The superhero penetration into popular culture has reached astounding heights over the past couple of years. Through various mediums it has been proven that these comic book tales resonate with people of all ages. Superman, Spider-Man, The Hulk, The X-Men, Thor and a variety of others let our imaginations run wild with their powers and unique abilities. But when it comes to superheroes, Batman stands as an exception rather than the rule because, well, he lacks the common trait that all the other superheroes posses: superpowers. Batman wasn’t a scientific experiment gone wrong or bitten by a radioactive spider. He’s not a God nor is he from the cosmos. Instead, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is a byproduct of ingenuity, dedication and hard work. Perhaps that is why his plight is all the more endearing.
Brett Culp’s documentary Legends of the Knight explores popular culture’s connection with Batman, the various iterations of The Caped Crusader and how he has inspired multiple generations by being more human than he is super. From the man who was pulled over by police in his Batmobile wearing a full costume, to the mysterious Petaluma Batman whose identity remains a mystery despite all of the good deeds he has done in his hometown in California, to those with physical ailments who found strength in Batman to overcome, all the way down to Gotham Chopra’s book Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes, co-authored by his father, Deepak Chopra, Culp’s documentary captures how these individuals found strength in a comic book icon.
As a filmmaker whose non-profit documentaries in the past have raised awareness to the poverty in Haiti or focused on those who help their community, Culp understood the power of the narrative and how these stories of modern myth are an influence on the common man’s life. With Batman, he saw more than entertainment. What he found was a source of inspiration that resonates to this day. Life+Times sat down with Culp to talk about his film.
Life+Times: What started this journey for you?
Brett Culp: There’s a book called Wisdom From the Batcave: How to Live a Super, Heroic Life written by a rabbi named Cary Friedman. He grew up reading Batman stories but as he got older and was getting in touch with his Jewish roots he realized that he learned all of these ideologies about caring for other people and being one with the community before in a Batman comic. After reading that it made me wonder if there are other people in the world that have been influenced by Batman like he was. That’s modern mythology at work. Even though we know they are fictional characters, it’s about the story. I wanted to make a film about how these stories affect our lives.
L+T: Why do you think it is that people are so emotionally invested in these fictional stories?
BC: There’s no culture in the world that doesn’t have a hero myth, and there’s a reason for that. It’s a universal expression of what we have inside of us that we believe we can be. It’s the difference between Smokey the Bear and Al Gore. It’s easier to connect with Smokey and not have forest fires than listening to Al Gore’s statistics to stop global warming. There has to be some entertainment value within it in order for it to connect with people.
L+T: You could have selected any superhero to be the subject of this film yet you chose Batman. Why not Superman?
BC: Superman is great, but there are times when we don’t understand Superman. Superman didn’t work a day job. He’s a symbol for God, while Batman is a symbol for us. Batman is a human that doesn’t have superpowers and we can relate to that. We can see his brokenness, pain and struggles. And with that, we realize that we have the ability to overcome even without superpowers. We can do something great in our own lives.
L+T: You have always been a huge fan of Batman, what does he mean to you?
BC: The Batman when I was a kid was just a hero just trying to make the world a better place. When you’re a kid, you just want to matter. We want to believe we are powerful and can do something. We’re often told that our dreams are too big for us. But the story of Batman slaps that in the face. When the world told him he couldn’t do something he just put on a costume and punched people in the face. That is the most unconventional path to make the world a better place. As I have grown up, there has been a Batman for every version of me. I can watch a Batman cartoon with my eight-year-old son and just enjoy the adventure or watch a socially relevant version of Batman in the movie theater. The reality is that it all works. The reason I love Batman is that I never outgrew him.
L+T: How long did it take for you to realize that this idea could become a documentary?
BC: Research on this film began in 2012 with Google searches of people inspired by Batman. I found tons of people who had Batman in their Twitter handle, multiple books about Batman, bloggers who focused on Batman, etc. After three months I realized that there was enough for an actual movie about how this story affects people. I started an IndieGogo campaign to raise money and we were able to raise $27,000 to start filming. The biggest challenge was traveling across the country to interview our subjects. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a single person who we’ve reached out to that has said no. The executive producer of every Batman movie since 1989, Michael Uslan, participated in the film. We’ve had 1,100 people from all over the world who have contributed in some shape or form to make this movie possible. That makes this film even more special than I initially imagined.
L+T: With all the work you have put into this film I am a bit surprised that you opted to make this a non-profit venture.
BC: Well, I wanted to raise money for charities with this film and every decision we have made is synergistic to that mission. It’s something that I believe Batman would do.
L+T: Comic book characters are thought to appeal primarily to a young base, but what made you decide to tackle Batman’s influence on adults?
BC: When I first started, I was thinking how Batman affected people of all ages. But when I started doing interviews I realized that all of these people went back to their youth when telling their stories. The story of their inspiration never started when they were 30, it always started when they were four or five. The real heart of the film was how heroic stories inspire young people. The Batman of our movie is the Batman who lives in the imagination of a six-year-old child as they run through the backyard with a cape on imagining themselves as a hero.
L+T: What do you hope people get out of this film?
BC: My hope is that everyone who sees this film will be reminded of that feeling they once had when they were five years old imagining themselves as a superhero. When they believed there would be a day that they would be powerful enough to be a hero, I want them to realize that today is that day.
L+T: What was most inspirational about this experience was that every single one of these people we interviewed was really committed to doing something beyond normal with their lives because of Batman.
BC: One last thing, most documentaries are about something that is wrong with the world and the need to fix it. This is about something that is right with the world and has been right for a long, long time – heroism.
For more information, check out the film’s official site here.