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A Conversation between Scott Foundas and Christopher Nolan

By Guest Contributor Chris McEwen

“These are films that have really presented an epic vision of America that goes well beyond the parameters of what we might think of when someone says ‘comic book movies,’” noted Film Society of Lincoln Center associate program director (and soon-to-be head Village Voice head film writer) Scott Foundas when describing Christopher Nolan’s hugely influential Dark Knight trilogy, before introducing Nolan himself at a special Lincoln Center event last evening. However, when Nolan revealed how he first came to the character of Batman, his answer could not have initially seemed more removed from his own franchise’s gritty underpinnings.

So what was Nolan’s first Batman memory? Naturally, watching the 1960s Adam West series as a five-year-old. “You have no concept of the campiness… the primal feeling of the character comes through to a young boy,” added Nolan.

This immediate contrast between comic book stakes and genuinely identifiable emotion set the tone for much of the evening’s discussion, as Foundas and Nolan engaged in an extended talk focused around Nolan’s series of Batman. From the start, Nolan was quick to point out that while his films are generally regarded for their realism, it’s not a literal reality that he strives to capture.

“It’s often misconstrued as a direct reality, but it’s really about a cinematic reality… trying to find a translation of it that has the same credibility,” said Nolan. “If you look at what Tim Burton did, it very specifically created a world that Batman fits into. What I felt I hadn’t seen, and what I got from reading the comics, was an ordinary world we could all walk around in.”

Yet that’s also not to say that Nolan places sole premium on verisimilitude. When asked how the Dark Knight films (Begins specifically) function in a post-9/11 world, he made a point of saying that “I feel a responsibility as a filmmaker first and foremost to create an entertainment.” All the same though, the political parallels remained key to his contemporary deconstruction of Gotham. “In taking on an action film set in a great American city post-9/11… if we were going to be honest to our own fears and what might threaten this great city of Gotham, then we were going to come up with the idea of terrorism, and how that might feature into the universe of Batman.”

The evening was just as focused on Nolan’s cinematic fixations as his sociopolitical ones though, and somewhat unsurprisingly, one series jumped out as a specific inspiration. “The Bond movies are fixed in my head as a great example of scope and scale,” Nolan said, adding that The Spy Who Loved Me has been a specific reference point that he’s return to frequently.

Of course, the night couldn’t have ended without a question regarding Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s highly anticipated reboot of the Superman franchise, which Nolan is producing. (“Producing’s a lot easier than directing,” Nolan added dryly. “I’m doing it as we speak.”) As the film won’t be unveiled until next summer, Nolan remained guarded, but stressed the extent to which he feels “what’s Zack’s done is incredible, and it’s something we’ve never really seen before. It’s quite a new, fresh take on the character.” Thankfully, with this series of Batman movies in particular, new and fresh takes on old ideas are something that Nolan happens to know a lot about.