Each of us has a favorite Batman movie. My own allegiance still lies with the one Tim Burton directed in 1989, a prototype of the modern dark superhero blockbuster in which Jack Nicholson made quite an impact as the Joker. But Heath Ledger made an even bigger one in The Dark Knight, an especially beloved entry in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman pictures of the 21st century. These days, with enough distance, some even admit to enjoying Joel Schumacher’s ultra-campy takes on Batman from the late 1990s, or their spiritual predecessor Batman: The Movie from 1966, an extension of the self-parodying television series starring Adam West. But before all of them there was Batman Dracula, directed by no less a visionary — and no less a Batman fan — than Andy Warhol.
Starring Warhol’s fellow experimental filmmaker Jack Smith in both title roles, Batman Dracula pits the Caped Crusader of comic-book fame against the vampiric Transylvanian count of legend, the millionaire vigilante who seems to fear nothing but bats against the immortal recluse who spends much of his time in the form of a bat.
Smith may bear a faint resemblance to Christian Bale, Nolan’s Batman, but there all aesthetic resemblance to the “real” Batman movies ends. Shot in black and white on various rooftops around New York and Long Island as well as in Warhol’s “Factory,” Warhol’s unauthorized approach to the material seems to get as abstract and spontaneous as most of the cinema put together by his coterie — or at least the surviving footage makes it look that way. Though Warhol did complete Batman Dracula, he only showed it at a few of his art shows before DC Comics called and demanded an immediate end to its screenings.
Nobody has found a complete print since, but you can watch a few minutes of the surviving footage cut to “The Nothing Song” by the Velvet Underground & Nico (a much more enduring product of the Factory) in the video at the top of the post. Below that we have the LowRes Wünderbred video essay “Deconstructing Andy Warhol’s Batman Dracula,” which provides more details on the making of Batman Dracula and its context in the careers of Warhol and his collaborators. The Film Histories video on Batman Dracula just above gets into how the movie opened up a “Pandora’s box” of unauthorized Batman and Batman-like movies, including The Wild World of Batwoman and the Filipino Alyas Batman at Robin. So many Batman projects, official and otherwise, now exist, and so many more remain to be made. But will any of the material’s future stewards push its artistic boundaries as much as Warhol did?
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.