30 years of Tim Burton’s Batman

The days of the blockbuster film as media and cultural event is more or less past barring one or two exceptions. Avengers Endgame being the most recent, but for a time we’d have two, maybe three a year. In 1989 however the biggest one was Tim Burton’s Batman film.

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The marketing campaign for that film was genius. It basically threw the pre-existing trademark (the Batman logo) on anything and everything, so from around spring 89 you couldn’t move for Bat-logos everywhere. I remember being in a pub in Camden in London at the end of July in 89 with half the pub having some form of Batman t-shirt on, including myself with this effort drawn by Frank Miller.

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If you worked in comics as I did at the time, it was amazing to see people go crazy for the comics with literally a Batman title at least once a week for a year which meant boom times for lesser selling titles who only need stick Batman on the cover to suddenly see a sharp spike in sales upwards. Of course it was the success of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke which created the environment for the film to be made, and made in the way it was as opposed to  the campy TV show.

Unlike today where every second of the film is analysed in advance, there was a lack of footage from the film and with there still being a vocal section of fans hating the casting of Michael Keaton, the producers rushed out a poorly cut teaser trailer in 1988.

I know of people who would go as see other films knowing this would be running before that film just to see these 90 seconds, and also, bad VHS copies of it would be shown at conventions just to get people a fix before the big event. The fact the film opened in America a good month before the UK meant waiting was strung out as reviews would come across the Atlantic telling us this was something special, until finally that August the film opened in a blaze of glory.

Leicester Square  had been transformed into Gotham City with Bat-Signals galore to help whip up those massive queues waitng to get in, and as for me, I had to wait til the next day to see it and indeed, it was everything I wanted then from a Batman film. I’ve written about the film before here. 

Looking back at the film now, even five years after previously writing about it, it’s clear my opinion has changed. The script doesn’t really have a third act with a messy end replacing any sort of more structured ending instead of the disheveled mess that is the ending as it is. It didn’t matter at the time, but now it’s probably two-thirds of the film I thought it was back then, or indeed, five years ago. The film’s place in history is assured, especially as it was one of the first big comic book films and proved they’d make gazillions at the box office. It has a chaotic feel and hasn’t that shiny, glossy feel of a Marvel film, plus it does draw from decades of Batman history with a great performance from Jack Nicholson who is loving every second.

But Batman made comics acceptable for millions of people. It drew in so many people into shops and made them fans of the medium, and there’s the legacy of that film. For that it’ll always hold a special place for comics fans.

Every Time the Sun Comes Up-The story of Glastonbury 2019

Glastonbury 2019 was one of those years where the line up was actually very good, but as is normally the way I managed to miss half of what I wanted to see and catch loads I never knew I wanted to see. As a festival I loved this year, even though I was melting and had to deal with a grim realisation by the Friday morning. More of this later, but first, the beginning.  S

I’d decided to spend some time in Bristol before the festival to catch up with friends, but before leaving I had a funeral to attend and a speedy rush to the train station to enjoy a pretty painless journey across half the UK with some essential provisions.

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The one thing that’s always clear when travelling the UK is how empty much of it is and how close we all are to water.

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Eventually we crossed the country and sighted balloons which meant Bristol wasn’t far.

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So a few days in Bristol were enjoyed before Wednesday morning came screeching up and my friend Alan picked me up early in the morning to take me through the morning fog to the festival. Weather forecasts had been sketchy in the weeks leading up to the festival with one saying the opening few days would be pestered with thunderstorms, but things changed with the forecast saying long, hot spells. Which we got. A lot.

As we joined the queue for wristbands, etc in the disabled field, our other group turned up and we all managed to get in together.

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Of course we didn’t get a fancy opening ceremony like the guys at Gate A just a few hundred metres away from where we were.

This year I had an enormous tent as I can’t crawl in and out of a two or three man tent anymore. Thankfully I had nothing but the most modern transport for it.

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Eventually we squeezed into the shuttle bus, pitched up in the disabled field, and set up everyone’s tents realising we could have done with another body to help. Next time we’re going to be a tad more organised.

Wednesday at Glastonbury is a bit of a free for all. Not a lot is on, mainly because most people are setting up so it is a perfect time to go wandering round the site when the site isn’t quite ready. I’ve always loved this day since I started going down for the full week in the early 2000’s.

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Wednesday is also the day when a lot of people grab an early night, and with temperatures starting to rise  it seemed smart to duck out and grab an early night.

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Thursday saw a showing of the Jim Jarmusch zombie film, The Dead Don’t Die, but that was in the evening.

Til them myself and Alan decided to wander, which thanks to my glacial walking speed and the by now baking heat, this too ages so we ended up at the Acoustic Stage taking advantage of the bar.

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And of course the cold, cold drink it sold.

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After the film (which is rather good) we all wandered back, with myself staying out later drinking with a mate from Bristol but a mix of exhaustion and fatigue meant I left before things got messy.

Now when the bands start things always become vague in these blogs mainly because by this point things are vague. What was clear is that seeing Stormsy was to be essential as this would either be astonishing or a road accident. Thankfully it was astonishing as he dipped into 60 years of pop history for inspiration, including a backdrop inspired by Elvis and Jailhouse Rock.

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It was a remarkable show that was one of those Glastonbury gigs where an act becomes something else entirely along the lines of Pulp in 1995 or Radiohead in 1997.

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Saturday came and so did the hottest day. As we’re all outdoors shade is a premium so by late morning people were either still lazing round their tents or shade, or risking the blazing sun which by now was melting people around the site. See, there’s a bit of a myth that really hot days are great for festivals and they’re not as every inch of shade was occupied. Luckily most of what I wanted to see on the Saturday was in the John Peel Stage, which meant sitting in the shade on a pretty empty disabled viewing platform near the bar selling cold drinks. It was a pretty good way to spend an afternoon at Glastonbury, plus things became cooler and more akin to a festival rather than the heatwave baking heat.

As for the night I didn’t fancy The Killers as it isn’t 2011, and seeing as people who did see them said they were a bit pish, I made the right choice which was to soak up the night by falling alseep. I struggle with fatigue and this was a time when my body decided to rest itself ahead of what I wanted to do. Ah well.

Sunday came. It was a perfect day, so time for Kylie, who’d supposed to be headliner in 2005 but cancelled due to her fight with cancer. It was a controversy she’d even been booked at the time, but this is 2019 so instead of indie purists sulking, the Pyramid Stage saw tens of thousands of people. I’d put it at around 150k people crammed into a field. It really was extraordinary.

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I mean, there was just a sea of humanity for this tiny Aussie.

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And the crowd barely shrunk for Miley Cyrus who did the Ashley O thing much to the crowds joy or bemusement.

Topping off the festival were The Cure. Now I’m a passing fan but I’d seen them close the festival in 1995 though back then I’d dropped a load of mushrooms which is not something I can do these days. As the crowd on the viewing platform transformed into old Goths, the stage was set for a classic headliner performance if you were a fan. As said, I’m a casual fan and found much of the first half, well, boring. The last half however where they cranked out the singles was great fun and reminded people just how much of a great singles band The Cure were.

As The Cure ended that was it for most people, though many vanished into the South East of the site to not reappear til well into the next day which for us, involved packing up slowly, getting back in our cars and relunctantly going home.

And that was Glastonbury 2019 where I learned the lesson that trying to walk everywhere isn’t going to work anymore. Next year (tickets permitting) I’ll have to get a scooter because there’s no fun in spending hours walking around making myself fatigued ages before I need to be. Next year will be the 50th anniversary and internet rumours range from it being the last year before Michael Eavis retires (I don’t think he will now) to the festival expanding to a full seven days for the one-off anniversary (which I can’t see either) but the lone fact is that demand will be much larger than usual.

2022 will mark my 30th anniversary of attending the festival, but the 50th will be special and I hope to catch you there. I’ve learned my lessons this year so no more trying to do stuff I can’t do and take offers of aid, or use things that’ll help make things more fun!

 

Scott Walker RIP

Back in the long hot summer of 1995 I went down to Glastonbury for a weekend of fun and games, with a couple of friends, Denise and Joe who were driving down. We were travelling in a battered old car which groaned with our stuff but spirits were high as we left Leicester to hit the M69 to head to the South West. As we approached Coventry Joe stuck on the one tape we had for the trip which was a copy of the Best of Scott Walker and as he stuck it in, and pressed play the first chinks of sunrise broke as this played.

It was the sign it was going to be a good weekend.

By this point in the mid 90’s, Walker had gained an appreciation among the Indie kids who weren’t having the dull boot heel of Britpop kicking them in the head, though folks like myself grew up with Walker’s music. Basically if you grew up in the 70’s and your family had taste you’d normally head one Walker tune all the time. Mine was Jackie.

But the king was this one.

No Regrets was my drunken pulling song along with Blondie’s Atomic for years in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Those were the days.

What I’m basically saying is that Scott Walker is dead but his music won’t die. Walker has been with me musically for more or less my entire life. His music was there during some amazingly memorable times and still will because just listen to the man sing on songs like this…

I mean, just fuck, listen to it! If that song doesn’t move you a bit then you have no soul.

But the sun won’t shine anymore for him and it’s only fitting to close this with this performance of a Jacques Brel song…

Keith Flint RIP

Keith Flint of The Prodigy took his own life at the age of 49 and it is an utter tragedy for so, so many reasons. If one assumes he was suffering from depression then he’s another victim of how men especially find it hard to nearly impossible to speak about something that can be crippling or worse. 49 is no age these days and Flint had decades ahead of him.

And it can’t be said often enough that The Prodigy emerged from a scene in the early 90’s where rave bands were ten a penny and novelty dance tunes were chart fodder, which brings me my first encounter with the band in the form of Charly.

In these early days Flint was a dancer. Basically he was there to dance to LIam Howlett’s tunes as The Prodigy was purely a vehicle for Howlett back then but then came Music For A Jilted Generation and fuck me, it was like an entirely different band.

I first saw them sometime in 93/4 at the Astoria in London and it was clear the band wasn’t just actually becoming a band, but Flint was developing a presence onstage, and not just that the band were getting harder. Sometimes even moving away from the rave sound which by the mid 90s was becoming increasingly commercialised and well, shite.

Then Firestarter came out in 96 at the height of Britpop when British bands were supposed to be inspired by The Kinks and writing songs about going to the seaside or getting drunk, The Prodigy turned out something that sounded nothing like any other mainstream band at the time.

Sure, others had blended dance with Punk before, Sheep on Drugs for example, but nobody really made a success of it til Keith Flint decided to have a serious makeover which ended up scaring the shite out of people’s mid-90’s complacency when the video first appeared on Top of the Pops.

Summer 96 saw The Prodigy tear up the Phoenix festival, but it was 1997 at Glastonbury when they landed fully formed as something extraordinary.

It was Friday night. It’d been raining so hard in the run-up that stages were sinking into the mud. Conditions were miserable. Everywhere had this sucking, sticky mud that clung to everything, and if you stayed still for too long you either locked into place or sank. People were fucked off and waiting for something to kick the festival’s arse into gear. A lot has been said about Radiohead’s set on the Saturday over the years, but without the Prodigy kicking off the Friday night  and giving people a spark, then the crowd wouldn’t have been so up for it. We’d have given in.

By now at the scabby dogend of Britpop bands were dropping off fast, but The Prodigy sailed through the storms, not to mention controversies like the argument with the Beastie Boys about Smack My Bitch Up.

After 98 I sort of took the Prodigy for granted. Subsequent albums never hit the heights of Fat of the Land, and a decent headliner spot in Reading in 2002 was the last time I saw them live, and now I’ll never see them again and that is nothing compared to the tragedy of Flint leaving us at such a relatively young age.

The welcome return of Suede

I missed this a few months ago when it came out partly as I was busy, partly because I love Suede so much I feared it’d be the more enormous shite. Today I’ve been recovering from comic related graft, I’ve been reading some stuff I picked up and listening to songs on YouTube when Life is Golden came on and happily proved me wrong. It feels like a logical extension of where the band were in the 2000’s before they just fizzled out.I always felt it was wrong for them to just go as they did as there was one more great song sitting in them and here it is.

Enjoy.

The Passenger

There was an interesting piece the other day in the Leicester Mercury about punks in the city in the late 70’s at a Damned gig at the De Montfort Hall. Now I wasn’t living in Leicester then, I wasn’t even a teenager back in Glasgow, and didn’t got a gig til Blondie at the Apollo in the early 80’s then I was off banging round the city seeing gigs in places like Rooftops, The Mayfair (where I first saw The Fall) and of course Strathclyde and Glasgow Uni not to mention the Barrowlands which has barely changed in the decades.

But in 1988 I moved to Leicester, experienced the joys the De Montfort Hall, the Princess Charlotte (still one of the best pub venues I’ve ever been in and now sadly gone as a venue) and of course the bus trips to Nottingham for whatever was on at Rock City. Leicester’s close location to London meant that I’d often vanish into the gaudy neon lit streets of London, specifically Camden and Kentish Town, though it’d not be unrealistic to end up in a pub or club in Soho to bide the time before waking up the next day in bed/on the floor depending on how lucky one got.

Then Bristol became somewhere I’d go to and again I’d experience the nitelife there, so my teenage and formative years up to my mid 20’s was scattered across the UK like precious  Infinity Stones as I didn’t just belong in one place, but many but at the same time I didn’t really centre myself in one scene but many.

Now, the point of all this nostalgia is this. Since my stroke and cancer, and in particular, since moving to Glasgow I’ve essentially become rooted in one place considering what I’m actually going to do for however many years I’ve got left but I’ve been doing my best to avoid making any actual decision by getting a job that vaguely pays or generally devolving any serious thought as much as possible. Well, tomorrow I go to the hospital for my 6-month cancer checkup and should, barring incident, be told only to come see the hospital once a year which means I can’t put off decisions or hide much longer. See I don’t want all my futures to be sitting wallowing in nostalgia, fun though that may be, but I want to create new moments and fashion new gems of memory to collect as time goes on that is beyond just existing and doing alright.

Tomorrow I may have to finally move on from the holding pattern I’m in and finally grasp the steering wheel of my life to guide myself to whatever is next. We shall see what happens…

A word of appreciation for Absolute Beginners

Back in 1986 the director Julien Temple directed the film adaptation of Absolute Beginners; originally a book about life in London one summer in 1958.  It helped bankrupt one British studio, Goldcrest, and was instantly declared such a bomb that it’s rarely spoken about apart from ‘5 worst films ever’ type clickbait articles online., however the theme song by David Bowie is the only thing to really survive.

Part of the hate the film produced was the decision to turn the book into a musical, not to mention the charisma-free relationship between the two miscast leads (Patsy Kensit and Eddie O’Connell) and the fact the book was toned down. The film also has little sense of pace & the tone flits from weird British comedy to intense racial politics on a penny, plus those musical numbers stop the film dead even if some (like the Ray Davis one) are actually superb.

In short it deserves the reputation for being a mess and in places it is pretty awful, but, there’s one of the best opening shots you’ll see in a film as Temple guides the camera in one shot giving us a guided tour of the recreation of 50’s Soho.  There’s the production design which stands up as being part faithful, part idealised and of course some of the musical numbers are great. When the film clicks, I get what the filmmakers were trying to do and sure, the sometimes clunking acting, or the black hole of the central relationship comes back to punch you in the face in regards the bad side but something comes along shortly after to make you pine as to what it could have been, especially at the end during the Notting Hill race riots.

As a film it doesn’t deserve the hate its built up as there’s clearly far, far worse out there, but certain films become punching bags and Absolute Beginners is one of them. The film’s one big positive legacy though remains the theme song which is one of the greatest themes a film could have, which seeing as it came at a time in the 80’s when David Bowie wasn’t exactly at the top of his game (to say the least) for him to pull out a song which seriously gets better every time it’s heard is nothing short of genius.

When I saw Bowie perform the song at Glastonbury in 2000, it was nothing short of perfect. Standing there in a crowd of people transfixed hearing and seeing people moved by a song from a film that’s a third shit, a third weird genius and third all over the place and is now mainly forgotten is not an experience ever to be forgot.

So give the film another chance, or if you’ve never seen it watch it for what it is which is an ambitious, weird oddity with a brilliant opening, some great moments and one of the best songs of all time.

Have a look…