for advertising and promotion —therenis a kind of Gresham’s law operating.nQuality can creep in to betray thendreams of even the shrewdest and mostnavaricious studio operators.nWell, I saw the film and liked it—anlot. So much so, that I began to wondernwhether my judgment was still reliable.nWhat was I doing, responding withnsuch delight — yes, real delight andnadmiration — to a piece of such franklyncommercial art? Back in the 60’s,nwhen I first started writing about films,nI recall how I used to get worried inn. just the same way when I caughtnmyself liking an Annette Funicellonbeach-blanket movie, for instance.nThis was at least a way of discoveringnwhat Robert Warshow had meantnwhen he’d said, in The ImmediatenExperience, that the hardest thingnabout being a movie reviewer was tonadmit that you were there. This ratherngnomic pronouncement had made nonsense to me at all when I first encounterednit, but later, when I came outnblinking into the late morning dazzlenand caught myself out having enjoyednsome dopey piece of celluloid, I got thenpoint. I had been there and had, atnsome level, responded to whatevernchanges on the old routines these cinetastersnhad whipped up for me. Howncould I admit this? What standardsnwere left? How could I continue in thisnpozzo job?nIn almost that dilemma, I sat therenduring Dick Tracy, altogether entertained.nI’m a lot older now and I worrynless about standards, but I am stillnsometimes suspicious of my own mentalnstatus. So, to check myself out, Inrented Batman, which I am rathernrelieved to report I found incoherent,ndumb, violent, uncertain in its attitudentoward its own material, and — withnthe singular exception of Jack Nicholson’snbravura performance — totallynskippable.nNicholson didn’t play the movie butndid comic turns that were parodies ofnhis own old performances and screennpersonae. He was worth whatever hengot — his participation in the film andnthe subsidiary rights amounted reputedlynto something in excess of $50nmillion—because there was no movienwithout him. Even the old comicnbooks in which Batman first appearednwere more intelligently plotted. Youncan’t have your hero and villain in anbelltower (a set-up for Nicholson’s linenabout a “bat in my belfry”), have anhuge bell fall to block the entrance tonthe tower so the police can’t come in tonhelp either combatant, and then, out ofnnowhere, produce a half dozen of thenJoker’s henchmen for Batman to havento disable or kill. Even the funnies hadnhigher standards of coherence thannthat.nMichael Keaton is hardly there.nHe’s earnest and boyish out of hisnBatman costume (and he wears glasses,nwhich I had thought was Clark Kent’snschtick), and altogether uninteresting.nHe is persuasive enough in the Batmannoutfit, but it is never explained to usnwhy he chose the Bat symbol andnparaphernalia, what it means, why henisn’t Moleman, or Voleman, or Ratman,nor Pangolin-person. The Jokernhas a logical or anyway plausible history,nrather like that of the Phantom ofnthe Opera. But the Batman business isnsimply a dumb donee.nAnd there’s no Robin. The wholenidea of these comics is to appeal to ancertain group of (for lack of a betternword) readers. And those appropriatenreaders are likely to be males betweennthe ages of seven and fifteen. In othernwords, late latency and early puberty.nThe buddy system is a vital reality tonthis cohort and, so far as I can remember,nthe only interesting thing aboutnthe Batman figure was the “deadlynduo” of him and Robin. Take thatnaway, and there’s nothing left.nDick Tracy recognizes this underlyingnreality and plays itself extremelynadroitly to capitalize upon the potenti­nLIBERAL ARTSnYOU’RE IMMORTAL—nALL THE EXPERTS SAY SOnalities for fantasy. The Kid is the identifyingnfigure in whom we invest ourselves,nthe necessary mediatingnpresence who is all appetite and, appropriately,nis almost always shownngorging himself Tracy, the hero, isntorn between his love for adventuren(yammering calls on his time and attentionnkeep coming in on the old wristnradio) and his love for Tess Trueheart.nWhat is brilliant about the film’s underlyingnstructure is that WarrennBeatty’s screen persona is exactly rightnfor this shy, troubled Tracy who isnfearless with villains but tongue-tiednand almost helpless before Tess. It maynbe that Beatty’s off-screen reputationnenables him to play the helpless andninarticulate lover on screen (and vicenversa, for all I know), but it is what henhas been doing ever since Splendor innthe Grass, and he brings this bag ofntricks to Tracy and turns it into purentreasure. There is no villain as terrifyingnto an eleven-year-old boy as anyngirl he’s stuck on and shy about! Andnthis is just enough humanity to leavennand enliven the comic/cartoon figurenand turn him into somebody we cannidentify with and even care about for ancouple of hours.nThat extraordinary transaction havingnbeen completed, producer-directornBeatty can then have himself a goodntime, making a movie that is, from firstnto last and frame by frame, simplyngorgeous. Batman existed in no particularntime. There were television monitorsnto suggest contemporary hightech,nbut the cars seemed to be aboutnfive years old. All the cars in DicknA Harvard professor told a Senate hearing into the controversynover the National Endowment for the Arts that a basicnlogic was being overlooked by all sides in the question ofnwhether federal tax dollars should be allowed to support artnconsidered by some to be obscene.nKathleen Sullivan of the Harvard Law School said previousnU.S. Supreme Court decisions had defined “obscenity”nas, among other things, lacking “serious literary, artistic,npolitical, or scientific value.” Thus, she said, a projectnselected by a jury of the peers of the artist, as part of the NEAngrants process, would by definition have “serious artisticnvalue.”n—from Publishers Weekly,nMay 19, J 990nnnOCTOBER 1990/57n