Title: Legends of the Knight
Production: Virgil Films, Brett Culp Films, Broadcast Thought, and POP Kollaborative
Director: Brett Culp
Release: Digital Download and DVD November 18th, 2014
Rated: Not rated but appropriate for all audiences
Run Time: 115 Minutes
Featuring: Dave O’Leary, Lenny B. Robinson, Jill Pantozzi, Kyle Sapp, Michael Uslan, Denny O’Neil, Petaluma Batman, and others
Genre: Comic book related documentary
I first heard about Brett Culp’s film Legends of the Knight early last year when the filmmaker took to crowdfunding to complete his documentary. I thought the movie seemed like an interesting endeavor and posted a bit of news about the crowdfunding here on TGG. Flash forward to today and Legends of the Knight is about to arrive on DVD and video on demand this coming week. While exploring how the story of Batman inspiring ordinary people sounds interesting in theory, you may be wondering how the film turns out in execution. Well I’m glad you asked!
Legends of the Knight tells the tales of ordinary people, just like you and I, who’ve found inspiration in the fictional character of Bruce Wayne and his lifelong quest – as Batman – to bring light and justice to a dark and rather unjust world. While the Dark Knight tackles larger than life villains such as the Joker or Ra’s al Ghul and cataclysmic events like an earthquake ravaged Gotham, the subjects of Brett Culp’s doc take on real life challenges like debilitating or life threatening disease, community entropy, and gang violence.
Some of the heroes we meet:
Captain Dave O’Leary – A member of the Las Vegas Gang Unit, O’Leary is known in gang circles as “The Batman” while he’s devoted over twenty years to protecting children and families from a seemingly never ending circle of violence.
Jill Pantozzi – Diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy as a little girl, she dreams of waking one day with super powers which will magically sweep away the disease only to later realize Bruce Wayne has no super abilities to aid him in his battles. Pantozzi is currently the Editor in Chief of TheMarySue.com and continues to use the Batman legend to drive herself beyond the challenges MD attempts to lay in her path.
Petaluma Batman – An unidentified college student who takes to the streets of the small town of Petaluma, California in order to make a difference in and brighten the lives of those in his community.
Lenny B. Robinson – A successful businessman who travels the U.S. visiting children’s hospitals dressed in the guise of the Dark Knight. Robinson finds donning the cowl and cape hasn’t only made a difference to thousands of kids but his own life as well.
Kyle Sapp – At the age of five, doctors discover Kyle faces a grim diagnosis of lukemia. Little Kyle draws strength from the Batman and finds himself in the midst of his very own bat-adventures by way of the good citizens of Arlington, Texas.
Sandwiched around our very real heroes’ stories we meet executive producer Michael Uslan, who spent over a decade being turned down by Hollywood studios he tried to convince the public was ready for a Batman movie devoid of the silliness and camp of the 1960s Batman television series. We also hear from legendary comic writer Denny O’Neil whose 1970s work on the title was key in redefining the Batman for generations of comic readers to come.
I have to say you’ve got to be a pretty hardhearted bastard if you don’t get a little teary-eyed watching some of the subjects’ stories unfold. Legends of the Knight shares inspirational episodes ranging anywhere from overcoming personal tragedy by way of the origins of Batman through using personal wealth or advantage to make positive change in the lives of others; the heroes we meet are both large and small.
Legends of the Knight does stumble in a few areas though.
The inclusion of a few too many “talking heads” seems to bring the proceedings to a near screeching halt whenever they hit the screen as these experts continually reiterate how important and impactful story and storytelling is in our lives. I understand Culp produced Legends of the Knight as a nonprofit project and the film has, and will be, screened for charity so I get the fact the director has to take a lot of different sorts of viewers in the audience into account but it almost begins to feel as if Culp is padding the movie with nearly anyone with relevant credentials who wanted to have a seat in front of his camera.
I think most viewers over the age of ten intrinsically know myth has played a huge role in our genetic make-up since the Epic of Gilgamesh. Granted they might not be familiar with Gilgamesh per say but the audience surely understands many of the tales they were told or read as children (or even as adults) impact how we view the world and our place in it. I just don’t see a need to include over a dozen people repeating what’s essentially the same thing ad nauseam and, in the end, is detrimental to the overall focus of the documentary.
I found the film goes way overboard with b-roll footage of kids wearing costumes and cowls or reading comics. Just as with the experts chiming in, I think the audience gets it after the fifth scene of a child running around a playground as the breeze catches their cape behind them and an inordinate amount of Legends of the Knight’s already short hour and fifteen minute running time – especially the last twenty minutes or so – is filled with hokum of this sort.
Lastly, later scenes of the Petaluma Batman come across as rather detrimental to the viewer’s initial impression of the young man. Eventually this young man comes across more as an attention seeking goof (a fact not covered in the doc is at one point Petaluma Batman was going to hang up his cape because he didn’t have enough Facebook “Likes”) as opposed to an anonymous do-gooder. I’m not knocking the kid, or what he’s done, but a later scene of a mock battle involving PM, the Joker, the Penguin, and silly string smacks more of college students crying out “Look at me! Where’s my fifteen minutes?” and less of “Let’s help the community guys!”
Legends of the Knight is most tightly focused when telling the stories of everyday men and women, boys and girls, drawing strength from the modern day myth of the Batman. When Culp’s camera turns away from these subjects is when the documentary falls apart a bit and the filmmaker’s inexperience becomes more apparent. Not to say this isn’t a good looking film though, as you’d be hard pressed to find a documentary with such a tiny budget better presented.
I certainly don’t want to dissuade anyone from seeing Legends of the Knight because I like the documentary. In fact, I like it a lot! My critiques are really kind of minor in the great scheme of things and, while my head has to tell me the movie has this problem or that problem, it’s in the heart where the power of this documentary lays. And no one can claim Brett Culp’s film doesn’t have plenty of heart!
It’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see another movie, featuring the Caped Crusader, which leaves you as inspired or feeling capable of being the change you wish to be in the world as Legends of the Knight. I never imaged a documentary – with a focus on the Batman – would bring tears to my eyes; I’m sure plenty of other viewers out there will watch this film and *ahem* suddenly find something has gotten into their eye…
Legends of the Knight doesn’t ask if we can possibly aspire to bring light into darkness or maybe, if we’re dealt the right hand in life, make the lives of others better as does Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. The documentary emphatically tells us that yes, not only can you be Batman. Not only can I be Batman.
We’re ALL Batman!