The Bats of Austin

I don’t even remember how I got the idea to drive to Austin. At the time, I think I was still reading Ain’t It Cool News, an Austin-based site, and maybe they had something on there about the Alamo Drafthouse. The name recognition for this theater chain has increased even more in subsequent years (last year, for less than desirable reasons) but it was new to me then, and my imagination was sufficiently regaled by the idea of a place like the theater pubs of Portland, Oregon where you could eat and drink while you watched new movies. In addition to holding a special screening of The Dark Knight in a real-life bat cave outside the city, they had quote-along screenings of classic films and all these other cool theater events and it almost made the place seem like a movie mecca that I needed to visit at least once in my life. Farting around aimlessly online one day probably led me down the Wikipedia rabbit hole to Austin.

That year, I had spent my spring break volunteering in New Orleans as part of the ongoing Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. I wanted to go back to the Big Easy, so I hatched a plan to drive from Florida’s capital to New Orleans to San Antonio and the capital of Texas, following a similar path to the one Jon Favreau’s character would take years later after Favreau had moved on from directing Iron Man movies and returned to his indie-drama roots with Chef.

In Austin, there’s a bridge leading into the downtown area known as the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. This bridge houses the world’s largest urban bat colony. At twilight, tourists gather to see the bats flying out from under the bridge. It’s a majestic sight, like something out of Batman Begins, to see these squeaking creatures drop out of the bridge’s dark crevices and take to the sky in undulating waves. For me as a 27-year-old, it was a spiritual experience, sort of a real-life Batman pilgrimage, one that helped reawaken my interest in travel. (My extremely shoddy camerawork in the clip above doesn’t do it justice.)

Because of the timing of my trip, I didn’t end up getting to attend a bat-cave screening of The Dark Knight in Austin. Instead, it was Wanted, another comic book movie released that summer, starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, and Morgan Freeman, that I wound up seeing at the Alamo Drafthouse on Sixth Street. In a way, this choice ended up being more significant, because at the end of the movie (spoiler alert), when McAvoy’s loser turned assassin looks right at the camera and asks the audience, “What the fuck have you done lately?” I felt like he was speaking to me directly.

A Decade After The Dark Knight

One of the most useful pieces of advice that I heard not so long ago as an aspiring entertainment writer actually came from a source that should be familiar around these parts. It was something the illustrious David Chen, host of the /Filmcast, said on one of his podcasts.

As I remember it (poorly, no doubt), he was talking about how online writing and/or podcasting about pop culture had gotten to be a much more crowded market now than it was when he got started with the /Filmcast all those years ago during the summer of The Dark Knight. He said something to the effect that the best piece of advice he could give for a content creator who wanted to make a career out of it in today’s oversaturated market would be to merge himself or herself with an existing brand.

This extends well beyond blogging, of course. It’s what we’ve seen happen in Hollywood more and more in recent years as the mid-range drama has disappeared and directors and actors have increasingly linked themselves up with established franchises. Would Christopher Nolan have been able to make Inception, Interstellar, or Dunkirk had it not been for his success with the Batman movies?

Christopher Nolan Indian

One of the first /Film articles I wrote last year was a piece about why Nolan was the quintessential filmmaker of the 2000s. That article was the fulfillment of a dream over a decade in the making.

I don’t know if The Dark Knight outright invented the modern movie news cycle. I know it did that for me but I wouldn’t presume to apply my own truth universally. I do know, just from talking to people and reading what others have written, that there’s a legion of fans out there, each of whom probably has his or her own autobiographical Dark Knight tale.

I guess the point of this long, navel-gazing one of mine is that The Dark Knight inspired me before I even knew what to do with that inspiration — how to funnel it into productive pursuits and not just let it wither on the vine. He was just a person, flesh and blood like the rest of us, but Heath Ledger’s light is one that burned brief, bright, and brilliant in this world, like the Fourth of July fireworks going off behind Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. If there’s any burden of responsibility that falls upon the living, it’s to use the gifts you’ve got and to make something of your life, not let it be squandered.

Whatever else The Dark Knight might be, it’s not an exaggeration to say this movie changed my life. There’s never been another movie, not even a Star Wars movie, that I went to see eight times in the theater. The experience leading up to The Dark Knight is a big part of what led me to where I am today.

Hopefully, this story has served as an effective time capsule. Maybe some other reader and future writer out there will find it useful.

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