In a Nutshell
Dream on Wheels
(in loving memory of George Barris)
While waiting eagerly for the new Batman movie, here is a tour to the past, but in a Batmobile.
Batman franchise has been around since 1943 and the first Batman comic book was launched 80 years ago in 1939 and here is a curious fact – an original copy of it was sold not long ago for over one million dollars. Since then, the characters have developed significantly. Batman became way darker in 1989, after a series of small screen adaptations which were lighter and more colorful.
One of the signatures that goes along with Batman’s development through various adaptations and different director’s visions is the Batmobile. One often wonders whether these enigmatic cars have been produced by a car company. Are they just very big toys, a part of the setting, are they made for the movies only? The truth varies. One thing is for sure – any Batmobile has always been a real, a very fast and fully functioning car, with exquisite design, extraordinary gadgets, and all of it actually works – from the screen wipers to everything we see as effects on screen and creates the feeling of something supernatural. And, as a matter of fact, it is.
There have been eight Batmobiles produced so far, excluding the last one, which we’ll see very soon. The first Batmobile in “Batman” 1943 was a Cadillac 75 Convertible with a few slight cosmetic changes, so it was pretty ordinary. Then there came the “Batman and Robin” 1949 Mercury Convertible and it left no bigger trace.
In 1966 the first revolutionary Batmobile appeared. The legendary George Barris had so little time to make a new design that he took a ten-year old Ford Lincoln Futura and for the first time added accessories and gadgets and all the toys Batman needed to save the world. The car is emblematic and holds a special place in the hearts of Batman fans. George Barris had 15 days to make the alternations, to come up with a totally different design at the cost of 15 thousand dollars. It was made for the TV series starring Adam West and till 2012 Barris kept the car in his private collection. After that, it was put up for auction and sold for 4.2 million dollars. The creator of the first ever original Batmobile passed away on November, 5th 2020 – a bad year, as we all know.
From then on, with the first big screen adaptations the “Keaton Batmobile” introduced a totally different approach to the role of the car. Since then the different Batmobiles have been made from scratch by a highly specialized team of professionals. The design, the performance, every detail in the car are put together by people who do not work for a car producer, but for the movie industry, which does not make them less professional. One movie needs at least 7 cars, each at the cost of between 500 000 to one million dollars. They are unique, not made for mass consumption, hence they are all the more iconic. They have everything you possibly need in a car, they are extremely fast, they really jump high and their sound is the epitome of adrenaline itself. It takes more than a year to make the first car, and the next few follow easily.
The Batmobile has become a symbol of dark power, of menace and revenge. No matter which actor we prefer most, or who is our favourite Joker, the car will always be there as a symbol of ingenuity.
The Tumblers in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” can jump up to 30 feet. Before Jay Leno took the Tumbler for a ride, he laughed quite embarrassed when he asked: “Here is a dumb question – how do I get in?” He had to climb on top and sink into an interior which literally makes your heart stop: with all the advanced technology inside, the car had that vintage 1930-s vibe, but we all know that Christopher Nolan does not do a half-ass job – everything in his movies has to be real.
In 2016, the DC Universe launched Ben Affleck’s “Batman”. His car was produced by Mercedes and was well fitted for the movie. The Mercedes Benz Vision Grand Turismo was revealed for the first time by Supercar Blondie. Yet, the DC Universe is a whole different story, as most of the fans will explain and in detail.
However, according to most specialists, the best car, designed and made from scratch, was the 1989 Keaton Batmobile. This car was out of this Earth. It was 6.6 meters long and 1.3 meters high. It could accelerate from 0 to 100 km per hour in less than 4 seconds and its speed (in the movie) was 540 km per hour with the help of a booster. Nothing about this car was small, insignificant or worth neglect.
Soon after the movie, a replica was made in Russia and it was offered for 1,1 million dollars. It was praised to be the best replica ever, but… well, not the real thing. Very few people can afford to own a Batmobile. It will be a replica, it will be excruciatingly expensive, but if you are a Batman fan, a car freak, and if you have tons of money, why not? It’s a fantasy, it’s a universe where evil is actually fought, it’s escapism. So what? I am fully aware that many people look condescendingly on movies with heroes, but in a world where we need them badly, sometimes it’s better to hold on to a hope, to a dream.
The whole story of producing a Batmobile from the creation of the design and building it from scratch can be found in books, some of them can be ordered online, all of them are offered at the Batmobile museum in Los Angelis. Yet, if you can’t afford the real thing, which I suppose is the case, you can always go for the Lego models for the humble price of 400 euro.
People have, do and always will love their heroes and all the symbolism coming with them. It’s a great thing to talk about “serious” deep stuff and “thought-provoking” literature, movies, art in general, but at some point it gets a bit boring and some of us choose the fun, the miracles, the unbelievable, especially if you see one such miracle driving down the road with screeching wheels leaving behind the smell of power and justice.
The Haunted Parade of Grounded Glamour
Vienna offers countless possibilities for cultural experience. Between the two lockdowns, Albertina Museum reopened and people rushed to see the temporary exhibition which, among great painters like Van Gogh, offered the best of Toulouse-Lautrec. It appears extremely difficult to talk about him in detail in a short article, but we can give it a go.
Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec was born out of incest between first cousins – his grandmothers were sisters. Many would argue that his incestuous background contributed to his poor health. He came from an aristocratic family. His father was somewhat quirky and most of all he was crazy about hunting and shooting. His mother was overbearing and overprotective. The lack of happiness in his childhood pushed him towards drawing from a very young age. His baby brother died at the age of one and his parents separated. His mother left for Paris and he was looked after by his nanny. When he was eight, he went to live with his mother in Paris. Henry was always ill, suffering from one thing or another. He had so many diseases – one wonders how strong his will to live could have been. The long months in bed gave him a chance to draw, paint and discover art.
When he was thirteen, he fell and broke his femur bone and was half-crippled. The next year he fell again and broke the other. His legs never developed – they were short, kid’s legs, but the rest of his body was totally grown up. For a while, art became his safe haven.
In time, he started attending École des Beaux-Arts and met Émile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh. Allegedly, his friends paid for his first sexual encounter with a woman and that was when he painted his first portrait of a prostitute. As you probably already know, he devoted most of his art to them.
He spent his life in Montmartre, the bohemian part or Paris. He was sociable, had friends, but he always felt like an outcast. All artists did in their own way. Henry’s body, his illnesses, the disproportion of his legs – it all contributed to his heavy drinking. He left Paris only a few times – once to go to England to meet Oscar Wilde, and once to go to Spain to see the works of El Greko and Diego Velázquez. The rest of the time he spent with the so called “low-lives” – drunks, homeless people, and prostitutes as he felt he could fit in only with that crowd. He was practically living in a brothel for years, he spent all nights out drinking and was the Moulin Rouge’s cabaret most frequent visitor. He painted the nightlife in Paris the way he lived it. The working girls in his paintings are not beautiful, but not ugly either. In his works they were portrayed as they were – tired and destitute, with no make-up, no hairdo’s, unsmiling and unhappy. He never looked down on them – after all they were the only ones who slept with him, but he didn’t idealize them, either.
Hs art was strongly influenced by impressionism. Degas had a huge impact on him, too. Lautrec is ranked next to Paul Cézanne and Van Gogh as one of the geniuses of post-impressionism and art nouveau.
Toulouse-Lautrec was the first painter to make posters. Those were heavily influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. His Moulin Rouge posters were absolutely remarkable. He made about thirty of them and although they were meant to attract the crowd for a short while, they turned out to be some of the most brilliant pieces of art in history. In 2014, an example of his debut poster “Moulin Rouge — La Goulue” was sold for £314,500 at Christie’s in London.
He also invented a cocktail – half cognac, half absinthe. He was an excellent cook – his recipes were collected and published later. He adapted some of his dishes, others he invented.
He used to carry his liquor around in a hollow cane and went nowhere without his drink.
Henry went through a total breakdown in 1899 and his mother sent him to an asylum. It helped, but not for long. Two years later, at the age of only thirty-six, he died of alcoholism and syphilis, leaving 737 canvased paintings, 275 watercolors, 363 prints and posters, 5,084 drawings, some ceramic and stained-glass work and an unknown number of lost artworks.
His paintings are rarely auctioned, but La Blanchisseuse (The Laundress), which he painted in 1886 was sold in 2005 for 22.4 million dollars at an auction by Christie's.
The thing about Lautrec was that he managed to capture equally well the person and the person behind the person. “The Seated Clowness” (Mademoiselle Cha-u-ka-o) from the series “Elles”, 1896 shows the performing lady sitting on the bed, relaxing, probably in her break and unlike her other portraits from the same series, her confidence has gone. All one feels while looking at this painting is her fatigue. She is not even relaxed because soon the show will have to go on.
“The dance” is the second of a number of graphic paintings from 1890, pretty soon after the Moulin Rouge opened. The focal point are the can-can dancers in the middle of the crowd. There is an inscription at the back: “The instruction of the new ones by Valentine the Boneless.” This suggests that the man left of the dancing woman is the well-known at the Moulin Rouge dancer, Valentin le désossé. Apparently, he is teaching the dancer some new steps. The identity of the woman in pink in not known, but a number of people from the aristocracy can be recognized: the poet Edward Yeats, the club owner and even Toulouse-Lautrec's father. In this painting the mood is festive, everyone is having fun and the person behind the person is well hidden.
In almost every portrait of prostitutes, cabaret dancers and ordinary working women one cannot escape that nagging bitter feeling. “When the music’s over, turn off the lights” would sing Jim Morrison in a few decades. And in the dark you will see girls talking about anything, but work; leaning onto empty tables, weary, masks off, or just sitting and staring at the nothingness, stockings around their ankles, unable to move even to put clothes on, as if not caring about anything anymore. Sharp features strikingly realistic, and yet, so moving. And then the music would play again and life will push them forward into the spotlight.
Toulouse-Lautrec painted life as he saw it. Under the long stokes with the oil paint, thinned with turpentine, there rest layers of days long gone and eternal emotions which will always stay with us just because we are human.