Film: Drop and Give Me a Tough, Gritty War Movie, Boy! ; Joel Schumacher, the A-List Schlockmeister, Is Making Amends for `Batman & Robin'
Johnston, Trevor, The Independent (London, England)
It's 9.30am on a Saturday morning and already this is Joel Schumacher's second interview of the day. While journalists and publicists alike reach for fortifying caffeine, Schumacher himself has long forsworn the evils of coffee. As of 7 December, 1992, he doesn't drink like he used to either, and, by his own admission, the hard drugs were behind him by 1970. "I have an addictive personality," he whispers, conspiratorially, "and if you're not going to die from it, there's a time to stop. There's a time you have to grow, and not take the easy way out."
Extraordinary as it might seem, in movie terms Schumacher has done just that. For a four-year period in the mid-1990s, he was the summer blockbuster man, alternating Batman Forever and Batman & Robin with two John Grisham adaptations, The Client and A Time To Kill. In the process, he made a mint for the studios, did pretty well for himself - and became a hate figure for hordes of Batman fans on the internet who didn't need nipples on the Bat-suit or Chris O'Donnell in any form, thank you very much. All of which seems light years away from his latest release, Tigerland, a grungy pre- Vietnam War boot-camp flick, which he shot in the wilds of Florida on 16mm, with no stars, no trailers, and not even any chairs on set.
No matter how much you may have loathed some of his previous efforts (and the very mention of his Julia Roberts bomb Dying Young has been known to leave grown men crumpled in pain), you can't help but give Schumacher some credit. Tigerland is a knotty, convincing B- picture, and it proves that even at the age of 62 it's possible to give up on Hollywood excess for the celluloid equivalent of a macrobiotic diet. Perhaps more of his A-list peers should give it a try.
Given the truly inane spectacle of his Batman extravaganzas, I'd arrived for my tete-a-tete with Schumacher fully prepared to twist the knife, only to be taken aback by the openness with which this skilled media-savvy charmer described the soul-destroying experience of being on the lucrative studio treadmill. "I haven't said this so often, so I'll try to choose my words. It's about what happens when the career starts becoming the career," he says. "Everyone's telling you how to handle it: your agent, your friends, the executives, the publicists. Suddenly fear sets in because everyone else passes their fears on to you. Do this, don't do that. Then you start to think like them and become like them..."At which point, his voice trails off. "...Because that's all there is."
Was there a moment of self-realisation? "There was, and it's like a terrible soap opera," he continues. "I was on the Batman & Robin press tour. We'd already done the States, Asia, Australia and Europe. I was in Rio and it was my first half-day off in four months. I lay on the beach and realised I hadn't been in a commercial plane for a couple of years. The reality sunk in that the Batman movies were just a motor to generate millions of dollars from the ancillary rights. It's fun to make a lot of money for a lot of people, because they're very appreciative. I won a lot of awards for selling toys. Then they want you to go out and make more money for them. …