Hollywood director Joel Schumacher dies aged 80

·5-min read

Renowned filmmaker Joel Schumacher, who directed dozens of films including two Batman blockbusters, has died at the age of 80.

The eclectic and brazen film-maker died in New York on Monday after a year-long battle with cancer, a representative confirmed.

Schumacher initially dressed New York department store windows before shepherding the Brat Pack to the big screen in “St. Elmo's Fire” and steering the Batman franchise into its most baroque territory in “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin”.

A native New Yorker, Schumacher was first a sensation in the fashion world after attending Parsons School of Design and decorating Henri Bendel's windows.

Director Joel Schumacher, recipient of the Distinguished Collaborator Award, arrives at the 13th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Director Joel Schumacher has died at the age of 80. Source: AP

His entry to film came first as a costume designer. Schumacher dressed a pair of Woody Allen movies in the 1970s: “Interiors” and “Sleeper”. He also penned the screenplays to a pair of musicals: The Wiz and Sparkle.

As a director, he established himself as a film-maker of great flare in a string of mainstream films in the ‘80s and ’90s.

To the frequent frustration of critics but the delight of audiences, Schumacher favoured entertainment over tastefulness — including those infamous sensual Batman and Robin suits with visible nipples — and he did so proudly.

The success of his first hit, St Elmo's Fire with Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy not only helped make a name for the Brat Pack but made Schumacher in-demand in Hollywood.

He followed it up with 1987's The Lost Boys, with Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Kiefer Sutherland and Corey Feldman. A vampire horror comedy, it gave a darker, contemporary view of the perpetual adolescence of Peter Pan.

Schumacher then made Flatliners about morbidly obsessed medical students, and a pair of John Grisham adaptations in The Client and A Time to Kill.

Falling Down his most critically acclaimed

Falling Down with Michael Douglas as a Los Angeles man whose anger from minute every-day interactions steadily builds in violence, was maybe his most critically acclaimed film, though its depictions of minorities — particularly a Korean grocer — were from the start hotly debated.

American actor Michael Douglas, right, waves to the crowd as he arrives for the screening of his movie "Falling Down", directed by Joel Schumacher, left, during the 46th International Film Festival in Cannes on Saturday, May 22, 1993. (AP Photo/Gilbert Tourte)
Schumacher (left) with Falling Down star Michael Douglas (centre) at the film's screening in 1993. Source: AP

On its 25th anniversary, April Wolfe of LA Weekly wrote that it “remains one of Hollywood’s most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern white-victimisation narrative, one both adored and reviled by the extreme right”.

The slickness of those productions helped Schumacher inherit the DC universe from Tim Burton.

In Schumacher's hands, Batman received a garish overhaul that resulted in two of the the franchise's most cartoonish movies in 1995's Batman Forever and 1997's Batman & Robin. The first was a box-office smash but the second fizzled and remains most often remembered for its infamous suits.

“It was like I had murdered a baby,” Schumacher told Vice of the response to Batman & Robin. Yet it, too, has developed a small cult following for those who prefer the antithesis of Christopher Nolan's more grim Batman movies.

“He saw deeper things in me than most and he lived a wonderfully creative and heroic life,” said Jim Carrey, who played the Riddler in “Batman Forever.” "I am grateful to have had him as a friend."

Schumacher’s early life filled with sex and drugs

Schumacher, born in August 1939, to Francis and Marian Schumacher, was raised in Queens by his mother after his father died when he was four years old. As a youngster, he quickly became enmeshed in the city's nightlife.

“The street was my education,” Schumacher told Vulture earlier this year. “You could ride your bike over the 59th Street Bridge then. So I rode my bike everywhere. I was in Manhattan all the time and all over Queens. If you’re a kid on a bike, anything can happen, and predators come out of the woodwork, my God. I looked very innocent, but I wasn’t.”

Schumacher would often say he was fortunate to have survived the ‘60s at all. He made habits of liquid Methadrine, acid and sex.

Out long before many in Hollywood, Schumacher pegged his lovers in “the double-digit thousands.” He was a warm and gossipy raconteur though Schumacher said he “never kissed and told about anybody who gives me the favour of sharing a bed with me.”

“I don’t not like talking about it, I just don’t believe it matters," Schumacher said of his sexuality in a 2000 interview with the Guardian. “I’ve lived my life very openly. I started drinking at nine. I started doing drugs in my early teens. I started smoking at 10 and I started sex at 11. So I’m not hiding anything. But I am totally and completely against labels.”

After Batman and Robin Schumacher turned to lower-budget thrillers: 8mm with Nicolas Cage; Flawless, with Robert De Niro; Phone Booth with Colin Farrell.

Schumacher, behind the beginnings of so many careers, gave Farrell his first led role in 2000's Tigerland. In 2004, he took on Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, a late, gaudy flourish that combined Schumacher with perhaps his Broadway equivalent in the spectacle-making Webber. Most recently, he directed two episodes of Netflix’s House of Cards in 2013.

In his last interview, with Vulture, Schumacher reflected on a show at London's National Gallery of the now highly regarded works of James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent.

“They did a brilliant thing. Right next to them on the wall, framed right next to the paintings, were all their horrible reviews,” said Schumacher. “Who remembers these reviews?”

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