Anton Furst

Warner Bros. Entertainment

When Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters 25 years ago, it was more than just a pivotal film in the superhero genre. It was a pivotal film in any genre — largely due to its phantasmagorical sets and vehicles. The 1989 vision of Gotham City, the Batmobile and the Batwing all sprang from the dark, fertile imagination of the film’s Oscar-winning production designer Anton Furst. Watch some of Furst’s earlier films and it’s easy to see how his and Burton’s aesthetics would play well with each other. For The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan’s 1984 horrific take on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Furst created a world that merged storybook fantasy with gothic gloom. For Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, he created crumbling sets and morphed actual locations in the UK into a war-ravaged Vietnam. In Batman, Furst’s vision would synthesize fantasy and realism into a dystopia crawling with life. Like the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, Batman’s Gotham City is a retro-futurist hellscape. Its look is influenced by Art Deco, Streamline Moderne and Brutalist architecture. Batman’s stalking grounds are layered with trash and caked-on soot, giving it the feel of NYC at its sleaziest and most decadent. The best of times and the worst of times. It’s as if Furst took a once-gleaming dieselpunk metropolis and smeared it into the sticky floor of Travis Bickle’s taxi.

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Culture Warrior

Part of the appeal of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films is that the basic conceit informing their aesthetic seems so natural. Batman is one of few major superheroes that isn’t actually a super-hero. Batman mythology, then, lends itself to a degree of plausibility more than, say, Superman or Spider-Man, so why not manifest a vision of Batman that embraces this particular aspect that distinguishes this character from most superhero mythologies? But realism has not been a characteristic that unifies Batman’s many representations in the moving image. Through the eyes of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher, the Batman of tentpole studio filmmaking has occupied either a world of gothic architecture and shadowy noir, or one of schizophrenic camp. From 1989 to 1997, Batman was interpreted by visionary directors with potent aesthetic approaches, but approaches that did not necessarily aim to root the character within a landscape of exhaustive Nolanesque plausibility.

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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published: 11.21.2014
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