Legendary director Joel Schumacher died today at the age of eighty after a one year battle with cancer.
A highly respected auteur who directed such acting heavyweights as Joaquin Phoenix, Colin Farrell and Julia Roberts, Schumacher began his career in Hollywood inauspiciously as a well-regarded costume designer, working with the likes of Woody Allen before moving on to sit behind the camera.
Schumacher hit the ground running early in his directorial career by helming the so-called Brat Pack in the mid-80s touchstone, St. Elmo’s Fire before moving on to Santa Carla, California and a whole passel of young and good looking vampires in the Warner Brothers hit movie, The Lost Boys. Although populated by the extreme acting chops of such heavy-hitters as Dianne Wiest, Barnard Hughes, Edward Hermann and Jason Patrick, the real legacy of Schumacher’s sophomore effort might very well be the introduction of the Double Threat acting team of Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, respectively known in the annals of pop culture history as The Two Coreys. With Schumacher’s talent and reputation in getting brilliant and witty performances from just about everyone he worked with, he mined and lucratively introduced those two towering icons of the 1980s who would go on to make a succession of films together, sadly none with Mr. Schumacher himself.
As a fan of his films, I followed his trajectory from one project to the next and, years before I knew about his beginnings as a costume designer, suspected via the flashy and moody palette ingrained in his films that his still waters ran quite deep indeed. The punk rock pop colors of something like Lost Boys playing off the moody and gothic vibe he masterfully orchestrated in 1990’s Flatliners were a late 80s/early 90s cocktail par excellence, and belayed his origins in the industry.
Joel Schumacher was a director with versatility and range and the unerring ability to transform his style of direction for whatever his next project called for. Case in point might very well be his steady hand on the underseen 8mm. Starring Nicolas Cage as a gumshoe set with the task of tracking down a missing girl, the story goes to some very dark places, yet the director’s hand never wavers and steadfastly guides his viewers through a 90s tinged noir, made all the more remarkable for the fact that this was the same man who delivered the popcorn candy cherry apple turnover that was Batman and Robin.
And speaking of that seminal film which landed with a resounding thud back in 1997: Schumacher faced the late 20th century variation of the Wilmington Insurrection upon delivery of what most fans of the comic book film genre deem as one of the worst examples of a film-comic book marriage. I’m speaking in very soft terms, of course, about the aforementioned Batman and Robin and I do not bring this up to point out a fallacy in the man’s filmography, but rather offer it up as an example of how irrelevant our past can be if we just rise above the din of noise and push forward with being our best selves. That bit of New Age mumbo jumbo has been brought to you by the amazing filmatic achievement that was Schumacher’s 2000 endeavor, Tigerland and which proved that his dive into the spandex crowd was a blip, a precursor to better times and better film.
In one hour and forty one minutes, Joel Schumacher set the world on notice about not only a new acting talent by the name of Colin Farrell, but a brilliant little film he directed with the catchy title of Tigerland. If ever there were a question of range in relation to Mr. Schumacher, this put the button on any argument. The man had talent and class.
And now Joel Schumacher belongs to the Ages. As a film fan I had taken for granted for so very long his mere presence. It was a no-brainer in my meager little world view that, like clockwork, every year or two there would be a new and intriguing Joel Schumacher film to catch at the local Cineplex. His death diminishes the world of cinema and it diminishes us as fans and students of the moving image.
Perhaps the last words for this hastily scrawled obit belong to the film that really broke Mr. Schumacher wide as a director, 1987’s The Lost Boys. Screenwriters Janice Fischer, Jeffrey Boam and James Jeremias eloquently and unwittingly summed up the appeal of the legendary maestro thusly:
“Oh, they’re just young. We were that age, too, once. But they dress better.”