RIP: Joel Schumacher (director, showman)

Undeniably a 'showman', Schumacher's passing further highlights a directorial career of two halves...

Legendary director Joel Schumacher has died aged 80, his publicist confirming his passing after a year-long private fight against cancer.  With his death comes plenty of praise but the undeniable observation that his career and production choices were one of the most eclectic and disparate collections of work in the entire industry.

Best known as a director he also worked as a Costume Designer, Production Designer,  Producer and Writer. Over the years the flamboyant film director, openly gay before it was fashionable and certainly before it was widely accepted, was known for a range of high-grossing movies – some acclaimed, some mainstream fodder.

The latter category included the likes of seminal Eighties fare such as 1985’s  St. Elmo’s Fire sf cult hits The Lost Boys (1987) and Flatliners (1990) and the notorious  Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997) – the latter two films considered to be visually-driven garish feasts but self-indulgent and narrative disappointments. (This was the Kilmer/Clooney era of the caped crusader when the Bat-suit suddenly had nipples and neon ruled the day). He later explained he’d been under pressure to make the movies merchandise/toy-friendly and admitted that he went too far in that direction.

But the more ‘serious’ films he helmed were often very different and far better reviewed, coming – it seemed – from an entirely different mind-set and approach to film-making.  1993’s Falling Down dealt with cultural and social rage and many people consider it his most essential work; 2000’s Tigerland was a strong Vietnam film… 2003’s  Veronica Guerin was a political thriller/biopic about the murdered Irish politician. With 2002’s Phone Booth he made a generally static thriller (about a man who picks up a public phone to be told that if he moves he or someone else will die) dramatic and he stepped in to helm two episodes of House of Cards in 2013 (his last work as a director). In between he also directed two John Grisham adaptations (1994’s The Client and 1996’s A Time to Kill), 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera and celebrated music videos for the likes of INXS and Smashing Pumpkins.

A consistently admired director and clearly talented, even his critics would likely say it was his choices of material that sometimes let him down, but when he was at the top of his game he could hold his own against any in the A-List and worked with the best there was in Hollywood and beyond.