Sunday, February 6, 2011

Now this is my kind of Super Bowl story

I’ll go to a Super Bowl party (which is sometimes where I learn who’s playing). I’ll eat some Super Bowl chips. I’ll applaud when there’s a Super Bowl touchdown. (It doesn’t matter which team.) But all of that’s just to join the spirit. I’m not a spectator sports fan.

And yet today, The Wall Street Journal has succeeded in making me care about the Super Bowl.

In “Found at Last: A Tape of the First Super Bowl,” by David Roth and Jared Diamond, a fascinating and perplexing reality is revealed: neither CBS nor NBC, which jointly aired the first Super Bowl, saved a taped copy.

For years, fans, film producers, and The Paley Center for Media in New York have searched for a copy—without luck. Relatively recently, a single tape of this historic game did surface. (Watched by millions, recorded by one.) It’s not complete, and given the technology available in 1967, it’s not without quality flaws, plus the WSJ article floats the possibility (however unlikely) that it’s a fake, but it’s all we’ve (currently) got.

Strange as it may at first seem, this story reminds me of Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator, original writer, and visual architect of Batman.

When Finger died in 1974, he left behind few known photographs and even fewer known interviews. He co-created a character known worldwide yet his own character, for most intents, was a mystery upon his death. In researching my upcoming book about him, I talked to literally hundreds of people—and in doing so, rooted out the first “new” Finger photos in decades.

It shouldn’t have taken that much effort.

This is Batman we’re talking about. And the Super Bowl.

You’d think that these two stratospheric-profile facets of American culture would have been meticulously documented, preserved, archived in plain sight. With no gaps.

While it may be hard to believe that a person of Finger’s accomplishment didn’t leave more of a trace, it’s virtually impossible to believe that it’s only now when a copy of the first Super Bowl has been found. Again, it was shown on two networks.

When director Don Argott began shooting what became his critically-acclaimed 2009 documentary The Art of the Steal, about Albert C. Barnes and his practically priceless art collection, there was no known footage of Barnes, who’d died in 1951. Argott was prepared to make do with only still photographs.

Yet while making his film, film of Barnes happened to turn up…under a bed. What fortuitous timing (imagine if it’d been found just after the film was completed?) and what a fortunate find in general.

Stories like these about the Bowl, Batman, and Barnes make me mad with wonder. What other pop culture relics are still out there, oddly lost and yet to be discovered?


Delmo said...

I saw that documentary-fascinating.

Shouldn't the line "He created a character known worldwide..." read "He co-created..."? I know you and many others want Mr.Finger to get a richly deserved co-creator credit for Batman but, let's not suddenly throw out Bob Kane.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks for commenting, Delmo. That was an oversight that I've now fixed; you probably noticed I did originally include the "co" in the previous paragraph.

However, as I know you know, Kane's credit is contractual, not actual. I do feel that if either man is entitled to a sole "creator" credit, it'd be Finger. The most Kane contributed to the mythos is the name, and even that is disputed; Finger also gives Kane credit for Two-Face.

Finger, meanwhile, unquestionably crafted the iconic look, the atmospheric tone, and the groundbreaking origin.

Still, I'd settle for crediting both men.

Finger first. :)