Culture Crash: The Passing of Director Joel Schumacher

Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

Last month, director Joel Schumacher passed away. More accurately, Schumacher was a fashion designer turned costume designer turned director. His flair for visual spectacle was a constant in his work.

Schumacher directed St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Phone Booth, A Time to Kill, the 2004 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera and plenty of other titles, but what he will probably be most remembered by – for better or worse – are the two Batman films he directed, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

Batman & Robin, Schumacher’s second Batman film, which starred George Clooney, is often remembered as a total disaster, and, well, it was. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a pun-filled Mr. Freeze and the whole thing comes off too campy for its own good. However, the sour memory of Batman & Robin has caused a lot of people to forget Schumacher’s first foray into Gotham, Batman Forever.

That film, starring Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, is a personal favorite of mine. A movie I revered growing up but revisited for the first time in my adult life in the wake of Schumacher’s passing. Maybe it’s driven in part by nostalgia, but I still found a lot to love in the movie, which sees Schumacher testing just how far he can push the boundaries of camp and absurdism – things that were overindulged in Forever’s sequel – in a movie that still garnered massive appeal. It was panned by critics, and you understand why, but it really is a comic book movie through and through. The movie is corny by design, but it does not lose sight of that visual spectacle that was Schumacher’s trademark. One shot in particular sees Batman drop off a building as the camera zooms past him, then slows down to allow Batman to zoom past it, as the audience is overwhelmed with a flurry of colors. It really is beautiful to look at.

Batman has two personas: one is the hyper-gritty version that so many people, especially me, prefer. The other, though, is the campy character portrayed by Adam West. To me, that version of Batman peaked with Batman Forever

Joel Schumacher was 80 years old.

I’m Evan Rook.


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