Responsible for helping to create the caped crusader we all know and love in contemporary cinema, Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman was the first film in the superhero’s cinematic history to treat its subject matter with a dark sincerity. Led by a terrific lead performance from Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson as the iconic Joker, Burton’s film is a much-underappreciated action romp.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, director Tim Burton discussed Keaton’s suitability for the lead role, noting, “They’re somebody who’s intelligent and kind of screwed up. And Michael has such an intensity that it’s like, ‘Yeah, I could see that guy wanting to dress up as a bat’. It’s all rooted in psychology, Jekyll and Hyde and two sides of a personality, light and dark, and he understood that” he concluded.
Fueled by Keaton’s lead performance along with vivid, punchy visuals and a rousing score from Danny Elfman, and Batman would prove to be a great commercial hit.
Elfman’s journey to completing the, now celebrated, score for the film was a rocky one, however. The composer outlined his creative process on the podcast WTF with Marc Maron. Explaining that he had flown out to London to visit the set of the film to seek inspiration for his score, Elfman then revealed that things got particularly awkward on the flight back to Los Angeles when he got that’ ‘eureka’ moment.
Sparking like a creative lightbulb in his mind, Elfman commented, “That hit me at the worst possible time,” referring to him still being on the long-haul flight from London to LA. Speaking to the podcaster the composer stated, “On the way home, the thing fucking hits me. And it was like, what do I do? I’m on a 747. How do I do this? I am going to forget this all. I’m going to land and they’re going to play some fucking Beatles song, and I’m going to forget everything”.
Producing the audio recorder that he carried everywhere with him, Elfman started “running in the bathroom” humming phrases, going back to his seat and thinking. “Ten minutes later, back in the bathroom, And then back to my seat and then back to the bathroom, because I couldn’t do this with the guy sitting next to me,” he explained.
Eventually, Danny Elfman was approached by a flight attendant to make sure everything was OK, “Ten minutes later, I am back in the bathroom, And I open the door and this time there are three flight attendants”. Hilariously Elfman theorised, “they were probably going, ‘What the fuck he is doing so frequently? You can’t do that much blow. You can’t shoot up that often. What is he doing in there?!’ And I, piece by piece, was working out the Batman score in my head”.
Whilst not exactly Abbey Road, the cramped bathroom of a 747 is filled with more musical history than you might think.