Tail Slate remembers Joel Schumacher, dead at 80

Joel Schumacher

Director Joel Schumacher, best known for two “Batman” films has died at the age of 80, following a year-long battle with cancer.

He got his start in Hollywood as a costume designer, working for directors like Herbert Ross in The Last of Sheila, Woody Allen in Sleeper and Interiors.

He moved from the costume drawing board to the keyboard. He worked with Howard Rosenman to write the screenplay for 1976’s Sparkle. He also wrote Car Wash and the screenplay for The Wiz.

In 1981 Schumacher made his feature film directorial debut with The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Starring Lily Tomlin in the title role, the film was generally panned. In a noted exception to the negative reviews, Roger Ebert wrote “But The Incredible Shrinking Woman is not inane, is sometimes wickedly knowing, and is only periodically boring.”

Joel Schumacher was the costume designer for Sleeper

His next film D.C. Cab was also widely panned by critics. Starring a young Adam Baldwin, Max Gail, Mr. T and Gary Busey, it remains a guilty pleasure of this writer.

Starting in 1985 with St. Elmo’s Fire, Schumacher found box office success, continuing with The Lost Boys and Flatliners. Then came 1993’s Falling Down. Starring Michael Douglas in his edgiest role since Wall Street, he portrays William “D-Fens” Foster. Divorced and kept from his ex-wife and daughter by a restraining order, he is fired from his job. He winds up going on a rampage as a sort of “every-man” who has just been pushed beyond his breaking point. The movie earned a nomination for the Palme d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.

That was followed by a change in direction that nearly derailed Schumacher’s career. Batman Forever was a smash at the box office, as 1995’s top grossing film. But it was a flop in the eyes of critics, earning a rating of only 39% on Rotten Tomatoes. Two years later came Batman and Robin, a film so bad that its star George Clooney reportedly refunds ticket costs to fans who ask him about it. That critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a rating of 11% is no surprise, but that the moviegoer rating checks in at 16% is a shocker. A shocker because it finished at #9 in the 1997 box office derby, with over $107 million in domestic receipts. In an interview years later Schumacher said of Batman and Robin, “Look, I apologize. I want to apologize to every fan that was disappointed because I think I owe them that.”

TailSlate actually gives Schumacher props for the films that followed this disappointment. 8mm and Flawless in 1999, both of which were also commercial failures. However, both films feature very strong performances from their stars.

Schumacher would go on to helm Tigerland, Bad Company and Phone Booth before 2004’s Phantom of the Opera. 2011’s Tresspass was his final film. RIP.

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