Kirk: Batman documentary to conjure emotion

Matt KirkWhen I think about watching a documentary, the last topic I expect to encounter is comic books. It seems the sort of subject that is too childish and nerdy for serious social analysis. So upon finding the trailer for the upcoming film “Legends of the Knight”a Batman documentary – my face resembled a less grotesque version of the Joker’s permanent grin.

A fan of both the character Batman and documentaries in general, my hopes for “Legends of the Knight” immediately soared – and subsequently returned to Earth upon discovering in the documentary’s trailer that producer and director Brett Culp was low on funds to complete the production and would need more donations from the public to complete his not-for-profit documentary.

When thinking about the quality of a production, not having enough money is never a good sign. I would have hated to see an originally great idea turned into a choppy film full of full-hearted and full-grown men in Batman costumes.

However, after watching the film’s trailer and locating the documentary’s Kickstarter campaign, my faith in the project was renewed. The trailer was heartwarming, charming and cute – full of interviews with those involved in the production of Batman comics and films and those who’ve taken Bruce Wayne’s story as a personal inspiration to persevere through hard circumstances.

[blockquote]I would have hated to see an originally great idea turned into a choppy film full of full-hearted and full-grown men in Batman costumes.[/blockquote]

What’s more, the campaign met its $31,850 goal in less than 48 hours and had received more than $14,000 additional donations as of March 18. Comic book fans, as it would seem, are very generous people. Adding the Kickstarter funds to the original $27,000 in donations raised in an Indiegogo campaign in May 2012 should not only allow Culp to finish the film but also bring in specialists to enhance color grading and audio mixing. Yet, even though a final product is sure to be released, I still question whether the public will react as if they’ve been kissed by Catwoman or gassed by Joker.

Convincing people of the positive effects of comics and that we all should embody Batman to make our world a better place will be difficult for Culp thanks to the present norms of documentary platforms. Currently, people tend to look for a problem or change that must be adjusted to, to give meaning and purpose to the information or experiences documented in the film. “Legends of the Night” will have trouble managing this, because there are not dire consequences for avoiding comics or being indifferent to your fellow man. Hopefully the film presents a strong enough positive case for being involved in comics and the moral behavior they inspire to avoid viewers not already captivated by the bat from thinking, “So what?”

For those who already love the comics and the legend of the Batman, “Legends of the Knight” ought to be a slam-dunk. The film will likely provide insights into the development of Batman throughout his long existence that will fascinate “bat buffs” like me. Two interviews in particular, seen in the trailer, should spark the interest of comic fans, as Denny O’Neil and Michael Uslan are featured as experts on Batman.

O’Neil – old and bald enough to warrant Alfred comparisons – is a renowned comic book writer and editor who helped shape Batman as he moved into more modern times. His firsthand knowledge of the development of Batman’s legend will be exciting for fans looking to gain behind the strip access. Ulsan, executive producer of every Batman film since 1989, will likely discuss how he strove to produce a modern, realistic Batman that could reconnect with audiences. I’m interested to see his explanations for the awful production of “Batman & Robin” in 1997, and how that may have affected his efforts to produce a more serious series.

I expect “Legends of the Knight” to be, above all, a sweet and touching film based on its trailer. The most powerful interview will probably be Kye Sapp, a 5-year-old boy in a bout with Leukemia, who found strength identifying with Batman. His first part of treatment complete, Sapp continues to fight on.

With any luck, the power of his story and other stories of those driven by Batman’s folklore to overcome adversity or assist others in doing so will keep viewers less interested in comics captivated and allow them to take the message of the documentary to heart.

Matt Kirk can be reached at matthew.kirk@temple.edu.  

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