Director’s Chair Introduction: Joel Schumacher

by Tony Cogan · July 6, 2020 · Director's Chair, Uncategorized · 1 Comment

Deadline: 1 August 2020

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Hello everyone, it’s time to announce the featured director for June and, given the recent news of his passing, this month will serve as a tribute to Joel Schumacher.

Schumacher got started in his career through working as a designer, at Revlon prior to joining film and started his film career in costume and production design. In 1974, his film career really took off through writing and directing a TV movie based on the life of Virginia Hill. From there he worked as a writer on films like Sparkle, The Wiz and Car Wash. He got his first job as a director on a feature film with The Incredible Shrinking Woman, when John Landis left following budget issues, with DC Cab following that.

Schumacher’s name really became known for directing in the mid to late 80s though with St Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys. St Elmo’s Fire was a prominent film for the Brat Pack generation, being a commercial, if not critical success, whilst The Lost Boys was a critical and commercial success. The influence that The Lost Boys had on cultural depictions on vampires cannot be overstated. The more youthful approach Schumacher took with the film helped make vampires cool in the pop culture, later influencing works like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and has been referenced in both the film and TV versions of What We Do in the Shadows.

Schumacher’s career was pretty varied after The Lost Boys, directing films like Cousins, Flatliners and Falling Down, the latter of which was shown in competition at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. During this time Schumacher had critical success adapting some of the works of John Grisham, with his first such adaptation, The Client, earning Susan Sarandon Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Best Actress. Schumacher was planned to direct a third John Grisham adaptation, Runaway Jury, but development issues led to the film being made without his involvement in the end.

After The Client though came the films Schumacher would be most infamous for. After the backlash from McDonald’s over the darkness in Batman Returns, Tim Burton was removed from the series and a search was on for a new director. with Burton selecting Schumacher as his replacement. Whilst his first Batman film, Batman Forever, was a commercial success, in spite of fairly lukewarm reviews, hostility on set from Val Kilmer and Tommy Lee Jones and heavy re-edits with a rumoured 170 minute directors cut, Schumacher’s second Batman film, Batman and Robin, is considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Criticism of the film ranged from the over-acting from the cast, the constant string of ice puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the lighter tone more in line with the Adam West series than the Burton films and the production and costume design. Whilst I think Batman and Robin is a bad film, it does not deserve the reputation it has, not when there are far worse Batman films (e.g. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) out there, whilst I think Batman Forever is a pretty good film on the whole. However, Schumacher’s reputation never really recovered from Batman and Robin and in multiple interviews he apologised for how the film turned out. There have though been reappraisals of the Schumacher Batman films and I would recommend this one from Patrick H Willems, which does a better job at going over Schumacher’s legacy than I could.

After Batman and Robin, there were still a few interesting films from Schumacher, with Phone Booth in particular being a highlight of his post Batman and Robin career, being a tight, tense thriller, along with Tigerland launching the film career of Colin Farrell. His next high profile project though came with him being the personal choice of Andrew Lloyd Weber to direct the film version of The Phantom of the Opera. Whilst the film made its money back and was nominated for Best Original Song, Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography at the Oscars, in the long term this has gotten a bad reputation, with one of the central issues being the casting of Gerard Butler as The Phantom when he cannot sing.

The films Schumacher made after Phantom of the Opera were more middling to negatively received, with his last film, Trespass, going straight to DVD in the UK. Even though his film career didn’t end on a real high note, his overall career did have a better end note with him directing two episodes of the first series of House of Cards. Whilst his films were not always the best received, there is an undeniably legacy that Schumacher left, with his films from the 80s and 90s being unique cultural touchstones for that period.

As a reminder, the films of Schumacher’s that you can cover are listed below.

  • The Incredible Shrinking Woman
  • DC Cab
  • St Elmo’s Fire
  • The Lost Boys
  • Cousins
  • Flatliners
  • Dying Young
  • Falling Down
  • The Client
  • Batman Forever
  • A Time to Kill
  • Batman and Robin
  • 8mm
  • Flawless
  • Tigerland
  • Bad Company
  • Phone Booth
  • Veronica Guerin
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • The Number 23
  • Blood Creek
  • Twelve
  • Trespass

I look forward to reading whatever you send me.