Sunday, 22 February 2009

Batman as a Monster in a Classic Horror Film (Batman Begins) (Someone sent me an email asking if I thought Nolan had shot Batman like a monster in a horror film in the fundraiser scene. I replied that I had not. But when I taught Batman Begins last quarter I taught it as a horror film. What follows are lightly-redacted notes for that class. It may read a little staccato.) Christopher Nolan spends the first ninety-three minutes of Batman Begins denying his audience what they paid to experience: the vicarious thrill of costumed vigilantism. The film opens with a violent tease (Wayne beating back multiple attackers in a Bhutanese prison) before settling into an almost leisurely sequence of expository flashbacks. That Nolan sustains any narrative tension while recapitulating the most famous origin story in comic history testifies to the talent that made Memento more than the sum of its gimmicks. He pushes the narrative forward on three fronts: from his childhood to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne; from their death to his imprisonment in Bhutan; and from his release from prison forward (the narrative present). Setting the narrative pace so slow ensures that the first glimpse of Wayne in full regalia will bring the catharsis. Or would have had Nolan's direction not transformed Batman into a monster. Cut to the docks. The corrupt Detective Flass and mobster Carmine Falcone oversee the delivery of a drug shipment. The stevedores load boxes into the back of a truck: Cut back to Flass and Falcone discussing the drugs in a limo: Then back to the stevedores. Note that the stevedores are directly beneath a cone of warm light of the sort being put out by the light in the background: Nolan chooses a deep shot here because he wants you to know how far the stevedore must travel to deposit that box onto the back of the truck. He cuts back to Flass and Falcone discussing drugs (similar to above) then back to the stevedore carrying the box: Only that is not the stevedore with the box. Nolan confounds the conventions of continuity editing by violating the 180° rule. If a car careens off the right side of the screen it should emerge from the left in the next shot. (Otherwise.) Figures moving away from us should continue to move away from us. But Nolan aims to disorient here. He crosses the 180° line and follows the hooded man who had been moving toward us. (Note that he had been under one cone of light in the shot above and walks toward another. The stevedore with the box also walked toward a cone of light. We now know that this stretch of warehouse is illuminated by three lights.*) By the time we realize where we are and who we see, the hooded stevedore has nearly traversed the fraught space between him and the storage unit: Note the classic horror blinds to his left and right. One more cut to the stevedore with the box establishes the forthcoming reaction shot: The hooded stevedore...

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