Whenever I think of Catwoman, there is only one depiction of the character that always comes to mind: Michelle Pfeiffer in a homemade black vinyl suit. Her appearance in Tim Burton’s spectacular Batman Returns (1992) is nothing short of iconic. For myself, and many others, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the pinnacle of the comic book character’s live action debut.
In the comics, Catwoman is the alter ego of Selina Kyle: a jewel thief with a tragic past. Much like Bruce Wayne, she lost both of her parents at a young age (her mother to suicide and her father to alcoholism). Unlike Bruce, she did not have the Wayne fortune to make her life somewhat easier after such a tragic beginning. As such, a young Selina Kyle was remanded to an abusive state home for orphaned delinquents. She eventually escaped, and became a pick pocket before joining a carnival – where she learnt the art of contortionism, gymnastics, magic and trickery. Later, she dabbled in prostitution and continued thievery as a means of getting by. Although her comic book history is a lengthy one, and has undergone a variety of changes over time, there are two notable aspects to her that make her one of the most interesting of Batman’s villains: she debuted in 1940’s BATMAN #1 making her as prolific as The Joker, and she later becomes a love interest for the titular protagonist.
Selina Kyle’s comic book history aside, there are a few differences to consider when speaking about the portrayal of the character in the film, Batman Returns (1992). Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, for a start, is a mild mannered secretary for Max Schrek, the owner of a business empire known as Shreck’s department stores. Her past is not elaborated upon in the film, but her parents do seem very much alive. Rather, her transformation into the Catwoman is at the forefront of her character’s development. With that in mind, the film showcases how Selina unintentionally comes across a dastardly secret about Max Schreck and his plan to put Gotham under his control. Max finds out that Selina knows, and subsequently pushes her out of his office window – on the building’s top floor.
Selina survives the fatal fall, and mysteriously regains her consciousness when revived by a group of stray cats. She eventually makes it home, where she suffers a psychotic break after seeing an advertisement for Schreck’s perfume. She then creates her iconic costume, sets out to take revenge on Schreck, and ends up falling in love with Batman. This is the birth of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and, as they say, the rest is marvellous history.
As an ode to the powerful, strong, independent, incredibly sexy and slightly unhinged version of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, I have put together a playlist of music that, in my opinion, best personifies her character in the film. From Selina Kyle ‘pre-falling to her death’, to her transformation into Catwoman, and eventual obsession with Batman; I hope I have created a playlist that does this iconic character justice.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman Playlist
1. Tearing Me Up – Bob Moses
Before her transformation, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman was a mild mannered lady named Selina Kyle. A hard working introvert who lived alone with only her cat, Miss Kitty, and dolls to keep her company. As a secretary for Max Schrek, she was also privy to a lot of confidential information. Unfortunately for Miss Kyle, that information would eventually lead to Max attempting to kill her.
Bob Moses’ song ‘Tearing Me Up’ captures the moment that Max confronts Selina, just before she is pushed out of the office window. Although Moses’ song is most likely about love and relationships, it can be construed as Max’s internal dialogue about what he should do with Selina and the secrets that she knows: “So careless in my company; Oh, if all that you say is true; There’ll be no getting over you” – unless he gets rid of her first. Lastly, ‘Tearing Me Up’ may also reflect the way that Selina is feeling at that particular point in time, torn between keeping Max’s dastardly secret or confronting him with the truth by standing up for herself. Needless to say, she stood up to him “And what was so wrong felt so right”, even if it ended in her untimely demise.
2. Black Mambo – Glass Animals
Where ‘Tearing Me Up’ viewed Selina’s demise from Max’s eyes, ‘Black Mambo’ is the inverse. It describes Selina’s delayed and frightening realisation that her boss is nothing more than “Snake eyed; With a sly smile”. Worse still, “He can hold you; And shake you child”, right out of a skyscraper’s window.
The dizzying melody in ‘Black Mambo’ also lends itself beautifully to Selina’s spiral to the ground below. Her fall, slowed down by the song’s rhythm and the canopies that she tears through, captures the impact and gravity of the moment; and how “He’s been waiting to bring you down”. It also, interestingly, includes aspects of her unlikely revival by the cats that come to her aid, the same ones that “Tickle that cheek” with their “Leopards laze each”, waiting for Selina to wake from her secretarial “paperback dreams”.
3. Resurrection – Son Lux
When speaking of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, the resurrection scene in the film is a stand out moment for both the character and the audience. For all intent and purpose, we are led to believe that Selina is dead. Not knowing any better, Gotham’s ravenous felines surround her in the hopes that she will be their next meal. It is a brutal depiction of the reality of the situation, “It’s an impossible thought, so you theorise”.
After some time, Selina stirs and wakes to her newfound reality. One that forces her “Out of the darker day and into the brighter night”. The thematic melody of Resurrection by Son Lux captures both the sheer incredulity of the scene and the unusual revival of the how the character must be feeling: “Is this what the resurrection feels like?… From the other side?”. Unbeknownst to Selina, her resurrection is about to change her life in a profound way.
4. Animal (Stripped) – MISSIO
The moment Selina opens her eyes for the first time is nothing short of chilling. Somehow, she survived. Although alive, it is quite clear that something about her has changed. She appears raw, untamed and utterly adulterated. After all, how could an event like that not have an impact – figuratively and literally?
Selina has been stripped of all that she is. Max Schrek has made her “feel unappreciated”, “debilitated” and, for good reason, “agitated”. She is no longer the placid secretary from before. She is morphing into something more. MISSIO’s Animal has a haunting vocal element that helps convey the change that Selina is going through. At first, it is a feeling that sits beneath the skin, making it crawl. She is not yet aware of what is happening, but she knows she has changed on a fundamental level. Then, she snaps.
5. Monsters – Ruelle
In Batman Returns (1992), there is a scene whereby Selina is listening to her voicemails. One message turns out to be an advertisement for the company she works for. After having just survived being killed by her boss; the shock and revenge utterly consumes her: “One look in my eyes, And you’re running ’cause I’m coming, Gonna eat you alive”. The repetitive riff in Ruelle’s ‘Monsters’ does a fantastic job of slowly building the score to a crescendo that coincides with Selina’s mental break and new drive for vengeance.
Monsters are not born. They are created. Time and time again it has been shown how most villainous people have a past that, on some level, drives them to ‘the dark side’ (for others, it is just about money – the root of all evil). For Selina it was being taken for granted in the workplace and, the final straw, being pushed to her death and left for dead. There is no denying that she felt the need for revenge, “feeling like a villain, got a hunger inside”, but it was not until it consumed her that the metamorphosis took hold… and Catwoman was born.
6. Without You (feat. Kerry Leatham) – Lapalux
One of the absolute best and defining aspects of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is how wonderfully and unashamedly sexy she is. She is no longer the prudish and conservative Selina Kyle. She is now The Catwoman. A feline inspired goddess who is fully in-tune with her sexuality, and the effects it has on both men and women. She knows how to use her new found bravado to her advantage, and she is all the more powerful for it.
‘Without You’ from Lapalux has an incredibly sensuous melody; one that is surprisingly about loss. In many ways, it is almost the perfect song for this version of Catwoman. Not only does it embrace the confidence and sensual nature of the now skin-tight vinyl cladded Catwoman – who is powered by vengeance and “Haunted by the forces that suck you in, That pull you under, Tight”; but it also lyrically laments the loss of the timid Selina Kyle who had to be suppressed for her to ‘survive’ – “I didn’t want you to leave me, I didn’t want to leave you”. Nevertheless, and as she exclaims in the film, she feels “so much yummier” as Catwoman.
7. I don’t give a… (feat. Zeale) – MISSIO
With the old Selina Kyle out of the way, the all new Catwoman is ready to take on the world. Kitted out in a gorgeous homemade suit, high heels, whip and claws; she decides to go out and test her new found feline prowess. Empowered by vengeance, there is nothing that Catwoman fears; after all “You don’t know what’s in my head, You think you do but you really don’t”.
In keeping with both the comic book variant of the character and the new version from the film, Catwoman’s first foray into crime is targeting the jewellery section of a Schrek department store. As the vengeance consumes her, she destroys everything in sight and rigs the building to blow. Before the inevitable explosion, she comes into contact with Batman. He saves her and then confronts her for her crimes, “What are you gonna say to me; What are you gonna do with me”? Naturally, they battle it out, and Catwoman beautifully embraces MISSIO’s chorus: “Hold up wait a minute I don’t give a (I don’t give a), I don’t give a (I don’t give a)”; before she stabs him and flees the scene. Proving, once and for all, that she will do just as she pleases. Meow!
8. Lips – Lipless
Catwoman is always ‘the one that got away’ when it comes to Batman. As such, and to say the least, they have a tumultuous relationship in both the comics and films. Despite attempting to reject her advances, Batman always falls for Catwoman’s charisma, charm and seductive nature. Much like the uplifting melody in ‘Lips’ by Lipless, their love is addictive.
Naturally, there are moments when Catwoman will have her way with gold old batsy. “I see your lips go even closer; I see the way you look at me”, whether a full on kiss or a seductive lick, followed by a purr, she always gets what she wants. Even when she does not realise that she already has the bat in her claws.
9. Forbidden Love – Madonna
An interesting element of Batman Returns (1992), is how Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle manage to engage in a real world relationship. Through a moment of serendipity, they are introduced and the chemistry between them is undeniable: “Just one smile on your face; Was all it took to change my fortune; Just one word from your mouth; Was all I needed to be certain”. The best part is how the two heroes have no idea about their true alter egos – something that only the viewer is aware of because “They lived in a different kind of world”. That of their alter egos.
Every superhero, whether good or bad, has an alter ego. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, in this instance, is that secondary personality to Selina Kyle, just as much as Batman is to Bruce Wayne. Yet, despite this, fate pitted them together with “Hearts that intertwine” through both dualities. Thus causing both of them to enter into a truly “Forbidden Love”, one that is not without consequence.
10: Wicked Game – Emika
The end of Batman Returns (1992) is bitter sweet for both Batman and Catwoman. During the final events of the film, Bruce and Selina realise that they are Batman and Catwoman, respectively. It is a shocking revelatory moment for both heroes, one that speaks to the time that Batman saved Catwoman, “The world was on fire and no one could save me but you”. In that moment of clarity, both heroes question whether they should be together in what has become, rather unfortunately, a “Wicked Game”.
Given their relevant histories, and how well they match as people, it is obvious that neither were ready “Cause I never dreamed that I’d love somebody like you”. Selina knows enough about Batman and Bruce to surmise that he will not allow her to kill Max – her ultimate goal of vengeance. Alas, they never do get to find out what would happen. Pengiun arrives with army in tow, and during the battle that commences, both Batman and Catwoman are grievously shot. Catwoman is presumed dead.
11: Full Circle – Haelos
Everyone knows that cats have nine lives. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is no different. Throughout the film she makes references to the lives she has lost and the ones she has remaining. Although she was shot four times at the climax of the film, none were fatal – thus making her “Like a serpent coiling, no end”.
Before the film closes out completely, however, there is a shot of Catwoman staring at the moon. As is often the case with heroes and villains, their story has come “Full Circle”. Only to begin again “like we’ve all forgotten again”.
Bonus Track: Baby Got Back – Sir Mix-A-Lot
I would be remiss for not acknowledging that Batman Returns (1992) released in the same year as Baby Got Back from Sir Mix-A-Lot. Although ‘twerking’ was not as much of a cultural phenomenon as it is today, I would like to think that Catwoman would have completely embraced this song with some empowered hip swaying. Granted, her ‘booty’ might not be as described in the song, but I feel that Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman had more than enough perk to make up for it.
There are many more songs that I feel could personify Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman. With that said, I attempted to tell a story with the playlist embedded above. One that takes listeners on a transformative journey that sees Selina Kyle break free from her restrictive shackles, all the way through to how she embraces her empowered femininity as The Catwoman.
Did you enjoy this Playlist? Do you have a different suggestion for this list? Reckon you have an idea for a better musical choice for any of the aforementioned spots? Whatever the case may be, let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check back fortnightly for a brand new Playlist featured article.