Legends of the Knight director Brett Culp on why Batman inspires us all
Everyone loves Batman. The world's greatest detective has managed to become the world's most popular superhero over the course of his 75-year existence, all without any actual superpowers. Along the way, his bravery, his mission and his ability to hang with the heroes who can literally throw cars around like toys have inspired untold numbers of people. In Legends of the Knight, filmmaker Brett Culp collects the stories of many of these people, from kids whose love of Batman helped them beat cancer to men who became cops to follow the Dark Knight's example. Before the film shows Sunday night at the Sie FilmCenter, we caught up with Culp to learn about the film, why he made it and what it is about Batman that inspires us all.
Westword: Why don't we start with a brief overview of what audiences can expect from Legends of the Knight?
Brett Culp: Absolutely. Legends of the Knight is an uplifting documentary that tells the story about people who were inspired to become real-life heroes because of their childhood love of Batman. It's a film about the power of stories, how each one of us can be affected by a story we hear in childhood and how that can inspire the hero within us, and how important it is to have great heroic stories in our world.
What inspired you to make the film?
As a documentary filmmaker, I've spent my life seeing how people are affected by stories, how a story well-told can affect us emotionally and mentally, even spiritually, all at the same time, without us realizing it's happening. I wanted to make a film that was about that phenomenon and how we can be changed by a story.
I realized I needed a way to clearly communicate, in a way that was easy to understand and catch on to, how that power of story is working in contemporary society. So I was looking for a modern, contemporary myth, a folklore that we could use to communicate it, and Batman was really the ideal character or story for that. Number one, because I love Batman -- I'm a lifelong Batman fan, and have always loved his character. He's my favorite fictional character of all time. But also because this character, who this year is celebrating his 75th year, he's been around for so many generations of people. Batman has existed in nearly every form of media there is, from newsprint to comic books, to television, movies, video games, you name it. There have been musicals. He's kind of transcended all these different forms of communication and storytelling in our world.
Even though he's changed over time -- from silly and campy to more serious and dark, and then back again and back again, depending on the sensibilities of the culture -- he's always maintained that core heroic spirit. [He's] a guy who wanted to do good, who's out there in the community, trying to make a difference. Not because of the credit he receives -- he does it anonymously -- but because he went through this difficult experience in his life and he wants to use that. Instead of using it to disengage from the world, he's using it to make the world a positive place. Because of all of those elements, it makes it the perfect story to analyze how story can work in our life and be a positive influence for good change in the world.
What kinds of people do you look at in the film?
Generally in the process I found two different types of people who had been inspired by Batman. One were people who used Batman as a source of personal strength, who had been through a physical or psychological difficulty in their life. They used the character as a source of inspiration. Those types of people are like the little boy who was five years old and diagnosed with leukemia. He used Batman as kind of a father figure at a time when he didn't have one in his life. He kind of took on that identity -- he'd show up at the hospital and say to the nurses, "Batman is here for chemotherapy." That gave him this certain level of strength to overcome, and then he was given the opportunity to have a Batman adventure for the day. His story, in Arlington, Texas, is what inspired them in San Francisco to do the San Francisco Batkid on a much bigger level. This came two years before that happened.
On the flipside are the people who have been inspired by Batman to embody that spirit of community service. A gentleman named Lenny Robinson, who is a wealthy, successful businessman, sold his business and now essentially his full-time career is driving to children's hospitals in a $200,000 Batmobile to cheer up kids who are sick. The captain of the gang unit in Las Vegas was inspired to become a police officer because he loved Batman as a little kid.
Those are the types of stories that populate Legends of the Knight.