23 April 2012

Heath's Legend

Two-thousand and twelve is going to be a great year for two reasons; firstly there are so many exciting films coming out that each month looks like it's going to consist of an obligatory trip to the cinema. We've got The Avengers, The Hobbit, Skyfall, The Amazing Spiderman, Prometheus and probably most excitingly of all The Dark Knight Rises. Just thinking about all that makes me want to violently sacrifice something like a small animal or ageing crack whore to the God of geeks as thanks. Secondly however, and much more excitingly, we've been assured by a very reliable source that the world is going to end by next December. I've seen enough apocalypse movies to know how to survive if that does happen and like in The Road, I've concluded that I'm going to become a cannibal. On the one hand I'll get a decent meal and on the other I'll get to punish any cheeky member of the public who dared survive. A lot of people have bought Transformers 3... logically, our species deserves to die.

So like I say, mass killings aside, I am looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises. I genuinely think that Christopher Nolan is a genius, and in terms of his future reputation? Our generation's Hitchcock. Unlike Michael Bay and Bret Ratner, Nolan is a man of intelligence and every one of his films has been an achievement worthy of cinema history. Inception proved that blockbusters don't have to cater to morons to make money and Insomnia proved that Robin Williams can actually act. I never knew why people didn't find Mrs. Doubtfire weird as it's a film in which a man dresses up as a woman to gain entry into his ex-wife's house. That plot suggests to me that Robin Williams has been taking parenting tips from Cape Fear's murdering stalker 'Max Cady'. Williams is, unintentionally, a very creepy man- Nolan's genius was in noticing this and capitalising on it.

When I heard that Nolan had cast Heath Ledger as 'The Joker' I was genuinely excited. Since the day I was spat out at birth, I've been a huge fan of Batman and I think that anyone who likes Batman loves 'The Joker'. In my opinion the Clown Prince of Crime is one of our planet's greatest fictional characters along with James Bond, Tyler Durden and Jesus... Just kidding about Jesus. I'm not doubting that he's fictional, I just find him a little less rounded than somebody like say Die Hard's John McClane. Both Jesus and McClane have been through a lot and both remind me of Christmas, it's just that McClane didn't have an almighty parent to rely on. Without God's help I'd like to see Jesus take on terrorists in the Nakatomi Tower. The day JC throws Alan Rickman out of a window is the day he makes the list of truly great fictional characters. Having said that, I did enjoy him in Mel Gibson's mental gorefest The Passion of Christ. I suppose he should get some bonus points for the beatings he received, saving mankind and starring in his very own Die Hard On A Crucifix. But when you think about it; although McClane hasn't endured half of the torture that Christ was put through, he also wasn't stupid enough to get caught... And he looked better in a vest.

Anywho, so back to The Joker... When it was announced that it would be Ledger tasked with bringing the anarchic uber-villian to life, I decided to research. At the time, I was pretty much a Ledger virgin as I hadn't seen that much that he'd done. There were two things I was aware of; his performance in Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm and that he was just too good looking. The kind of good looking which is just annoying and makes me want to hack off my own face just so I have some sort of weapon to try to damage his own face with.

From watching The Brothers Grimm however, it was clear that his looks were just as annoying to him as they were to me. Ledger was a man who wanted to be taken seriously as an actor and do things that he would be artistically proud of. You don't star in a Gilliam movie to get rich or be seen by a lot of people. By working with the under appreciated and seemingly cursed genius that is Gilliam, Ledger was as good as announcing his desire to obtain credibility. The fact that the film went on to be compromised by the bullish and wrongly opinionated Weinsteins was a huge shame. It's a good film in my opinion, and I think his performance in it is nothing short of hilarious. It is unfortunately most notable though, for the troubles it went through and being the start of a friendship between Ledger and Gilliam, that would thankfully see them work together again in the future.

In my investigations into the newly announced Joker, it seemed there would be one film I would have to see and that was Brokeback Mountain. I say 'have to' not because I was reluctant, but because it simply seemed like it was a vital step in his career and apparently a good film to boot. At the time of purchasing that DVD and with its reputation, I felt like I was buying large-budget gay porn. I'm not homophobic in the slightest, but purchasing the gay cowboy film in public was an awkward experience. In 2007, I was 18 years old and part of an all boys school so being caught in that shop with that film would have been social suicide. As rumours spread, it would be the equivalent of being caught in the bushes taking a clumpy face full of 'Wham' spunk whilst licking my lips and shouting 'I'm your man!'. Thankfully though I got away with it, reputation unscathed, and was rewarded with one of the most misrepresented, beautiful movies that I've ever seen.

It's not a gay cowboy film in the slightest. I mean sure, they might have a bit of bum sex and a quick smooch, but that's about it. In fact they don't even share that much screen time really, and the sphincter-loving is purely PG-rated with not a jizz-shot in sight. Because of the times, the two characters are forced to move apart and so what the film actually is, is a study of two men being forced to live a lie. With its gay focused reputation, you'd think this film was a John Waters movie about Dale Winton fisting Elton John whist wearing a stetson hat. Instead, you get one of the most heart breaking movies as both Ledger and Gyllenhaal's characters react differently to the realisation that they can never be who they are or enjoy the life that would make them happy. To describe the scene at the end as Ledger holds the blue shirt as 'a little emotional' would be an understatement. I can watch all those romantic, sentimental, schmaltzy pieces of shit like The Notebook and feel nothing but hatred for everyone involved. I'm pretty sure that I can't watch Brokeback Mountain without crying. Not that that's gay by the way, to cry during this movie. Anne Hathaway gets her tits out and I loved that, so fuck you.

By this point, I was starting to become a fan and my anticipation to see The Dark Knight was rising (fuck you too, pun!). Currently at the cinema was the weird Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, and so along with a Zimmerman obsessed chum I headed down to watch it. The film has a great cast and in terms of portraying the nasally one's mannerisms and appearance, there's no doubt that Cate Blanchett nails it both perfectly and creepily, however it was Ledger that impressed me the most. There was just something about his downbeat, almost melancholic performance that grabbed me more than the others. Like I say, Blanchett was brilliant, as were Bale, Whishaw and the little black kid. Richard Gere wasn't the best but even he wasn't as irritating as usual. I always think if you're going to cast Richard Gere: stop, think about it, and then cast Jeff Bridges instead. Same kind of guy but Bridges abides more and squints less. Then again I'd probably squint if I had a gerbil up my arse. The fucking pervert!

Anyway, so out of the cinema I walked, talking about how excited I was about Ledger. I told my friend about what I'd seen him do and how The Dark Knight was going to have the definitive Joker performance. I don't dislike Jack Nicholson's version but lets face it, he is just playing Jack Nicholson but with green hair and a grin. This was going to be something different and something special.

A few days later I got up, switched on the morning TV and started to eat my shitty cardboard-y cereal. The words that greeted me were, “and so comes the sad news from Hollywood that the actor...”, I swear to God and I know nobody will believe me, but the words at this point in my head were, 'Please don't say Heath Ledger'. I looked at Fiona Phillips of GMTV in that split second, dreading what name that crooked, messenger of doom was about to deliver. I hoped to God it was going to be Rob Schneider, Steven Seagal or some other useless sack of shit that I wouldn't miss. She finished her sentence, “and so comes the sad news from Hollywood that the actor Heath Ledger has died”. The spiteful bitch had said the one name I'd hoped she wouldn't and I was shocked. I sat there for a minute frozen with the spoon halfway towards my mouth trying to process what I'd just heard. Then I looked for proof that the ugly cow was lying. I checked the internet and other channels but all seemed to be saying the same thing. That was a shit day.

When he died, I felt that we'd been robbed. Obviously I didn't know him but I was starting to learn his work and he was quickly running up the ranks of my favourite actors. From this point on, there would be no more Heath Ledger films and no more performances from someone who for all we know could have been the greatest actor the world has ever seen. Or maybe he would have gone mad and killed a load of rent boys or something, the point is; we'll never know. I read a story in the paper about a family that was broken into and tied up by a group of thieves who then stripped their home of their possessions. The day Heath Ledgers future films were stolen from me I knew exactly how they felt. Maybe even worse, as at least they could claim on the insurance.

My excitement for The Dark Knight was now tainted. Rather than awe, sadness would what fills me when watching his last mainstream role. Sadness that he'd died and sadness that if he was amazing in the role there would be no chance of him replaying it in a sequel that would surely follow. I'm sure the way I felt however in no way compared to that of his friends, family, Christopher Nolan or Terry Gilliam.

Ledger had finished filming with Nolan when he died but that still left the peerless director in an editing studio forced to watch various cuts of his now dead friend. Gilliam, however, was in the middle of filming The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus when he lost his main protagonist. He was forced to deal with the loss whilst at the same time having to decide what he wanted to do with his movie. Luckily for Gilliam however, his team encouraged him to carry on and the remaining Ledger scenes were filmed with new actors. Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Collin Farrell all jumped in to help finish what had been started. Their wage was donated to Ledgers daughter with the film becoming a tribute to his work and memory. It's hard to imagine that kind of thing happening if it had been someone like David Hasselhoff that had snuffed it. In his case, I think the most dignified thing we could all do would be to eat a burger off the bathroom floor whilst pissed out of our minds and enduring a minute silence. It would be a fitting tribute to a novelty-human that we don't care about.

Slowly, July rolled through the calendar and with apprehensive and subdued eagerness, the world finally got a chance to watch The Dark Knight. For two and a half hours, everybody that saw it sat there in awe at the complex, crime masterpiece that Nolan had cooked up for us. There are so many things perfect about that movie that you could sit and discuss them for hours (if you were a geek, who talked to himself and had too much spare time... and wrote blogs about it). One of the elements that was revolutionary however was, predictably, Heath Ledger as 'The Joker'.

From the opening shot of 'The Joker' standing by the roadside as the camera slowly tracks into his mask we knew that this is an important role in an important film played by an important actor. Ledgers death certainly adds an inevitable sadness to the film but it also brings a certain weight to the character. Rimming Donnie Darko aside, this would be the performance that Ledger is now going to be remembered for and defined by. Ironically, having seen the film, the same can now be said of 'The Joker'.

Ledger was so good as the character that his portrayal will become the bench mark for anybody else in the future who attempts it. He glides about the film revelling in joyous anarchy, no motive beyond causing trouble and seemingly having slipped into this 12a from an 18 certificate movie. In 1989 we had Jack Nicholson in a purple coat. In 2008 we had a shambolic Alex DeLarge, a grungy clown with a war painted face and a knife stained in blood. The character was first created in 1940 and a mere 68 years later Nolan and Ledger brought his most faithful depiction to the big screen. Gone were the more cartoonish, zany elements that we had previously seen, instead being replaced by a deranged sociopath with believably high intelligence, a taste for chaos and a pleasure for killing people in creatively gory but simple ways. The moment he rams somebody’s eye into the point of a pencil is the moment you know we're into unpredictable, “shit just got real!” territory.

The fact that Ledger was posthumously nominated for an Oscar and then won was a great tribute to the work he'd done. Cynical people could claim he only won because he'd died but then those cynical people can go fuck themselves with a chainsaw. The Oscars is a sham as it is. Biased voting, the simple bullshit of one film being definitively better than another and the possibility of a different best film and best director winner. What, the best film directed itself, did it? The Oscars are a pretentious, self important marketing tool aimed at making more money for films which win but often don't deserve to. In 1976, Rocky beat Taxi Driver to the best film of the year. Beyond “stupidly cunting wrong”, I can't think of a swear word harsh enough to sum up that decision. However, Ledgers Oscar was genuine, well deserved and simply a nice tribute to what he'd done. It is all shit, but if someone has to win that stupid golden dildo then it deserved to be him. Regardless of anything else, such as his acting or death, he earned it simply for being more impressive than the hype surrounding his performance as a character that is older and more well known than most humans.

This, however, was not the end to the story. We still had The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to look forward to and thankfully, it too was great. Without going too much into that film, it was clear that Ledger by now had found his voice. Throughout his whole early career, he had been battling to have his integrity respected more than his face; finally at this point he was taken seriously. It's a huge shame that he wasn't able to complete the role, but ironically the random cameos from the three other A-listers work really well. So well, in fact, that you can't help but wonder if the film actually benefited from him being suddenly unavailable. Although there are less permanent ways of this being the case than simply dying. Maybe he could have just gotten temporarily lost in some woods or something. I think I'd have preferred it if that had been the reason, to be honest. He was an Aussie, they're used to living with nature and killing animals and shit. Just look at 'Mick Dundee' or Steve Irwin. Born survivors, both of them.

I feel at this point that I'm well caught up with the films of Mr. Heath Ledger. Since hearing he was to be 'The Joker', I've become a huge fan and I genuinely still mourn for the talent that was snatched from our world. At this point, there is only one film of his that I haven't seen and genuinely do want to, and that's Candy. I doubt I will ever see it though, simply because I don't like knowing that there's no more of his films out there to be excited about. If I can avoid it, there will always be that one more to catch up with.

During the writing of this I've been trying to come up with a fitting last statement. I wanted it to be something sincere, heartwarming and something that genuinely summed up how I felt about him. What I came up with was:

The talent might be gone, but evidence of his genius remains in his work. 
I wish he hadn't died- it should have been Michael Bay.

...And you can quote me on that.

Follow this blog or I'll fucking cut you.