiot feeling vindicated.
  3. The fact that the cowardly and cretinous Rudy Giuliani has recently inserted himself into the public eye with the typical grace of a rabid ferret in a crowded train, and could easily be named Attorney General, should be enough to make you not only vote for Hillary, but get excited about canvassing for her.
  4. If you seriously believe, for one second, that living under a Trump regime will be in any way cathartic or cleansing, do us all a favor: go live in North Korea for a few months and let us know what you’ve learned.
  5. Have you actually ever read anything by Orwell or Kafka or even the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens? Didn’t think so.
  6. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, right? Trump’s another word for it, too — for people who’ve never lost anything, or have excellent jobs or benevolent parents to shelter them from shit when it gets real. Speaking of freedom: everything this concept conveys is something Trump had handed to him or has fought to obstruct his entire life.
  7. Hillary a tad egocentric for your tastes? Fair enough. Think she puts herself first too much for comfort? Okay. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and June Cleaver rolled into one.
  8. Think of Hillary Clinton as the pâté of politics: overvalued by the wrong type of people, appalling in its pretensions, bought by well-connected sorts, but undeniably created through expertise and time-tested processes. It, in short, might not be especially appetizing for all kinds of reasons, but fast food it ain’t. Think of Trump, on the other hand, as a worn out chicken breast raised on a chemical and steroid mash inside a rank, concrete factory that is months past its inflated expiration date, then had bleach poured on it for coloration before hitting the meat aisle at Food Lion.
  9. Everyone who really wants Trump to win really hates everything about you.
  10. And they would not hesitate to harm you, physically, if they could get away with it.
  11. And they would be encouraged (and, perhaps, exonerated) by Trump, if he had the power.
  12. Read the short story “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann.
  13. Read something by any writer who lived through a dictatorship.
  14. Read this excellent piece from founding Weeklings editor Greg Olear.
  15. Imagine all the right wing radio listening, bigoted and elderly dunces who detest Obama (because he’s black) and fantasize about them spending their miserable last years ranting in their futons because a woman just became president for two terms.
  16. I would say, imagine Secretary of Defense John McCain, but The Donald prefers Secretaries of State who didn’t get captured. You know who definitely never gets captured? Short-fingered cheese-dicks whose daddy helped them avoid military service in the first place.
  17. At a certain point you just have to grow up. There are few things more appalling than the way sausage is made (literally and figuratively). There are also few things more enjoyable, or American.
  18. You know how you love Bill Clinton despite the ways he drives you crazy because he’s such a gifted natural politician with such cripplingly poor judgment? Hillary Clinton, in virtually every regard, is his opposite.
  19. Read this.
  20. Read this, too.
  21. More knowledge dropped by Mr. Olear.
  22. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
  23. Donald Trump is the tragi-comic apotheosis of the GOP successfully, for decades, side-stepping all reality-based criticism by insisting the media is liberal. (The only way that story ends happily, and appropriately, is if Trump loses in spectacular, historically humiliating fashion.)
  24. Also, the Fox News-enabled transition from low information voters to no information voters has been deliberate, if cynical, and will have one of two results: epic comeuppance that will rend the GOP into several desperate, greedy and angry (always angry) factions, or the utter collapse of democracy, assuming Trump wins.
  25. Seriously, the distance between Hillary and Bernie, though profound in some regards, is like the gap between Starbucks franchises in any major city. The distance between Hillary and Trump, on the other hand, is not even calculable by man-made means; we’re talking quantum physics black hole time space continuum type shit.
  26. See how long you can make it through this:

33. Am I the only person who, whenever Donald Trump is speaking (invariably about himself), thinks he is a much dumber and more dangerous realization of this classic character?

34. You notice how the Republican Establishment has, of late, tripled-down on calling itself “the party of Lincoln”? That’s not accidental. This election needs to ensure that for the indefinite future they are, correctly, known as “the party of Trump”.

35. Getting back to that Republican platform. Did you know they’re against medical marijuana?

36. And that they are still shamelessly anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption and for the farcical “conversion therapy” snake oil? (Follow the money, opportunism and denial, always the GOP Unholy Trinity.) It’s one thing to be unrepentantly bigoted and call yourself “traditional”; it’s another to essentially fly your flag of intolerance and dare people with their hearts and minds on the moral side of history to do something. Now’s the time to ensure you do something.

37. Hey, smart guy: can’t be bothered to be appalled by anti-abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!) laws? How about when your online porn habits start being monitored and persecuted?

38. Still unmoved? Get a load of this exhaustive (and yes, epic) takedown of all-things Trump by our own Brother Sean Beaudoin.

39. You’ve got your panties in a pretzel over Hillary’s emails, but you don’t realize Trump University alone should be enough to ensure Trump is doing the hardest possible time at Rikers Island?

40. Ever seen Dr. Strangelove? Donald Trump is Buck Turgidson, General Jack D. Ripper, Colonel Bat Guano and Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, all in one. Only dumber and more dangerous. And much less amusing.

41. Remember this?

42. Just vote for Hillary and then complain and whine as much as you want. That’s what blogs are made for.

43. For the sake of the country, be the one saying “I told you so” each time the media, on rinse, wash, repeat, blasts out the latest manufactured Hillary-related outrage. We can take it; we’re prepared for it. Don’t be the person being told “I told you so” by the rest of us, as our collective future flatlines.

44. Ensure another essential Democratic win just to see if it finally causes this evil motherfucker to implode.

45. Just because Batman had some megalomaniacal tendencies doesn’t mean you rooted for The Joker. (If you did root for The Joker, it’s time, at long last, to move out of your parent’s house. Also, too: see #9.)

46. Every great leader, including FDR, had personal foibles that, if scrutinized the way Hillary’s have been for decades, would prevent them from being elected to their home owners association, much less president of the United States.

47. Imagine the good Bernie can continue to do in support of a (grateful, and accommodating) Clinton administration.

48. Visualize every hero who has fought for social justice in the history of the world. Who do you think they’d want you to vote for? (Hint: not Trump, never.)

49. Have the courage of your convictions: go light your house on fire and send every penny you have to Donald Trump. That will allow you to get it out of your system and repent before you help usher in the apocalypse. Win/Win.

50. Seriously. President Trump? You’re better than that. We’re better than this.

Final words from the man himself.

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End of Summer (Camp) with a Bat, a Cat and a Clown

bat-cat-2-500x366

IT IS AN INEXORABLE, if lamentable rite of passage: revisiting mementos from one’s childhood and discovering that, to an adult’s eyes, they’re lacking.

But then, “putting away childish things” is how we avoid arrested development, a condition that impairs critical faculties, stymies meaningful relationships and makes one susceptible to things like libertarianism. (If, for instance, you re-read Ayn Rand and her porcine-fisted prose still seems eloquent, you’ve got some growing up to do; if you encounter her sophomoric metaphysics for the first time as an adult and are inexplicably smitten, you are, unfortunately, a lost cause, both morally and intellectually.)

When I was a child, you would have had to pry the bowl of Boo Berry from my cold, dead hand. Now I understand my teeth would rot on contact, even if I were able to score a box online (apparently this is actually possible; this is America). I used to think a Big Mac (washed down with that non-carbonated orange drink, obviously) was the height of culinary bliss, a sort of pre-adolescent ambrosia. I thought scary movies were, well, scary. In other words, I thought a lot of things. I was even correct about one or two of them.

I thought, for instance, that the Batman TV series was amazing. It turns out I was wrong. It’s not amazing; it’s sublime.

Bear with me. When’s the last time you saw (when’s the last time you thought about) Batman and imagined Adam West instead of, say, Christian Bale or Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, etc.?

It probably has been a while because, annoyingly, the old episodes are currently unavailable via Netflix and, until recently, even to purchase. And you’ll need a couple hundred bucks to satisfy your curiosity via the box set series. The show does still get airplay on certain TV channels. I know this because I have friends who have kids. Quite serendipitously, I was babysitting one of these little cherubs and per her request (!) we caught a couple of old school episodes. I’m here to tell you, without shame and with inexplicable enthusiasm, it was something of a revelation.

There are several angles I could take here, but my rekindled interest can be reduced to two words: Cesar Romero. The O.J. (as in, Original Joker).

JOKER

Folks, anyone born after 1980-ish probably can’t appreciate this, but for people of my generation, Cesar Romero was The Joker. I sort of recall reading the occasional comic book but don’t have any special memories of how he translated on the page. I do have memories of the laugh, the green hair, the purple suit and the unhinged antics that were, at once hilarious and horrifying. What I did not recall, since I was a kid at the time, was how irredeemably, magnificently campy the show was.

I certainly recall that the original Superman never resonated with me, in part because that show was not old school, it was antediluvian school. Plus, the George Reeves incarnation was always a tad too fascistic for my delicate sensibilities. (Incidentally, am I the only one to recently discover George Reeves died by a bullet wound that may have been suicide? Holy irony, Batman.) Then again, I’ve never been much of a Superman guy; in my formative years it was always Batman and Spiderman, both of whom were funnier, darker and more human.

Anyway, back to The Joker. Obviously Jack Nicholson was tapping into that campy vibe in 1989, but his role, however amusing, was over-the-top in ways that don’t age particularly well (kind of like the movie itself). Not many people would argue that Heath Ledger’s pitch-black, though still sardonic take was not a huge improvement. Nevertheless, before we crown Ledger’s uncanny performance the final word on the subject, we are obliged to return to the beginning. Have you forgotten how unbelievably perfect Cesar Romero was? Check it out:

Any questions?

Maybe it’s the fact that he was a bit older. It also didn’t hurt that his Cuban/Italian descent imparted a subtly exotic, almost indescribably outré edge. This is The Joker I grew up with, and it’s the only arch villain I can imagine actually rooting for—as a child or an adult. Just reading about Romero makes me happy. Check this out. The fact that he refused to shave his mustache—his decades-old trademark—for this role is so genius I can scarcely handle it: like the Joker himself, a recalcitrant rascal. How brilliant is that?  The most incorrigible fiend played by an incorrigible, image-conscious movie star with prima donna tendencies? Bliss. And extra marks: if you look at photos or, if you’re smart, find some clips online, you can totally see the impossible-to-conceal ‘stache in each episode. Truth is always odder and better than even the best fiction.

And let’s do a quick sidebar for how outstanding the other bad guys were. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, anyone? Yes, please. And don’t overlook Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. This trio comprises an untouchable criminal triptych that could not possibly be improved upon. For irrefutable evidence of this claim, please appreciate this clip from the movie, wherein we have Penguin fencing with Batman (making appropriate Penguin noises), Romero’s brown hair obvious under the wig and The Riddler doing some bad ballet on board a boat: it’s the sine qua non of caped-crusading camp. This is the all-in Battle Royale (with cheese), a brawl that involves all the assorted players, because duh. And the capper, when our hero saves the kitten from drowning with the winking send-off “Bon voyage pussy!”. Holy blissful extravagance, Batman!

And lest we forget (how could we forget?) there is Catwoman. Can I get an Amen? I’m a rather huge fan of Lee Meriwether, and everyone has to appreciate the incomparable Eartha Kitt (from Season Three). But let’s not kid ourselves here: it’s all about Julie Newmar. The young me would like to say, Thank you, Catwoman. The adult me would like to say, Will you marry me, Ms. Newmar?

Her perfection as Catwoman, as a woman, period, would suffice, but seeing how she has remained engaged, politically active, and completely down to earth (and appreciative, after all these years, of her fans) makes her as attractive, eight decades on, as she’s ever been. (Swoon.)

And don’t think I’m sleeping on Adam West. I won’t (can’t?) compare him to the subsequent Batmen played in the various movies, but kind of like with The Joker, he did it first and he did it best. He is Batman. A gentleman, a humanitarian, a…dork. His (West’s) goofiness can’t be overstated, and that humanity gives the character a distinct vulnerability. How can you not love this guy?

In addition to everything else, it’s possible that Batman was the first series to jump the shark (or at least repel the shark). Consider the clip, above: obviously the series was straining to keep its edge (or appeal, or whatever) and by Season Three the producers/writers seemed to understand what may have worked in 1966 was not registering in late ‘67. The world, of course, was changing. Hence, we have the most camptastic—and transcendent—few moments of TV I can ever recall watching: Batman and Joker surfing. With bathing suits over their costumes In shark-infested waters, obviously. (And a handy, if obligatory bottle of Shark Repellent, because OBVIOUSLY.) With real surfers cheering from shore. This is a line in the sands of Santa Monica: you’re either with me or against me. I defy you to watch this clip and not join the party.

Summer may be winding down and all of us are getting older every second, but retaining a child-like joy for certain things is still the best way to keep age and cynicism at bay.

So, in closing and with eternal gratitude, the campy, iconoclastic genius of the show summarized in one scene (keyword BATUSI):

Bonus clip: The cast, older, wiser, gentler:

 This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 9/16/15.
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PUNCH DRUNKER: THE 50 GREATEST MOVIE FIGHTS OF ALL TIME (Part Four)

war-of-the-roses-kathleen-turner

20. The Outsiders

Brat Pack Porn.

 

19. The War of the Roses

Dark comedy? How about black hole comedy. That last, and final, altercation between Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner is, like the ones that preceded it, at times amusing, macabre and over-the-top. But that last, final gesture? Ouch.

 

18. Enter the Dragon

Wherein Bruce Lee makes himself a legend. For all time.

 

17. The Godfather

In addition to being quite gratifying (the bullying wifebeater Carlo getting slapped around by someone his own size), it’s also a nice bit of art imitating life—which is not typical for fight scenes. When Sonny, out of breath from the beating he’s just dished out, says “You touch my sister again I’ll kill ya”, it’s not merely a statement of fact, it’s masterful acting from James Caan. A lesser thespian would have shouted the lines, unable to resist this golden opportunity to grandstand. It’s likely that Caan’s restraint is partially or entirely due to the fact that he’d witnessed—and probably delivered—ass-kickings like this in his own life and didn’t need to talk the actorly talk because everyone knew he could walk the bare-knuckled walk.

 

16. Old Boy

Wherein Dae Su (the great Choi Min-Sik) drops the hammer, pun intended, on a bunch of hoods. Improbable, over-the-top, essential.

 

15. Eastern Promises

Because you’re never more vulnerable than when you’re naked. In public. In a steam bath. Being attacked by gangsters wielding curved knives.

 

14. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indy fighting the big bald Nazi? Indy fighting a Nazi inside, on top of and underneath a moving vehicle? Yes, to both. But we all know which scene takes top billing. It is perfection, period, but knowing the story behind it makes it a million times better. Struggling with a case of dysentery, Harrison Ford squashed weeks of rehearsed sword play (the original scene was intended to be a sword vs. whip showcase) and allegedly said “Let’s just shoot the sucker.” It’s a shot still heard ‘round the world.

 

13. Goldfinger

How to choose a single selection from the embarrassment of riches that is the James Bond filmography? Not possible, but 007’s dance of death with Odd Job is as agreeable an example of the violence cut with humor and quirky cleverness that these films specialized in. Also, too: Sean Connery.

 

12. Batman

A delicious palette cleanser, we can forever appreciate the sine qua non of campy superhero fight scenes, and what better arena than Adam West’s Batman, the ultimate in caped-crusading camp. This is the all-in Battle Royale (with cheese), a brawl that involves all the assorted players, because duh. And the capper, when our hero saves the cat from drowning with the winking send-off “Bon voyage pussy!”. Holy blissful extravagance, Batman!

 

11. Roadhouse

Speaking of camp, does it get any better (e.g., worse) than Patrick Swayze? The movie is at once sui generis and meta, deeply aware—and proud—of its shamelessness. But most folks would agree, the final fight scene is a tour de force of semi-farce; it has so much homoerotic energy it almost services itself. Where in the earlier scuffles you can fear the mullets while simultaneously contemplating who is gayer: Swayze (RIP), the great Ben Gazzara (RIP!) or the dude with the pool cue. You know, the one who used to fuck guys like Dalton in prison (!!).

 

This essay originally appeared in The Weeklings on 7/29/15.

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End of Summer (Camp) with a Bat, a Cat and a Clown (Revisited)

batman1966movie

It is an inexorable, if lamentable rite of passage to revisit cultural mementos from one’s childhood and discover that, to an adult’s eyes, they are lacking.

But then, “putting away childish things” is one of the ways we avoid arrested development, a condition that impairs critical faculties, stymies meaningful relationships and makes one susceptible to things like libertarianism. (If, for instance, you re-read Ayn Rand and her porcine-fisted prose and sophomoric metaphysics still seem eloquent, you’ve got some growing up to do; if you encounter her pulp for the first time as an adult and are inexplicably smitten, you are, unfortunately, a lost cause, both morally and intellectually.)

When I was a child, you would have had to pry my bowl of Boo Berry from my cold, dead hand; now I understand my teeth would rot on contact, even if I were able to score a box online (apparently this is possible; this is America). I used to think a Big Mac (washed down with that non-carbonated orange drink, obviously) was the height of culinary bliss, a sort of pre-adolescent ambrosia. I thought scary movies were, well, scary. In other words, I thought a lot of things. I was even correct about one or two of them.

I thought, for instance, that the Batman TV series was amazing. It turns out I was wrong. It’s not amazing; it’s better.

Bear with me. When’s the last time you saw (when’s the last time you thought about) Batman and imagined Adam West instead of, say, Christian Bale or Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, etc.?

It probably has been a while because, apparently, the old episodes are currently unavailable via Netflix or even to purchase. (Wow, this has been a controversial dilemma for some time apparently; there is a whole section of the Wikipedia page dedicated to it…one shudders to think of all the hardcore comic book collectors who are –and have been– incensed about this.) The show does still get airplay on certain TV channels. I know this because I have friends who have kids. Quite serendipitously, I was babysitting one of these little cherubs and per her request (!) we caught a couple of old school episodes. I am here to tell you, without shame and with inexplicable enthusiasm, it was something of a revelation.

There are several angles I could take here, but my rekindled interest (bordering on infatuation?) can be reduced to two words: Cesar Romero. The “O.J.” (as in, Original Joker).

Folks, anyone born after 1980-ish probably can’t appreciate this, but for people of my generation, Cesar Romero was The Joker. I sort of recall reading the occasional comic book but don’t have any lingering memories of how he translated on the page. I do have memories of the laugh, the green hair, the purple suit and the maniacal, unhinged hilarity that managed to be hilarious and horrifying. What I did not recall, since I was a kid at the time, was how iredeemably, magnificently campy the show was. I certainly recall that the original Superman never resonated with me, in part because that show was not old school, it was antediluvian school. Plus, the George Reeves incarnation was always a tad too fascistic for my delicate sensibilities (holy shit, did anyone know George Reeves died by a bullet wound that may have been suicide? Holy irony, Batman.) Then again, I’ve never been much of a Superman guy; in my formative years it was always Batman and Spiderman, both of whom were (by turns) funnier, darker and more human.

Anyway, back to The Joker. Obviously Jack Nicholson was tapping into that campy vibe, but his role, however amusing, was over-the-top in ways that don’t age particularly well (kind of like the first movie). Not many people would argue that Heath Ledger’s pitch-black (though still sardonic) take was not a huge improvement. Nevertheless, before we crown Ledger’s uncanny performance the final word on the subject, we are obliged to return to the beginning. Have you forgotten how unbelievably perfect Cesar Romero was? Check it out, courtesy of YouTube:

Any questions?

Maybe it’s the fact that he was a bit older, and of Cuban/Italian descent that gave him that subtly exotic, almost indescribably outre edge. This is The Joker I grew up with, and it’s the only arch villain I can imagine actually rooting for –as a child or an adult. Just reading about Romero makes me happy. Check this out. The fact that he refused to shave his mustache (his decades-old trademark) is so genius I can scarcely convey my joy and admiration. How perfect is that? The most incorrigible fiend played by an incorrigible, image-conscious movie star with prima donna tendencies? Bliss. (And extra marks: if you look at photos or, if you’re smart, find some clips online, you can totally see the impossible-to-conceal ‘stache in each episode.) Truth is always odder and better than even the best fiction.

And let’s do a quick sidebar for how great the other bad guys were. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, anyone? Yes, please. And don’t sleep on Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. That is an untouchable criminal triptych that could not possibly be improved upon. (For irrefutable evidence of this claim, please appreciate this clip from the movie, wherein we have Penguin fencing with Batman (making appropriate Penguin noises), Romero’s brown hair obvious under the wig and The Riddler doing some bad ballet on board a boat –skip to the three minute mark for the most epic fight scene that ever includes the words “Bon voyage Pussy”):

And lest we forget (how could we forget?) there is Catwoman. Can I get an Amen? I’m a rather huge fan of Lee Meriwether (in clip above, from film) and everyone has to appreciate the incomparable Eartha Kitt (from Season Three). But let’s not kid ourselves here: it’s all about Julie Newmar.

 

 

 

 

 

While I offer serious props to the benevolent citizen who put the Joker clips together, I’m incredibly disappointed that some turbo nerd has not compiled a Catwoman montage: get on that Internets!

And don’t think I’m sleeping on Adam West. I won’t (can’t?) compare him to the subsequent Batmen played in the various movies, but kind of like with The Joker, he did it first and he did it best. He is Batman. A gentleman, a humanitarian, a…dork. His (West’s) goofiness can’t be overstated, and that humanity gives the character a distinct vulnerability. How can you not love this guy?

So in addition to everything else, it’s possible that Batman was the first series to jump the shark (or at least repel the shark). Consider the clip, below: obviously the series was straining to keep its edge (or appeal, or whatever) and by season three the producers/writers seemed to understand that what may have worked in 1965 was not registering in 1967. The world, of course, was changing. Hence, we have the most campy (and sublime) few moments of TV I can ever recall watching: Batman and Joker surfing. In shark-infested waters, obviously. With real surfers cheering from shore. With bathing suits over their costumes. This is a line in the sand: you are either with me or against me. I defy you to watch this clip and not join the party.

Wow, one never knows what is available on the Internet. Check this out! (Yes, he raises his hand and says “Peace” at the end. Thank you Mr. West.)

Summer may be winding down and all of us are getting older every second, but retaining a child-like joy for certain things is still the best way to keep age and cynicism at bay.

Peace.

Bonus footage (to make up for the YouTube removal of the epic Joker montage, above):

OH SNAP! Real time edit. Check this out HERE!

Share

End of Summer (Camp) with a Bat, a Cat and a Clown

It is an inexorable, if lamentable rite of passage to revisit cultural mementos from one’s childhood and discover that, to an adult’s eyes, they are lacking.

But then, “putting away childish things” is one of the ways we avoid arrested development, a condition that impairs critical faculties, stymies meaningful relationships and makes one susceptible to things like libertarianism. (If, for instance, you re-read Ayn Rand and her porcine-fisted prose and sophomoric metaphysics still seem eloquent, you’ve got some growing up to do; if you encounter her pulp for the first time as an adult and are inexplicably smitten, you are, unfortunately, a lost cause, both morally and intellectually.)

When I was a child, you would have had to pry my bowl of Boo Berry from my cold, dead hand; now I understand my teeth would rot on contact, even if I were able to score a box online (apparently this is possible; this is America). I used to think a Big Mac (washed down with that non-carbonated orange drink, obviously) was the height of culinary bliss, a sort of pre-adolescent ambrosia. I thought scary movies were, well, scary. In other words, I thought a lot of things. I was even correct about one or two of them.

I thought, for instance, that the Batman TV series was amazing. It turns out I was wrong. It’s not amazing; it’s better.

Bear with me. When’s the last time you saw (when’s the last time you thought about) Batman and imagined Adam West instead of, say, Christian Bale or Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, etc.?

It probably has been a while because, apparently, the old episodes are currently unavailable via Netflix or even to purchase. (Wow, this has been a controversial dilemma for some time apparently; there is a whole section of the Wikipedia page dedicated to it…one shudders to think of all the hardcore comic book collectors who are –and have been– incensed about this.) The show does still get airplay on certain TV channels. I know this because I have friends who have kids. Quite serendipitously, I was babysitting one of these little cherubs and per her request (!) we caught a couple of old school episodes. I am here to tell you, without shame and with inexplicable enthusiasm, it was something of a revelation.

There are several angles I could take here, but my rekindled interest (bordering on infatuation?) can be reduced to two words: Cesar Romero. The “O.J.” (as in, Original Joker).

Folks, anyone born after 1980-ish probably can’t appreciate this, but for people of my generation, Cesar Romero was The Joker. I sort of recall reading the occasional comic book but don’t have any lingering memories of how he translated on the page. I do have memories of the laugh, the green hair, the purple suit and the maniacal, unhinged hilarity that managed to be hilarious and horrifying. What I did not recall, since I was a kid at the time, was how iredeemably, magnificently campy the show was. I certainly recall that the original Superman never resonated with me, in part because that show was not old school, it was antediluvian school. Plus, the George Reeves incarnation was always a tad too fascistic for my delicate sensibilities (holy shit, did anyone know George Reeves died by a bullet wound that may have been suicide? Holy irony, Batman.) Then again, I’ve never been much of a Superman guy; in my formative years it was always Batman and Spiderman, both of whom were (by turns) funnier, darker and more human.

Anyway, back to The Joker. Obviously Jack Nicholson was tapping into that campy vibe, but his role, however amusing, was over-the-top in ways that don’t age particularly well (kind of like the first movie). Not many people would argue that Heath Ledger’s pitch-black (though still sardonic) take was not a huge improvement. Nevertheless, before we crown Ledger’s uncanny performance the final word on the subject, we are obliged to return to the beginning. Have you forgotten how unbelievably perfect Cesar Romero was? Check it out, courtesy of YouTube:

Any questions?

Maybe it’s the fact that he was a bit older, and of Cuban/Italian descent that gave him that subtly exotic, almost indescribably outre edge. This is The Joker I grew up with, and it’s the only arch villain I can imagine actually rooting for –as a child or an adult. Just reading about Romero makes me happy. Check this out. The fact that he refused to shave his mustache (his decades-old trademark) is so genius I can scarcely convey my joy and admiration. How perfect is that? The most incorrigible fiend played by an incorrigible, image-conscious movie star with prima donna tendencies? Bliss. (And extra marks: if you look at photos or, if you’re smart, find some clips online, you can totally see the impossible-to-conceal ‘stache in each episode.) Truth is always odder and better than even the best fiction.

And let’s do a quick sidebar for how great the other bad guys were. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, anyone? Yes, please. And don’t sleep on Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. That is an untouchable criminal triptych that could not possibly be improved upon. (For irrefutable evidence of this claim, please appreciate this clip from the movie, wherein we have Penguin fencing with Batman (making appropriate Penguin noises), Romero’s brown hair obvious under the wig and The Riddler doing some bad ballet on board a boat –skip to the three minute mark for the most epic fight scene that ever includes the words “Bon voyage Pussy”):

And lest we forget (how could we forget?) there is Catwoman. Can I get an Amen? I’m a rather huge fan of Lee Meriwether (in clip above, from film) and everyone has to appreciate the incomparable Eartha Kitt (from Season Three). But let’s not kid ourselves here: it’s all about Julie Newmar.

 

 

 

 

 

While I offer serious props to the benevolent citizen who put the Joker clips together, I’m incredibly disappointed that some turbo nerd has not compiled a Catwoman montage: get on that Internets!

And don’t think I’m sleeping on Adam West. I won’t (can’t?) compare him to the subsequent Batmen played in the various movies, but kind of like with The Joker, he did it first and he did it best. He is Batman. A gentleman, a humanitarian, a…dork. His (West’s) goofiness can’t be overstated, and that humanity gives the character a distinct vulnerability. How can you not love this guy?

So in addition to everything else, it’s possible that Batman was the first series to jump the shark (or at least repel the shark). Consider the clip, below: obviously the series was straining to keep its edge (or appeal, or whatever) and by season three the producers/writers seemed to understand that what may have worked in 1965 was not registering in 1967. The world, of course, was changing. Hence, we have the most campy (and sublime) few moments of TV I can ever recall watching: Batman and Joker surfing. In shark-infested waters, obviously. With real surfers cheering from shore. With bathing suits over their costumes. This is a line in the sand: you are either with me or against me. I defy you to watch this clip and not join the party.

Wow, one never knows what is available on the Internet. Check this out! (Yes, he raises his hand and says “Peace” at the end. Thank you Mr. West.)

Summer may be winding down and all of us are getting older every second, but retaining a child-like joy for certain things is still the best way to keep age and cynicism at bay.

Peace.

Bonus footage (to make up for the YouTube removal of the epic Joker montage, above):

OH SNAP! Real time edit. Check this out HERE!

Share

End of Summer (Camp) with a Bat, a Cat and a Clown (Revisited)

It is an inexorable, if lamentable rite of passage to revisit cultural mementos from one’s childhood and discover that, to an adult’s eyes, they are lacking.

But then, “putting away childish things” is one of the ways we avoid arrested development, a condition that impairs critical faculties, stymies meaningful relationships and makes one susceptible to things like libertarianism. (If, for instance, you re-read Ayn Rand and her porcine-fisted prose and sophomoric metaphysics still seem eloquent, you’ve got some growing up to do; if you encounter her pulp for the first time as an adult and are inexplicably smitten, you are, unfortunately, a lost cause, both morally and intellectually.)

When I was a child, you would have had to pry my bowl of Boo Berry from my cold, dead hand; now I understand my teeth would rot on contact, even if I were able to score a box online (apparently this is possible; this is America). I used to think a Big Mac (washed down with that non-carbonated orange drink, obviously) was the height of culinary bliss, a sort of pre-adolescent ambrosia. I thought scary movies were, well, scary. In other words, I thought a lot of things. I was even correct about one or two of them.

I thought, for instance, that the Batman TV series was amazing. It turns out I was wrong. It’s not amazing; it’s better.

Bear with me. When’s the last time you saw (when’s the last time you thought about) Batman and imagined Adam West instead of, say, Christian Bale or Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, etc.?

It probably has been a while because, apparently, the old episodes are currently unavailable via Netflix or even to purchase. (Wow, this has been a controversial dilemma for some time apparently; there is a whole section of the Wikipedia page dedicated to it…one shudders to think of all the hardcore comic book collectors who are –and have been– incensed about this.) The show does still get airplay on certain TV channels. I know this because I have friends who have kids. Quite serendipitously, I was babysitting one of these little cherubs and per her request (!) we caught a couple of old school episodes. I am here to tell you, without shame and with inexplicable enthusiasm, it was something of a revelation.

There are several angles I could take here, but my rekindled interest (bordering on infatuation?) can be reduced to two words: Cesar Romero. The “O.J.” (as in, Original Joker).

Folks, anyone born after 1980-ish probably can’t appreciate this, but for people of my generation, Cesar Romero was The Joker. I sort of recall reading the occasional comic book but don’t have any lingering memories of how he translated on the page. I do have memories of the laugh, the green hair, the purple suit and the maniacal, unhinged hilarity that managed to be hilarious and horrifying. What I did not recall, since I was a kid at the time, was how iredeemably, magnificently campy the show was. I certainly recall that the original Superman never resonated with me, in part because that show was not old school, it was antediluvian school. Plus, the George Reeves incarnation was always a tad too fascistic for my delicate sensibilities (holy shit, did anyone know George Reeves died by a bullet wound that may have been suicide? Holy irony, Batman.) Then again, I’ve never been much of a Superman guy; in my formative years it was always Batman and Spiderman, both of whom were (by turns) funnier, darker and more human.

Anyway, back to The Joker. Obviously Jack Nicholson was tapping into that campy vibe, but his role, however amusing, was over-the-top in ways that don’t age particularly well (kind of like the first movie). Not many people would argue that Heath Ledger’s pitch-black (though still sardonic) take was not a huge improvement. Nevertheless, before we crown Ledger’s uncanny performance the final word on the subject, we are obliged to return to the beginning. Have you forgotten how unbelievably perfect Cesar Romero was? Check it out, courtesy of YouTube:

Any questions?

Maybe it’s the fact that he was a bit older, and of Cuban/Italian descent that gave him that subtly exotic, almost indescribably outre edge. This is The Joker I grew up with, and it’s the only arch villain I can imagine actually rooting for –as a child or an adult. Just reading about Romero makes me happy. Check this out. The fact that he refused to shave his mustache (his decades-old trademark) is so genius I can scarcely convey my joy and admiration. How perfect is that? The most incorrigible fiend played by an incorrigible, image-conscious movie star with prima donna tendencies? Bliss. (And extra marks: if you look at photos or, if you’re smart, find some clips online, you can totally see the impossible-to-conceal ‘stache in each episode.) Truth is always odder and better than even the best fiction.

And let’s do a quick sidebar for how great the other bad guys were. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, anyone? Yes, please. And don’t sleep on Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. That is an untouchable criminal triptych that could not possibly be improved upon. (For irrefutable evidence of this claim, please appreciate this clip from the movie, wherein we have Penguin fencing with Batman (making appropriate Penguin noises), Romero’s brown hair obvious under the wig and The Riddler doing some bad ballet on board a boat –skip to the three minute mark for the most epic fight scene that ever includes the words “Bon voyage Pussy”):

And lest we forget (how could we forget?) there is Catwoman. Can I get an Amen? I’m a rather huge fan of Lee Meriwether (in clip above, from film) and everyone has to appreciate the incomparable Eartha Kitt (from Season Three). But let’s not kid ourselves here: it’s all about Julie Newmar.

 

 

 

 

 

While I offer serious props to the benevolent citizen who put the Joker clips together, I’m incredibly disappointed that some turbo nerd has not compiled a Catwoman montage: get on that Internets!

And don’t think I’m sleeping on Adam West. I won’t (can’t?) compare him to the subsequent Batmen played in the various movies, but kind of like with The Joker, he did it first and he did it best. He is Batman. A gentleman, a humanitarian, a…dork. His (West’s) goofiness can’t be overstated, and that humanity gives the character a distinct vulnerability. How can you not love this guy?

So in addition to everything else, it’s possible that Batman was the first series to jump the shark (or at least repel the shark). Consider the clip, below: obviously the series was straining to keep its edge (or appeal, or whatever) and by season three the producers/writers seemed to understand that what may have worked in 1965 was not registering in 1967. The world, of course, was changing. Hence, we have the most campy (and sublime) few moments of TV I can ever recall watching: Batman and Joker surfing. In shark-infested waters, obviously. With real surfers cheering from shore. With bathing suits over their costumes. This is a line in the sand: you are either with me or against me. I defy you to watch this clip and not join the party.

Wow, one never knows what is available on the Internet. Check this out! (Yes, he raises his hand and says “Peace” at the end. Thank you Mr. West.)

Summer may be winding down and all of us are getting older every second, but retaining a child-like joy for certain things is still the best way to keep age and cynicism at bay.

Peace.

Bonus footage (to make up for the YouTube removal of the epic Joker montage, above):

Share

A History of Violence

When you think about the distinctive ingredients of Americana, the elements that comprise what we think about when we think of what makes America so…American, it’s easy to recite the clichéd short-list: mom, apple pie, convertibles, rock and roll, McDonalds, sexual repression, colonialism, enhanced interrogations, et cetera.

But really, when you get down to it, we are all about violence. And, to a large degree, violence sort of encompasses all of the things listed above (the violence we do to others, the violence we do to the environment, the violence we do to ourselves–inherent in the desires we succumb to as well as deny, which are epitomized by most religions). But our religion is violence, and our cathedral has long been the silver screen. So we celebrate our addiction to violence in ways less brutal but more calculated than the barbaric Gladiator spectacles of yesteryear (we weren’t Americans yet): by perfecting what has become a universal aesthetic, the movie fight scene. Kind of like porn movie plots are a delivery device for the fucking, action movie plots are often a disposable fulcrum for the fighting.

The actual art of choreographed violence is serious business, literally and figuratively (i.e., in terms of time and money spent, and revenue generated) and really should not be blithely dismissed. There are books written, there are even movies made about the making of movies. So let the academics and darkened room disciples ruminate and pontificate; it’s much more enjoyable to make fun of the ritual that constitutes an entire industry. And it’s certainly a hell of a lot more satisfying to consider the sinister art of the bad fight scene, the dark cousin of the painstakingly crafted celluloid ballet. The bad fight scene, a semi-retarded pas de deux, has evolved into its own special status: it is an indispensable aspect of our culture. Thank God.

To appreciate the curious magic of the laughably bad, it’s helpful to first consider the unassailably good. I don’t know many serious film critics (or fans) who would deny that our nimble brethren from Asia have come closest to elevating the serious fight scene to unprecedented levels of artistry. Two recent examples, each featuring the obligatory one-man vs. the crowd sequence appear in Chan Wook Park’s Old Boy and Prachya Pinkaew’s Tom-Yum-Goong.

Exhibit A: Dae Su (the great Choi Min-Sik) drops the hammer (pun intended) on a bunch of hoods. Improbable, over-the-top, outstanding!

Exhibit B: the jaw-dropping Tony Jaa’s instant classic (already immortal) one-take (!!) fight scene, which took over a month to prepare and rehearse. The result is unedited (!!!) perfection, using the fifth take. Respect!

As kind of an antidote, it’s instructive to appreciate Martin Scorsese’s integrity. His dedication to authenticity depicts an epic fight scene that actually plays out the way fights usually look in real life: sloppy, uneven, embarrassing. This is a clinic, made indelible by De Niro and Joey “The Mook”:

And as an intermission, or delicious palette cleanser, let’s appreciate the sine qua non of campy superhero fight scenes (which obliges us to turn to the ultimate in camp, the caped crusader played by the marvelous Adam West): this is the all-in battle royale, a brawl that involves all the assorted players (skip to the three-minute mark if you can’t stand the suspense). Three words: “Bon voyage pussy!” Holy blissful extravagance, Batman! (Much, much more on Batman, and camp, here.)

Speaking of camp: does it get any better (worse) than Patrick Swayze? This scene has so much homoerotic energy it almost sucks its own dick. You can fear the mullets while simultaneously contemplating who’s gayer: Swayze, (the great) Ben Gazzara (“Can somebody geta drink around here?”) or the dude with pool cue? Are you kidding me? In very un-American fashion, embedding is disabled but you can enjoy a full ten minutes worth of “highlights” here.

Of course, the only cat who could challenge Swayze for the crown is Rob Lowe. First up, an epic romp with Andrew McCarthy (doing his finest work, which isn’t saying much) from the so-bad-it’s-great Class (two words: Jacqueline Bisset). Skip ahead to the 5.23 mark for the fight, but you can watch the whole thing to appreciate John Cusak in his first movie role. Recognize!

But this is child’s play compared to Youngblood(which gets you a young(er) Swayze and Keanu Reeves, demonstrating that at no time in his career could he act), a cheesefest that reaches almost offensive levels of connect-the-dots corniness. The bromance battling the testosterone here is officially off the charts; the movie itself is one long fight scene between gay yearning and feel-good Hollywood onanism.

Of course, for both fight scenes and hockey, it’s all about the Hanson brothers and Slap Shot (six words: “I’m listening to the fucking song!):

Don’t think I’m going to sleep on Stallone. Any number of his movies could be considered (duh) but for the all-time camp, how you can top the over-the-top invocation of boxing and pro wrestling? Enter a relatively young Hulk Hogan as Thunderlips, the ultimate male. (Incidentally, Rocky III would be on the short list of all-time homo-erotic films. It may be in the top three alongside Road House and Top Gun.)

Now we’re approaching that elevated plane also known as the truth. Male gymnist? Check. Pommel horse? Check. Gayness off the charts? Big check. The only remaining question being, can you handle this truth? Let’s see:

But let’s stop screwing around and get to the glory. The scene, and I mean the scene, where all the elements (camp, over-the-top pyrotechnics, implausibility, bad (and good) acting, and wrestling) come together, are made manifest in John Carpenter’s They Live. A six minute fight scene. S.I.X. M.I.N.U.T.E.S. And this isn’t just a gratuitous scrap; the end of the world as we know it as at stake (“Put on the glasses!”), with hero Roddy Piper (formerly “Rowdy” Roddy Piper of World Wrestling Federation fame) and not-yet-convinced good guy Keith David sorting things out in an alley. The sequence allegedly took over three weeks to rehearse, and it’s one for the ages.

So what do you get, where else is there to go, when you have a scene like the one above, that parodies virtually every aspect of the entire history of fight scenes? You have a scene that parodies that scene. Enter Ernie the Giant Chicken, the recurring character from Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy. (The scene below is an appetizer; here is the main course.)

What else is there left to say? Why not tie it all together with the only genius who actually is capable of intermingling all of these elements into his own work. Martial arts inspired reggae? Lee Scratch Perry has it covered.

So what did I miss? Let me know what fight scene (good, bad, ugly or hopefully, all of these) you would put into the pantheon. Peace!

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Due To Popular Demand…More Catwoman!

Wait, I was the only one clamoring for more?

Okay.

“Batman, let’s throw caution to the wind!”

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End of Summer (Camp) with a Bat, a Cat and a Clown

It is an inexorable, if lamentable rite of passage to revisit cultural mementos from one’s childhood and discover that, to an adult’s eyes, they are lacking.

But then, “putting away childish things” is one of the ways we avoid arrested development, a condition that impairs critical faculties, stymies meaningful relationships and makes one susceptible to things like libertarianism. (If, for instance, you re-read Ayn Rand and her porcine-fisted prose and sophomoric metaphysics still seem eloquent, you’ve got some growing up to do; if you encounter her pulp for the first time as an adult and are inexplicably smitten, you are, unfortunately, a lost cause, both morally and intellectually.)

When I was a child, you would have had to pry my bowl of Boo Berry from my cold, dead hand; now I understand my teeth would rot on contact, even if I were able to score a box online (apparently this is possible; this is America). I used to think a Big Mac (washed down with that non-carbonated orange drink, obviously) was the height of culinary bliss, a sort of pre-adolescent ambrosia. I thought scary movies were, well, scary. In other words, I thought a lot of things. I was even correct about one or two of them.

I thought, for instance, that the Batman TV series was amazing. It turns out I was wrong. It’s not amazing; it’s better.

Bear with me. When’s the last time you saw (when’s the last time you thought about) Batman and imagined Adam West instead of, say, Christian Bale or Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson, etc.?

It probably has been a while because, apparently, the old episodes are currently unavailable via Netflix or even to purchase. (Wow, this has been a controversial dilemma for some time apparently; there is a whole section of the Wikipedia page dedicated to it…one shudders to think of all the hardcore comic book collectors who are –and have been– incensed about this.) The show does still get airplay on certain TV channels. I know this because I have friends who have kids. Quite serendipitously, I was babysitting one of these little cherubs and per her request (!) we caught a couple of old school episodes. I am here to tell you, without shame and with inexplicable enthusiasm, it was something of a revelation.

There are several angles I could take here, but my rekindled interest (bordering on infatuation?) can be reduced to two words: Cesar Romero. The “O.J.” (as in, Original Joker).

Folks, anyone born after 1980-ish probably can’t appreciate this, but for people of my generation, Cesar Romero was The Joker. I sort of recall reading the occasional comic book but don’t have any lingering memories of how he translated on the page. I do have memories of the laugh, the green hair, the purple suit and the maniacal, unhinged hilarity that managed to be hilarious and horrifying. What I did not recall, since I was a kid at the time, was how iredeemably, magnificently campy the show was. I certainly recall that the original Superman never resonated with me, in part because that show was not old school, it was antediluvian school. Plus, the George Reeves incarnation was always a tad too fascistic for my delicate sensibilities (holy shit, did anyone know George Reeves died by a bullet wound that may have been suicide? Holy irony, Batman.) Then again, I’ve never been much of a Superman guy; in my formative years it was always Batman and Spiderman, both of whom were (by turns) funnier, darker and more human.

Anyway, back to The Joker. Obviously Jack Nicholson was tapping into that campy vibe, but his role, however amusing, was over-the-top in ways that don’t age particularly well (kind of like the first movie). Not many people would argue that Heath Ledger’s pitch-black (though still sardonic) take was not a huge improvement. Nevertheless, before we crown Ledger’s uncanny performance the final word on the subject, we are obliged to return to the beginning. Have you forgotten how unbelievably perfect Cesar Romero was? Check it out, courtesy of YouTube:

Any questions?

Maybe it’s the fact that he was a bit older, and of Cuban/Italian descent that gave him that subtly exotic, almost indescribably outre edge. This is The Joker I grew up with, and it’s the only arch villain I can imagine actually rooting for –as a child or an adult. Just reading about Romero makes me happy. Check this out. The fact that he refused to shave his mustache (his decades-old trademark) is so genius I can scarcely convey my joy and admiration. How perfect is that? The most incorrigible fiend played by an incorrigible, image-conscious movie star with prima donna tendencies? Bliss. (And extra marks: if you look at photos or, if you’re smart, find some clips online, you can totally see the impossible-to-conceal ‘stache in each episode.) Truth is always odder and better than even the best fiction.

And let’s do a quick sidebar for how great the other bad guys were. Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, anyone? Yes, please. And don’t sleep on Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. That is an untouchable criminal triptych that could not possibly be improved upon. (For irrefutable evidence of this claim, please appreciate this clip from the movie, wherein we have Penguin fencing with Batman (making appropriate Penguin noises), Romero’s brown hair obvious under the wig and The Riddler doing some bad ballet on board a boat –skip to the three minute mark for the most epic fight scene that ever includes the words “Bon voyage Pussy”):

And lest we forget (how could we forget?) there is Catwoman. Can I get an Amen? I’m a rather huge fan of Lee Meriwether (in clip above, from film) and everyone has to appreciate the incomparable Eartha Kitt (from Season Three). But let’s not kid ourselves here: it’s all about Julie Newmar.

 

 

 

 

 

While I offer serious props to the benevolent citizen who put the Joker clips together, I’m incredibly disappointed that some turbo nerd has not compiled a Catwoman montage: get on that Internets!

And don’t think I’m sleeping on Adam West. I won’t (can’t?) compare him to the subsequent Batmen played in the various movies, but kind of like with The Joker, he did it first and he did it best. He is Batman. A gentleman, a humanitarian, a…dork. His (West’s) goofiness can’t be overstated, and that humanity gives the character a distinct vulnerability. How can you not love this guy?

So in addition to everything else, it’s possible that Batman was the first series to jump the shark (or at least repel the shark). Consider the clip, below: obviously the series was straining to keep its edge (or appeal, or whatever) and by season three the producers/writers seemed to understand that what may have worked in 1965 was not registering in 1967. The world, of course, was changing. Hence, we have the most campy (and sublime) few moments of TV I can ever recall watching: Batman and Joker surfing. In shark-infested waters, obviously. With real surfers cheering from shore. With bathing suits over their costumes. This is a line in the sand: you are either with me or against me. I defy you to watch this clip and not join the party.

Wow, one never knows what is available on the Internet. Check this out! (Yes, he raises his hand and says “Peace” at the end. Thank you Mr. West.)

Summer may be winding down and all of us are getting older every second, but retaining a child-like joy for certain things is still the best way to keep age and cynicism at bay.

Peace.

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