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.
What is it about Batman in particular that inspires people, versus someone like Superman or Spider-Man?
I think Batman is the quintessential superhero with no superpowers. I think it's ironic that Batman, who is by nearly every account the most popular superhero on the planet, actually has no superpowers. It's a unique phenomenon. I think it speaks to this belief that we have, inside ourselves, a superhero lurking inside of us.
I've already lost my chance to become a superhero by being born on another planet. Probably not going to be struck by lightning or be given a power ring. I've definitely not grown up with a bunch of Amazon women. But there's this level that each of us have in our heart where we wonder, given the right motivation and circumstance, "I could be Batman, right? That could be me!"
I think the fact that, different than almost every other superhero, who are given their powers and the question they ask during their stories is, "Okay, I have this power, now what do I do with it? Will I use it for selfish purposes, or for the betterment of the world?" Batman is the opposite of that. Batman is a character who wasn't born of a great gift, he was born of pain. He was born of suffering. He experiences, as a child, the worst thing that any child can experience -- watching your parents die in front of you. The question he has to ask himself at a very young age is, how will he respond? He's a guy with great pain and also great wealth and power. If anybody could just hole up in their mansion with supermodels and eat Cheetos and drink margaritas and play video games, it's Bruce Wayne. He chooses the opposite. He chooses to fully engage and make a positive difference in the world. I think that inspires that belief that many of us of this generation have, that despite all this pain and angst we have in us, there could be something in the middle of that that could lead to some great good for the world. That we can, in the midst of our cynicalness and difficulties, actually still make a positive difference. We believe that. We want to believe that. Batman is a symbol of that and I think that is why we love him.
You're putting your money where your mouth is as far as that goes, too. The proceeds from the film's screenings are going to a variety of charities, right?
Yeah, that is exactly right. We launched this effort in partnership with Tugg.com in January . Since that time, over a hundred screenings have been requested, all over the U.S. It allows people to request a screening in their community. They choose the charity. All of the proceeds that would have come to my production company for the film are instead being contributed to the charity of their choice. The theater rental has to be paid for, and there's a fee to Tugg to manage it all, but the proceeds that would have come to our company are all going to charity.
It's been extremely rewarding for us, as a little indie, grassroots film, to watch this "We are Batman" phenomenon go on all over the country, having people request these. There are many more in the coming months. This screening is really special for me because the proceeds are going to Aurora Rise. We were in the middle of production on Legends of the Knight when that shooting in Aurora happened, and that was a really devastating time for me to watch that tragedy happen. Then you settle in and think, "Man, I'm in the middle of a movie that's an expression of my heart, about what a positive character Batman can be and look what's in the news, and how people are affected by this." Now it's extremely rewarding to me to see people in that community use the film to help people affected by that tragedy. I love all the screenings, but this one has a special place in my heart.
If people can't make it out to the screening, they can get the film directly from your website, correct?
Yes, that's correct, on DVD and Blu-ray. We have digital [streaming] coming down the line from the usual platforms, but we're still in the middle of those agreements. As of now, it's available physically, on discs, from the website.
Anything else you want to say before we're through?
I hope that people who watch this film walk away inspired and excited to be more of a hero in their life, to find opportunities to be Batman to somebody else, to save the day and make a positive difference in their community and continue to believe there's hope for Gotham City and the world can be a better place.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.