Sunday, October 05, 2014

Outré Intro: Batman (1966 - 1969)

On February 12, 1966, the critic for Saturday Review wrote that "Historians of culture in the future may well say that television's early attempts at art were smaller-than-life dramas of Chayefsky, Nash, Mosel and Foote, but that the medium attained full stature as an art form with the larger-than-life comic, Batman."

The New Yorker agreed with this perception, noting that this adaptation of the comic was "sure-footed, full of nifty gadgets and ridiculous costumes, and with at least a couple of lines that could pass for wit on a foggy night" (November, 12, 1966).

The Adam West series -- the ultimate in 1960s pop art -- was a sensation with viewers too. “Batmania" swept the youth culture. In Detroit, a hairdresser invented the “Bat-cut,” and at a nightclub called Wayne Manor, youths danced "the Batusi" with the Joker as the Maitre’d, while Wonder Woman served drinks.

The Federal Communications Commission Chairman at the time, E. William Henry, joined the act too, donning a Batman costume to attend a Washington benefit.

Series-related merchandise sales totaled nearly eighty million dollars in 1966, and because Batman aired twice a week, on Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8:00 pm on ABC, it became the first show in history to hold two spots on the season-end Nielson top ten.

The introductory montage for Batman reflects, in a very substantial way, the virtues of the series.

It is dynamic, bold, and exaggerates the larger-than-life, action-packed comic-book qualities of Batman's world. In short, the name of the game is...color.

The importance of color comes from two important contexts.

First, Batman arrived at the dawn of the age of color television, and series like it (Star Trek, for example) sought to capitalize on the technological advance, attempting to draw-in viewers with the promise of something they had never seen before: bright, bold coloring.

Secondly, as a living, breathing comic book, Batman was intended to mirror, in dimension, shape and form, the colors of the printed page.  Hence, lots of color; lots of action.

The montage opens with a call to adventure, a spinning image of what I believe is the Batmobile's wheel, to draw us into the action.

From there, we see "moving" comic-book depictions of Batman and Robin as they charge, literally, towards the viewer to the unforgettable soundtrack of Neal Hefti's theme song. Behind them, the backdrop is a bright green.

From bright green, we shift to bright red. Batman punches out a villain, and we get a comic-book-styled balloon depicting the power of the impact. This is a core conceit of the series. Even in live-action, the fisticuffs are accompanied by these colorful impact balloons.

Below, a repeat of the same kind of frame, but now in blue, with Robin delivering the punch. POW! Once more, the values of motion and color are stressed.

Back to green (yet another color shift), and after defeating the criminals (with a final ZOK!), Batman and Robin rejoin for a triumphant hand-shake. Together, they are a team, the Dynamic Duo, and the images of teamwork convey the relationship.  But even the hand-shake represents a continuation of the leitmotif of motion, or action.

Next-up, Batman's cape sort of swells or expands in the next frame, and we transition to the TV series' logo.

Following the title card, we meet the rogue's gallery, the villains that the Caped Crusaders will battle. We pan, left to right (again, denoting movement and action), and the composition suggests that the heroes have many, many enemies.

Next up, we meet our two leads, Adam West and Burt Ward.

In the next frame, there is one more color-shift in the background, this time to yellow/orange, and Batman and Robin look at each other, before delivering punches to the rogue's gallery.  

Notice that the villains are sort of anonymous here. What's important is that they are glaring at the Dynamic Duo.  All we see of their features are their eyes.  Also, Batman and Robin appear to be smiling, which suggests they are happy in their work, crime-fighting.

Down the villains go in a blaze of all-caps, exclamation-pointed impact balloons...

Now the background color shifts anther time, to purple or magenta, and we register more distinctive, well-known Bat-Villains, including the Joker, The Penguin and even Cat Woman We pan left to right again, and the impact balloons recur, as off-screen, Batman and Robin fight the bad guys.

As the final acting and producing cards roll, we get a look at the series' backdrop, Gotham City, and the Batmobile approaches us.

Below, the colorful Batman opening montage in all its living glory. This is from the first season.  Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) was added to the introductory montage in the third and final season.

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