The most affecting moment during the 100 minute run time of Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End story comes not during the myriad of interviews or interspersed quotes, but rather right after the credits role:
Suddenly there was a click in my brain, as the rollercoaster of thoughts toward the film, and it’s subject, Batman Dead End director Sandy Collora, came to a screeching halt. It all made sense. I wasn’t watching a documentary, but rather an extended rant on the film industry and an overlong ego stroke.
For those unfamiliar with Batman Dead End, it was a short film written and directed by Sandy Collora, an artist/filmmaker, in 2003. The eight minute film sees the Dark Knight take on the Joker before a bigger battle ensues featuring a crossover with the Alien and Predator universes. The film was an instant hit at SDCC and gained attention throughout the geek community. It should have been a springboard for bigger and better things for Collora, but as Behind the Mask explores, they never came. Well, that part is arguable.
Before really digging in, let me say that what Collora pulled off with Dead End was, without a doubt, an amazing success. Not only was 2003 well before the comic book movie boom, heck Batman Begins was still a couple years away, but it was also released and gained traction prior to YouTube even existing. We live in a world where groups like Bat in the Sun Productions and Ismahawk create high quality fan films on a regular basis, Collora hit well before that. The film is well shot, acted, choreographed, etc. You can check out the full film on YouTube, and I guarantee that even over a decade later, it still holds up. During my viewing of the documentary, I couldn’t help but think of a paraphrased quote from Gypsy, Collora was born too soon. Had the Collora of 2003 existed today, he’d surely have a well-funded Patreon, a million YouTube subscribers, and be a celebrity in his own right. Enough of what could have been, let’s look at what actually happened.
Behind the Mask features interviews with several friends and collaborators of Sandy Collora as well as Batman artist Neal Adams, all who speak very highly of the artist as the documentary tracks Collora from his start in the industry (working for Stan Winston’s studio) through the creation of Dead End, and through the aftermath of the film’s success.
From the start of the movie, it’s clear that Collora is in control of how the story is being told. While interviewees mention that some view Collora is stubborn and hard to work with, they’re quick to point out that they’ve never felt that, or see the true Collora behind the facade. Which, I can almost accept until the evidence presented in the documentary makes it very clear that this is the reason no real success came after Dead End. Collora wasn’t viewing the short film a stepping stone into the industry, but rather a fast pass to the front of the line. Unfortunately, that isn’t how the world works, even the film world.
After the film was a hit, Collora was offered several different scripts, mostly for sci-fi sequels and a smattering of different genre films (including Vampires III and The Creature from the Black Lagoon). He passed on all of them, because he felt that he could do something better, that he didn’t want the table scraps or films that were beneath him. The irony of all of it is that he speaks so highly of James Cameron as the greatest filmmaker in the world, yet the film never feels the need to point out that Cameron got his start on Piranha II: The Spawning, and after Terminator he directed the sequel to a smaller budget horror film. Something called Aliens. It’s this lack of self awareness that never gets called out. We do get one of the interviewees tearing into film execs for not understanding real art and then we’re treated to how Collora was brave enough to make an indie sci fi film, Hunter Prey, that did really well overseas.
I will admit I went into this documentary, after seeing the trailer, thinking I was going to see a time capsule on how fan films of the early 2000’s gave birth to the YouTube generation of today and how sometimes those pioneers, for as talented as they are, were left behind. Instead I watched a talented artist assume he deserves everything he wants and refuses to accept that sometimes you have to work within the confines of the system to get it. I’m reminded of Batman & Bill, the recent documentary on the fight to get Bill Finger credit as the co-creator of Batman. That was a man who worked and died without getting the recognition he deserved. Now we live in a world where we assume recognition should come first, then the work. Maybe Sandy Collora wasn’t born too soon. Maybe he arrived right on time.
Behind the Mask: The Batman Dead End Story, directed by Eric Down, is available on DVD and Streaming on Amazon.com