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Broke-Bat Mountain: Understanding a Misunderstood Masterpiece
(March. 06) by Steven Tsapelas

Recently, I fell under the spell of a little movie called "Brokeback Mountain." This wasn't just because I saw Anne Hathaway's and Michelle Williams boobs for the bargain basement price of $10.75, but also because the tale of two ranchers who buttfuck in a pup tent reminded me of one of my favorite movies from the past decade.

"Batman & Robin."

Now, to be honest, I never really appreciated "Batman & Robin" until just last year. You see, back in Summer '97, I was briefly hospitalized with "disappointment" following the one-two crappy comic book punch of "B & R" and "Spawn." I'd been eagerly anticipating both, but was especially crushed within the first few minutes of the fourth installment of the Batman franchise.

I remember the night vividly.

There I sat, in a theater packed to the gills with eager fans anxiously waiting for this preview screening of "Batman & Robin" to start. The title cards came up...

"Arnold Schwarzenegger," loud applause.

"George Clooney," loud applause.

Hell, even "Chris O'Donnell" got loud applause! The crowd was pumped!

At least they were for the first 30 seconds. You see, it was during the traditional suiting up sequence that director Joel Schumacher lost his audience. Inter-cut with the Dynamic Duo picking and choosing their weapons, there was a close-up of Batman's ass in tight leather. Followed by a close-up of Batman's BULGING CROTCH in tight leather.

The universal groan I heard from the audience wouldn't be matched again until two years later when Qui-Gon Jinn first uttered the words "midi-chlorian."

And in that instant, "Batman & Robin" was over, just as it was beginning.

I was in such shock, that I made myself see it a second time IN THEATERS just to confirm what exactly it was that I had seen the first time.

I holed myself up that summer and rarely took in visitors. My curtains were drawn, no light was let in, and I wasn't able to hold down solids. I couldn't even think the name "Schumacher" without silently weeping, then throwing up.

Perhaps I'm exaggerating, so let me bring it back to reality.

"Batman & Robin" nearly killed me.

But you know what they say about "time," right? It heals all wounds. And it's on my side. And it flies. Okay, they say a lot of things about time. But the heal all wounds part is the what I'm talking about in this particular instant.

This past summer I was treated, and I mean TREATED, to the best damn Batman movie adaptation ever, "Batman Begins." Well-acted, well-written, well-directed, and intelligently told. A solid, serious Batman movie. And when I left the theater, I thought to myself, "That movie made all of the other serious Batman movies completely obsolete."

And out of the ashes of the now useless '89-'97 Batman Franchise only "Batman & Robin" emerged. It was then that I realized that the only one that had something different really going for it was "Batman & Robin," even though it was universally panned in the Earth year of 1997.

I bought the DVD and looked at it with a brand new set of eyes. Everything about this movie is miscalculated and misguided. There is not one single second that the fans of Batmans 1-3 could enjoy. Joel Schumacher made this film for one man and one man only: Himself. It is an incredibly personal film. And it is completely, totally, utterly brilliant.

Before you look me up in the phonebook and egg my apartment, hear me out.

I know, the director, Joel Schumacher has turned into a "Batman & Robin" apologist (especially on the DVD commentary track), and faulted the studio for forcing him to make the movie more toy-friendly and marketable to children. While this might explain the Batgirl character, it doesn't explain how closely the film exploits the most present theme in most of Schumacher's genre pictures: underlying homosexual love and envy. (See "The Lost Boys.")

Sure, the idea of Batman and Robin as gay lovers is not new. Frederic Wertham exploited it in his much reviled "Seduction of the Innocent," way back in 1953. Of course, they're easy targets, what with Golden Age Robin's bare legs and elf shoes, and Golden Age Batman's ever present toothy grin whenever in the presence of said bare legs and elf shoes.

However, I'm not saying Batman and Robin were always intended to be gay. I am merely saying that in Joel Schumacher's "Batman and Robin" they are incredibly gay. And their relationship has several parallels with the gay relationship from Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain."

Now, for those unfamiliar with the plot of "Brokeback Mountain," let me give you a brief refresher. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Jack Twist), are two ranchers that go on a sheepherding mission in Utah. They fall in love and parade around shirtless until "Heartbeeps"'s Randy Quaid catches them in the act, and they are forced to go their separate ways.

They return home, find female significant others, and try to lead a normal life, but occasionally arrange for fake fishing trips where they can carry on their secret homosexual relationship again.

In other words, they have secret identities (straight husbands), but occasionally need to adopt other personas (gay cowboys).

Jack desperately wants Ennis to accept him completely as his partner, but Ennis constantly undermines him, and keeps him in place.

Now, a brief refresher on the plot of "Batman & Robin," as interpreted by me.

Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) and Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell) lead lives as straight, rich men with sexy girlfriends. However, every now and again they have to make up some excuse, so that they can cavort around Gotham City as partners (with ice skates) and play with campy, colorful "super-villains."

Batman and Robin's first exchange in the movie occurs right after the close-ups of their asses and crotches. It goes a little something like this:

Robin: (mocking) I want a car. Chicks dig the car.

Batman: This is why Superman works alone.

This. Is. Why. Superman. Works. Alone.

There is a telling scene in "Batman & Robin" wherein the Dynamic Duo are racing up the arm of a gigantic, muscular statue, Batman in his Batmobile, Robin on his motorcycle. Robin thinks he can make a big jump. Batman isn't sure. They argue. Batman shuts off the controls on Robin's motorcycle. Robin's cycle stops. He curses Batman.

This is followed by one of my favorite dialogue exchange in movie history.

Robin: I mean, this is your idea of friendship, isn't it, Bruce? It's your house, it's your rules, it's your way or the highway! It's Batman and Robin, not Robin and Batman, and I'm sick of it!

Batman: Yes, it's my rules. *My* rules to keep us alive, and if you want to stay in this house, and on this team, you will abide by them!

Robin: This is no partnership. You're never gonna trust me!

First off, this is just FILLED with double entendres, the most obvious of which is the word "team." Batman is basically saying, "if you want to stay gay, you'll be gay the way I tell you to be gay." Compare this to a similar piece of dialogue from "Brokeback Mountain"...

Jack Twist: You count the damn few times we have been together in nearly twenty years and you measure the short fucking leash you keep me on.

Throughout the Schumacher tale, Batman undermines Robin tries to keep him in his place, and won't accept him as his partner or equal.

Does that sound familiar? If not, merely go up a few paragraphs and re-read the part where I wrote, "Jack desperately wants Ennis to accept him completely as his partner, but Ennis constantly undermines him, and keeps him in place."

In both movies, Ennis & Batman come to accept their partner in the end. In fact, Batman says to Robin...

Batman: I'm asking you. Friend. Partner. Brother. Will you help me?

That's right. He calls him "partner." And sure, the last image of Schumacher's romp is Batman and Robin running towards the screen alongside Batgirl, but think of her more as decoration or arm candy. The modern-day Aunt Harriet. A beard big enough for two people to share.

And, not to give away the ending of "Brokeback" for those who haven't seen it, but I suppose you can figure out that Ennis eventually accepts Jack as his "partner."

Everything is tied up in one big, sloppy bow.

So, here's the part where you say, "I get it, I get it. Batman & Robin shares a lot of similarities with "Brokeback Mountain." But that doesn't change the goddamned fucking fact that 9 years ago I wasted 8 bucks of my hard earned money on this piece of crap! So, convince me it's good, Tsapelas."

First off, calm the heck down. I didn't make you see "Batman & Robin," so don't get all pissy.

Second off, look at it this way. Joel Schumacher was given 125 million dollars (!) of studio money to make a crowd-pleasing Batman movie.

Instead, he made an overindulgent, campy, homoerotic, gaudy, tacky, two hours and five minute PERSONAL film about the love between two iconic characters, and their ability to overcome all. This is truly as "indie" as "Brokeback," only he convinced a mainstream audience to see it under the pretense that it was another Batman movie. A brilliant move, if I do say so.

If you're still hating, keep in mind that in order for "Batman Begins" to have been born, it needed to phoenix out of the ashes of the slowly dying 1989-1997 "Batman" franchise. Otherwise, we would've been assaulted with more big name actors playing colorful villains, for years and years, and not been given a serious take on the character. In one quick summer, "Batman & Robin" destroyed a lucrative franchise to make way for something so much better. So, you needed to waste nine dollars on it. Big whoop.

But, in summation, I want to say to Joel Schumacher, who I'm sure isn't reading this, that "Batman & Robin" is, first and foremost, YOUR film. Don't be ashamed of it. Quit apologizing for it. Be PROUD of it. Because, I assure you, in 20 years, no one is going to remember "Batman," "Batman Returns" or "Batman Forever." They will only remember "Batman & Robin," and it will live on the same way "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and "Plan 9 From Outer Space" have lived on. As midnight movies.

When the Best Picture award is presented this year by some big actor (I'm pulling for Lance Henriksen or Robert Hegyes) and "Brokeback Mountain" is announced, and everyone is praising it for being the first Hollywood movie to tackle gay romance, I want you to look your TV straight in the eye and say, "'Batman & Robin' did it first."

Author's Bio: Steven Tsapelas has been called "inarticulate" by the New York Times, "insensitive" by ex-girlfriends, and "trash" by some kid on a View Askew Message Board. He spent elementary school in "Special Gym" and high school in "Co-Ed Gym." He wrote and directed the short film "Teenage Superhero Pregnancy Scare," and has been Googling it ever since. He dabbles in karaoke, as evidenced by this photo.

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