We looked at “Batman: The Movie” from a director’s standpoint; this time, we look at it from a cinematographer’s. Howard Schwartz, Director of Photography on that film, published an article in American Cinematographer magazine’s June 1966 issue called “Bat-motography, or Capturing Batman on Film,” which not only tells us some of the issues that came up in terms of lighting the film, but also certain scenes in the first season, and plenty of other interesting tidbits. This time, we discuss the article, and also the sixth issue of the Batman ’66 comic book, featuring a (nearly) spot-on take on the Bookworm by Tom Peyer.
Also: the Batman theme as played by Chicchi, a (then) young girl playing surf guitar; and your mail about our talk with the principals of Batman at Washburn!
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There's not much I can say about the '66 comic, because as I've noted before, I bailed because it didn't live up to my hopes regarding a certain character, plus I wasn't happy with it in general. And Paul, you explained a good reason why. Why would they give ANY 'air time' to a C- or D-list villain such as Olga, that, as you say, very few people liked anyway? As the marketing saying goes, who's the audience? The comic needed more Bookworms and fewer Olgas and Marshas, IMO.
My hobbies include gazing at the Siren and doing her bidding, evil or otherwise.
'She had a devastating, hypnotic effect on all the men.'--A schoolmate describing Joan Collins at age 17
Reflecting on the novelty of shooting a TV series in color in 1966 really puts some of the creative decisions of the show into context. The change in tone from the first season to the movie and second season wasn't just in the story or dialogue. It was visual as well. Season 1 is often (visually) darker and more subdued.
I used to think the shift to brighter colors was an attempt to 'up' the pop-artiness. But hearing from Howard Schwartz, it seems to me that it was more of a reaction to their technical ability to show color on the small screen. Sort of like in the early 2000s when CGI became more cost-effective and directors abandoned practical effects for computer-generated ones - sometimes even when the traditional methods might've looked better.
It's like a kid with a new toy. Color was new, so they made the most of it.
That was my take-away, anyway.
And for the most part, I think it works. 66 Batman, especially the shots in the Batcave, look as close to a comic book come to life as we've seen. It's those Batcave shots that came to mind when Schwartz mentioned playing around with color gels. In season 2, you see it whenever the Batmobile is parked on the turntable. Take a look at the wheels in particular. Those color gels create some beautiful, saturated highlights on the Batmobile that capture a Roy Lichtenstein, comic-book look for me.
Looking forward to the next show - and that special guest villain!
Picking up on a couple of loose ends - Post-pilot (and after the Batcave was moved to Desilu Culver from Fox) many of the Batcave interior walls were embellished with mostly blue and purple gelled lighting. Before the movie's additional Bat-bucks were jingling in Dozier's trouser pocket, the Batcave didn't actually have a rear wall. Instead, behind the Atomic Pile hung a large black curtain that gave the illusion of fading into darkness. As Season One progresses, eventually two floor postioned up-lighters beamed bands of red light diagonally to create some kind of interest in the otherwise pitch black fall-off. As seen below in "Batman Sets The Pace"...
From the movie onwards the lighting in the Batcave becomes higher-key overall in order to "put the money on the screen", aka, we finally paid for a rear wall and you're going to know about it. Creating a feature length movie to be shown in theaters also arguably placed an honus on making already lavish sets like the Batcave even more vivid and enthralling for the big screen audience. The shot below from the S2 opener demonstrates this nicely. Note that as well as the rear-cave-wall, they had now also gelled the lights that accentuate the pillars of the Atomic Pile too...
The other comment I want to circle back to is the remark about "Parallel" lighting banks. Banks of parallel lights allow production to jump quickly between shot-reverse-shot camera positions whilst maintaining the equivalent three-point (key, fill, rim-light) setups without having to reset or move lights between takes, instead one set are dimmed/turned off and the parallel set turned on, so as not to create spill. This is especially important within a hectic TV workflow when time is of the essence, especially in standing sets like the Batcave where similar framings and interactions happen every week.