Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gods Of Cinema: Joel Schumacher

I realize starting off a series of salutes to filmmakers who have captured my heart with someone of the percieved caliber like Joel Schumacher is sketchy at best, but, Cinema Du Meep truly believes the heart wants want the heart want. Right? Mr. Schumacher's career in cinema is chock full of ups and downs, seemingly the bad far outweighing the good. But taking a closer look I found myself enjoying, for the most part, much of Schumacher's oeuvre regardless. Though not without drawing the line at a picture or two that just left me cold. No one's ever accused Mr. Schumacher of ever being a maverick director. In fact, he's usually associated with the word "Hack". But more often than not he simply makes capably made films within the studio system parameters. Going through his work I often found common threads. For one, Mr. Schumacher's films for the most part are pretty modern. He tends to make movies that are really grounded in the time period they are in. Naturally this will date a film, but it's bold when a director wants to keep things fresh and just make films that interest him at that certain point of time. Witness someone like Martin Scorsese. When he makes his historical epics or biopics, I often spend the entire film wishing they had the bristling immediacy of movies like Mean Streets or After Hours. In other words, someone wake me up after they are over, please. Also, Mr. Schumacher's pictures tend to have characters in desperate situations, coming to terms with whatever grievances through other human contact. Through the darkness of it all, at the end of the day, there's a glimmer of light. You find a real sense of hopefulness in humanity. A far cry from his peers who often make extremely dark or light films that leave you feeling nothing but indifference. And then there's the cheesy, glossy goodness. And this is where Mr. Schumacher excels best. Over the past few years he's made films that were a bit more rough at the edges and emotionally complex, but as interesting as some of those are, can they compare to the totally awesome 80's goodness of THE LOST BOYS (1987), D.C. CAB (1983) or ST. ELMO'S FIRE (1985)? Can we really blame Mr. Schumacher for going to over-the-top wacky places the 2 Batman's sequels in the 90s (BATMAN FOREVER (1995)/ BATMAN & ROBIN (1997) went to? Okay, maybe we could, but those films seemed like more than anything of wanting to inspire memories of the 60's Television show. But now complete with a never ending budget for neon and glitter. As camp as they were, they had a knowing sense of humor about themselves. And you know what? I kind of prefer them to Nolan's ultra serious representations with his 2 outings in the past few years. But then again, what do I know. Superhero movies were never my thing. My heart really only belongs to the first 2 Christopher Reeve Superman romps.
Did I really just defend those Batman movies? Lord, have mercy.
As silly as a Schumacher can get, they definitely can get pretty serious. He's made some films that seemed pretty angry. I would count among his best: FALLING DOWN (1993), TIGERLAND (2003) and PHONE BOOTH (2002) The last being a script by my one of my favorite filmmakers, Larry Cohen. PHONE BOOTH by in large was pretty ignored and chalked up as a gimmick instead of a movie. I felt it was pretty taut and captivating and exactly the kind of plot I'd expect to see a couple of Native New Yorkers like Larry & Joel cook up. And after learning the film was made more on a minuscule budget (at least for a Hollywood film) and in only 10 days, I was all the more impressed. Then there are his film's that kind of sit at the low end of the totem poll. Some better than others. COUSINS (1989), 8MM (1999), BAD COMPANY (2002) and his 2 John Grisham Adaptations A TIME TO KILL (1996) and THE CLIENT (1994) just exist as working gigs. And why not... I've also been surprised by a couple of his films that I didn't think I would care much for... FLAWLESS (1999) and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004) are from opposite worlds yet they share a real sense of warmth within. I would say Flawless & 8MM mark a beginning to a more rough and tumble aesthetic period for Schumacher and I think it's where he as a filmmaker just lets go and enjoys what can just be cooked up as you work. Flawless has a pretty conventional plot; it's a fish out of water story essentially, but Schumacher layers a lot of humanity into it. And by the end credits, you totally love those guys. 8mm, not so much! PHANTOM is just a lovingly crafted movie. A real love letter to fans of the story and musical, and a stunning visual for the cinema fan. Mr. Schumacher has always had a real sense of visuals, and he brings them alive in some of his films. DYING YOUNG (1991) and FLATLINERS (1990) aren't the best of the bunch, but while watching both I often get caught up in that style. It really transcends. Even the inert Jim Carrey Thriller THE NUMBER 23 (2007) had a sumptuous style that almost lured me in. Well, almost. And did I mention the cheesy wonderfulness of kids coming to terms with their problems either via Vampire Slaying or opening all of your windows on a cold Boston day in a furniture repossessed apartment while you lay on the floor cowering in a fetal position? With those 2 films alone, he has my heart. And yes, I did very much enjoy the forgotten Lily Tomlin vehicle he directed that was THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN (1981). Not a bad way to make a feature debut (though he already had directed a couple of TV-Movies) And I should mention he was an established screenwriter by the time he had made Lily Tomlin get tiny with the musical driven scripts for THE WIZ (1978), CAR WASH (1976) and SPARKLE (1976). Mr. Joel Schumacher, an openly gay filmmaker, came out of costume design, wrote a few flicks, Directed about 20 more and has a few in the pipeline. He puts in the work, he pays the bills, and he has me entertained. Here's to 20 more. As bumpy as some of them just might be.


Ross Horsley said...

I never thought I'd read such a passionate defence of this guy... and you know what? I agree all the way! Whenever I see Schumacher's name as director, I always think, "This'll be interesting, at least." I pretty much like all the films he's directed -- with the exception of Batman & Robin!

Meep Parker said...

Someone had to do it, right?

Thanks Ross. I mean, I'm not the biggest fan of a lot of those films, but, at least they aren't shoved down our throats like certain other filmmakers these days. I admire his durability in this business, greatly. He rules.

Bearded Weirdo Reviews said...

Daring choice. Kudos.

Also, its nice to see I'm not the only lunatic on this plan who actually likes the style he contributed to the Batman movies. They're dumb as hell, but fun as hell too. And the visuals are just fantastic. So inspired. So off-the-wall.

Yes, I too would rather watch Batman Forever any day of the week over Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan can politely suck my jumblies.

Maria Maria said...

Joel T. Schumacher (born August 29, 1939) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer.Some notable films he has directed include The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), St. Elmo's Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987), Cousins (1989), Falling Down (1993), The Client (1994), Batman Forever (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Batman & Robin (1997), Flawless (1999), Phone Booth (2003), Veronica Guerin (2003), The Phantom of the Opera (2004) and The Number 23 (2007). Before he launched his career as a director, Schumacher also wrote the screenplay adaptation of The Wiz (1978). Schumacher was born in New York City, the son of Marian (née Kantor) and Francis Schumacher.[1]
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His mother was a Swedish Jew, and his father was a Baptist from Knoxville, Tennessee, who died when Joel was four years old.[2] Schumacher studied at Parsons The New School for Design and The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.[3] After first working in the fashion industry, he realized his true love was in filmmaking. He moved out to Los Angeles, where he began his media work as a costume designer in films such as Woody Allen's Sleeper and Interiors and developed his skills with television work while earning an MFA from UCLA.

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