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September 9th, 2012

Money and trust and the 1989 Batman

Thoughts are percolating that came from me getting to see the 1989 Batman on Friday, for the first time in a theater since 1989, and here is one of the still-forming ones:

I kind of want to be Alfred.

I want the resources, the resourcefulness (not the same thing), the quiet understanding, the calm in the face of increasing dangers and madness, and the trust of those I work for. Alfred's a great character, and for four films was played by the great Michael Gough; I get the sense that much of his dignity even survived the cringing awfulness of 1997's Batman and Robin, which I saw maybe four minutes of this weekend and which practically made me break out in hives. Sweet yodeling Jesus, this played in theaters? And not as a terrible joke?* But I'm firmly an Alfred appreciator. I remember hearing a fellow geek say that maybe sometime there should be a Batman story where it turns out Alfred is secretly a supervillian, which made me think How much would THAT mess with Bruce Wayne? "Too much" would be my answer; that story would only ever be officially told if the writer(s) responsible wanted to end Bruce Wayne. You don't mess with Alfred Pennyworth; you give him to solid, likable actors like Gough and Michael Caine, father figures you like as father figures.

So. I was impressed with Alfred once again as I watched the 1989 film. And one of many differences in my life since 1989, 23 years ago: I've worked for an eccentric rich guy.

A lot of the time, it wasn't fun.

Now, had I worked for eccentric rich guy Douglas Adams (oh my dear God I've never thought that but now I wish so hard I'd had the chance), that could have been fun. Adams, who eventually almost literally had more money than he knew what to do with, divided his wealth into thirds: one to live on, one to invest with (this third was embezzled, and that story is a lot worse than you think it is, trust me, but the idea is sound despite the reality of what happened), and one to use as "mad money." Money to have fun with. Trips, gourmet meals, good drink, unique experiences, (in Adams's case) great guitars -- he had the funds to function, and do much more than just function, and he did his best to take advantage of that. (Makes me wish Adams didn't have sometimes crippling depression getting in the way of the good functioning.)

Bruce Wayne has that kind of money, squared or cubed or more. But without Alfred, at least in the 1989 film, I doubt he would've gotten so much bang for his buck: Michael Keaton plays a rather scattered Bruce Wayne. It's part of his eccentric charm (the other recent actors to play Bruce Wayne, Val Kilmer and George Clooney and Christian Bale, play more functional Bruce Waynes). But Alfred makes it work -- and with no apparent staff, come to think of it; maybe I only thought of that because the Christopher Nolan Batman films make it clearer how many people work for Wayne and Wayne Enterprises. Anyway, Alfred often shepherds Wayne to what's needed, helps him stay on a productive course. And trusts that he can say what Bruce needs to hear.

And Bruce Wayne's willing to listen. Usually, at least; he wasn't really listening when Alfred brought up how well he and Vicki Vale got along, which led to Alfred just letting Vale into the Bat Cave to learn the truth. That's bold. Quietly bold, because Alfred does almost everything quietly.

I can do things quietly. I need to do more bold things quietly.

Alfred as a role model? Should I go for that? And otherwise avoid working for eccentric rich guys unless I feel I could do -- or be allowed to do -- a good job for one of them?




* And before you diss director Joel Schumacher, I'll add: I really actually like his Batman Forever from 1995, the guy's done iconic film work, I was impressed from the start with 1993's cautionary tale Falling Down, and the man himself has a sense of humor about himself and his work, and what has and hasn't worked about it. I don't count him out even after how bad Batman and Robin was.

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