Saturday, August 01, 2009

How I Didn't Get To See Batman, But Still Came Out Smiling

I don't much remember TV, from my very young years, but I do remember radio. I remember The Jimmy Clitheroe Show, and I vaguely remember shouting out a catch-phrase of some kind. I'm pretty sure Superman, the old Fleischer animation, was on TV once or twice, and Mighty Mouse, I remember those, but that's all I remember of TV from that period. I do remember going to 'the Pictures' though, the 'movies', every week and I remember every single feature.

We lived at the foot of Great Junction Street, in Leith, opposite the State Leith Cinema, and every Saturday my cousins and neighbours and I would be sent 'over the road' to spend an entire morning watching The Batman, The Scarlett Horseman, Superman, Captain America, King of the Rocketman, Flash Gordon, Zorro, et al, tearing up the screen. I remember the excitement, the noise, and the sheer joy of being part of that huge army of kids cheering the entrance of every hero and booing every villain.

Years later, after we had moved to the area I feature a lot in my comics, Lepertown, I was only an occasional visitor to the movies. Of course the cinema was no longer on our doorstep, but TV had also become much more important, and the shows had become much more sophisticated and child-friendly. Saturday mornings were now spent in the company of the Banana Splits and the Double Deckers.

Somewhere around this period, Batman: the Movie, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, finally made it to Edinburgh, to The Playhouse Cinema (a John Fairweather design based on The Roxy in New York), at the top of Leith Walk, and I was aching to go see it. As fate would have it though, my parents went shopping on the Saturday that all my friends (not a Batman fan amongst them; at least not as big a Batman fan as I) decided to go see the film, and when they came to talk me into going I was unable to go. It would be a gross understatement to describe me as pissed; I was more furious than I can describe even today, that those people were going without me, and that my parents had conspired to deny me my right to see Batman. In fact I think it left a scar that can still be (faintly) detected today.

Okay, so there I am fitting the description 'stroppy kid' already, as you do, and I am also bearing a permanent grudge, because of the denial of my basic human rights as an owner of many Batman comics, and I am acting-up at every single opportunity. In fact I'm doing everything except a 'dirty-room protest' and a 'hunger strike'. Eventually though, it got wearing and so I gave in and accepted my parents' crappy compromise, that I could go to the pictures myself. To see what, I didn't care. I just went, the following Saturday, to the Playhouse expecting, I don't know, something for kids.

So I arrive at the Playhouse and the feature is 'The Red Balloon'. Oh my god, I was furious. This was what I was going to see instead of Batman? It wasn't even in English, it was in French, and I hated French. But that didn't matter after all, because it was a silent-French movie. It just kept getting better.

Anyway, the curtain rose, and what I saw on the screen was a kid like me running around familiar scenes of urban decay, and running through familiar narrow streets that could have been in Edinburgh's Grass Market or in Infirmary Street and almost from the very first second I was transfixed by this simple, silent, tale of a boy and a balloon.

In the beginning the red balloon is just that, on ordinary balloon, a found object, that the boy picks up on his way to school.

But he is not allowed on the bus with his balloon so instead of letting it go he walks to school, and when it rains he finds shelter for the balloon under the umbrellas of strangers.

The balloon slips free and the boy finds it and scolds it and from then on the balloon does his bidding. He no longer even has to hold the string, it follows obediently above him or behind him and even follows the bus when he rides on it.

At this stage of the story the balloon develops a personality of its own as it follows an adult from the boy's school.

After the boy leaves school his balloon, now fully a character in its own right, even retrieves a balloon a little girl has lost.

But there is danger afoot and a gang of boys wants the balloon fro themselves.

Our hero is determined to be reunited with his friend though and after a successful rescue mission he recovers his balloon and race of through the narrow labyrinthine streets of the old town, the gang of boys hotly in pursuit.

On a beach, our cornered hero loses his friend when a stone from a catapult punctures it.

After the red balloon is has the life stamped out of it a curious thing happens, all the balloons all over the town tear themselves away from the people holding them.

And ever single balloon in the place winds its way toward the distraught boy, still standing with his airless friend at his feet.

Gathering all the balloons the boy is lifted up clear over the city.

I didn't know it then, but this simple story would have a much more profound effect on the work I would produce over the years than Batman: the movie, ever would. Indeed, looking at the story now, I think I can see its influence on a great many modern works and classic stories and movies.


Anonymous said...

Maybe its just the color red but those twins are so 'Don't Look Now', dude.


Rod McKie said...

I hadn't thought of that. Not so much twins, but the red dufflecoat. I see what you mean, cinefan.

I had ET in mind, in a vague way, and UP and one or two others. Just mildly inspirational though, a fleeting glimpse.

TIM said...

The red ballon was featured on
the Kula-Fran- and Ollie Saturday
afternoon show: The CBS film