This is the tale of a Christmas gift.
Some of the cool moments from my life were opportunities to see films, in movie theaters. In 1989, cinema fans filled movie houses to see the DC superhero Batman come to life.
I had a good time. Michael Keaton’s role as Bruce Wayne, with its distance from crime, detachment from wealth, indifference to romance, makes the character of Batman seem re-imagined. I suppose Keaton was a surprise heroic star turn, and the subplot of Gotham City TV news anchors unable to appear beautiful, owing to poison in beauty products delivered by the antagonist character The Joker, is clever.
The action sequence in a chemicals factory, when Jack Nicholson faces his character Jack Napier’s transition to The Joker, is memorable. In other scenes from Batman, Billy Dee Williams of Hollywood fame owing to earlier roles in The Empire Strikes Back and subsequently in Return of the Jedi, appears as Harvey Dent.
The climactic confrontation of the film, at the Gotham City parade beneath a cathedral with the height of a skyscraper, is wonderful. In 1989, my mother clipped for me a newspaper column detailing synopses of films which starred Nicholson, the other actor of Batman making a star turn.
In 1989, I thought certain films making it to the video market were important, despite evidence to the contrary. Films, I surmised, enjoyed but one opportunity to become available for home theater fans.
When the creepy little video store in the shopping plaza near my home began renting to customers Batman, the staff of the store displayed tapes of the film like a phenomenon. Shelf after shelf in their New Releases space was full of the Batman video presentation. The format was VHS, the cassette for running a film with a VHS player.
I’d been to see it, but I wanted that VHS. Christmas came, and family placed three hand-wrapped videotape-shaped objects under the holiday tree, one tape for me, one for my brother, and one for my sister.
They were VHS tapes, but what titles were they? Us kids wouldn’t know until Christmas morning. At the appointed time, I opened mine, and to my delight, the tape inside was Batman.
As the family opened our presents, the second tape of Batman under the Christmas tree emerged. My mother’s brother and his wife had arranged for the gift of the movie Batman as well. Two VHS tapes of the same film!
What did my mother pronounce, you might ask? This was a bummer. She would quietly return my copy of the film to the store.
As a twelve-year-old, the price of a brand-new VHS edition of a blockbuster film must be extravagant, I reasoned. The VHS copy of Batman we had would belong to us all.
I suppose that taught me a lesson, like not to count your chickens before they hatch. It was as if my uncle and aunt had felt I deserved my own copy of Batman, and Santa Claus did not. The VHS tape of Batman was a gift, what I wanted and what I was losing.
Thanks to film director Tim Burton, in 1989, fate unfolded for Batman mobster character Jack Napier. The criminal mastermind fell into a vat of burning acid. He lost the pigment of his skin pigment and became molded with a permanent smile on his face.
I hadn’t earned my own copy of Batman, and I suppose the real lesson was that I should share. It is a state of being tantalized by the promise of something gold and being humbled by the requirement to give it up. Maybe we didn’t know that doubles of the Batman film were under the tree, but no contingency plan was in place.
I was cheesed.