Five Favorite Films with Joel Schumacher
Plus, the veteran director reflects on his career, Batman, his admiration for Christopher Nolan, and working with Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman on Trespass.
Veteran director Joel Schumacher has had an eclectic, sometimes distinguished, and never less than colorful career across four decades in Hollywood. Though for some his name is synonymous with the camp excesses of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, the self-described "street kid from New York" boasts a much deeper and more varied filmography that includes cult gems, blockbuster thrillers and tense, micro genre pieces.
As a young production designer he worked on vintage Woody Allen movies like Sleeper and Interiors before penning a series of urban pictures -- Car Wash, Sparkle and The Wiz -- that bottled something of a minor cult zeitgeist. Schumacher made his debut behind the lens directing Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and as the '80s wore on he was responsible for the seminal "brat pack" films St. Elmo's Fire and Flatliners, while in between he would helm 1987's stone-cold classic The Lost Boys -- back when teen vampires were original, funny and menacing. After unleashing an unforgettably mad-as-hell Michael Douglas on Los Angeles in Falling Down, Schumacher spent the '90s alternating between high-profile adaptations like A Time To Kill and the candy-colored second-phase of Warner Bros.' Batman franchise, where he was called upon, as he recounts, to render the dark knight more accessible (and, by his own admission, to became a salesman for a toy line).
Schumacher's last decade has mostly seen him scaling back his projects, with the likes of Phone Booth, Tigerland and Veronica Guerin realigning the filmmaker with his preferred mode of lower budget, darker movies on the fringes. With his latest, the heightened home invasion thriller Trespass, starring Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman, in theatrical release this week, we spoke candidly with Schumacher about his career. Read on to hear his thoughts on Batman, including how he wanted to direct The Dark Knight and almost cast Nicolas Cage as the Scarecrow, his admiration for Christopher Nolan's films, and his preference for smaller, darker films. But first, after much agonizing, he laid down his all-time five favorite films.
I'd have to say number one is the Russian War and Peace, which is eight hours long [laughs] and is, I think, the greatest film ever made. Just in scope, and size, and the genius of Sergei Bondarchuk, and the majesty of it. It took 10 years to make, and everyone in it ages the 10 years [they do] in the book. So there are no other actors playing the other people; the children all grow 10 years and so do the older people. That's pretty amazing in itself. And there was no CGI, so when you see the Battle of 1812 of Borodino it seems like there are just 50,000 soldiers on horseback. It was made by the Russian government, which is why they had access to everything and so much money. I would have to say that was my number one.
Number two... I would usually say Lawrence of Arabia but I'm sure everyone says Lawrence of Arabia -- and it is one of the greatest movies ever made -- but I was trying to think of others, and I would have to say a Billy Wilder one. I would say Double Indemnity, only because it's never been matched. That plot has been copied, you know, a million times, but that was the first. And his dialogue is great. Billy Wilder's one of my favorite directors. I would like to pick five of his movies but I'll say Double Indemnity because no-one's ever matched it. Well, no-one's ever matched Sunset Boulevard, either.
You worked as a production designer on a late film with Gloria Swanson. Did you ever meet her?
Yes. She was... she was odd. I'd read about how in the '20s she had started a macrobiotic diet and was a great believer in Zen and seemed to be very ahead of her time, so I assumed I would be working with a highly enlightened human being. [Laughs] And I'm not saying she was unpleasant, but she was far from enlightened, and very critical of everything and everybody. But that's okay -- she was Gloria Swanson. [Laughs] Legends can act like legends.
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is truly one of my favorite movies of all time. I think that it is, you know, Peter Greenaway's genius, and it has my favorite actress in the world, Helen Mirren. It also has Michael Gambon, and Tim Roth -- I mean, we could go on. The visuals are magnificent. I think it is the consummate piece about the greed of the '80s. It's pure theatre and it's just a visual masterpiece.
Speaking of that, we must go to Blade Runner -- true visual genius, and also in a class never matched. I saw it the first show, the first day, with a bunch of my friends. I can remember that because it was at the Cinerama dome in Hollywood, and it was on that huge screen with that incredible sound system. I still remember that great Vangelis music. But that opening -- it's embedded in my mind, that opening, with that scape of the city and its almost Mayan-like temple formation and those fires out of nowhere shooting up. Plus, Sean Young -- that interview [with Harrison Ford's Deckard] is unbelievable. I got a lovely letter from her last year. I worked with her on Cousins. Amazingly, amazingly beautiful. And of course it has the great Harrison Ford, and Edward James Olmos, and we could just go on and on with that movie. Daryl Hannah is great in it. And the doll guy, William Sanderson, who I got to work with on The Client -- he played one of Tommy Lee Jones' posse. One of the great things about my job is that I've been able to cast, sometimes, my favorite people.
Next, Schumacher talks about his career, his involvement with the Batman franchise, and why we prefers to make smaller films like this week's thriller, Trespass.
Apocalypse Now. I would ordinarily say The Conversation, because it was so ahead of its time, but Apocalypse Now -- another masterpiece. Also, a lot of these movies would never be made today. But -- I'm leaving out Scorsese, I'm leaving out David Fincher; you know, I'm leaving out some of the great Europeans. I'm leaving out 100, or a 1000 movies that we could talk about. I've been a fan of Chris Nolan's since I saw his black-and-white film, Following. I saw that movie in Paris years and years ago and I thought, "We're gonna hear from this guy, this is an amazing talent." I'm glad people really recognized it early enough to support him. There are so many other movies we could talk about. There are at least five David Leans. There are at least five Fellinis. Five Viscontis. John Ford. John Huston. Minelli. And Kubrick! I didn't say Kubrick! I should be thrown out of film for that. It's really hard. I don't know how you do it.