Death and the Hype Machine

A few weeks ago, I was totally geared up to write a blog entry about the phony hype-culture surrounding the premature death of people in the public eye. You know, that guaranteed moment of iconography seized by the "tortured genius" who died before he or she could ever reach a potential we can now believe was a sure thing; luckily, it will never be tested. It will never fail. Our genius youth will never age or wither, we won't see the highs and the lows, the disappointing third and fourth time around the same old plot lines, songs or speeches.

Insert a sigh of relief. The wax poetic is finished now, you can open your eyes. Guess who I'm talking about? I'll give you a hint: he starred in a film that used the word "brokeback" in a context that will surely go down in history alongside Bre'r Rabbit as being offensive in retrospect. Mr. Heath Ledger. Why the hell am I writing about Heath Ledger? I saw Batman this weekend, duh.

Oy. I didn't care for the film, but for the record I don't care for most films. Michael Cane played Michael Cane, Maggie Gyllenhal played Maggie Gyllenhal, and Aaron Eckhart played a dude with a cool gory burn on his face. Christian Bale looked like he needed about a fifth of gin and a bottle of vicodin just to stand being on set. It was long and confusing. Maybe I was just unable to follow the plot because of my raging ADD, but in my defense I was able to follow the plot of Wall-E, probably because it was written for eight year olds.

I can't imagine what the response was when Heath Ledger came onto set and brought what can only be described as a motha fuckin' A-game. Well, I can take a guess as to what happened when this absolute boon turned up in an otherwise lackluster and predictable movie: the filmmakers held so tightly to their original vision of the Joker's role in the story that most of a brilliant performance wound up on the cutting room floor.

Acting is not an easy thing to do when you do it right. I've taken method acting classes, and its difficult stuff. You have to probe into parts of yourself that you don't normally use or even recognize, and if you go far enough you can wind up nose to nose with pure id. It makes you realize that personalities are comprised of a series of choices--some conscious, many unconscious, but all relative, all changeable, all fluid. Within us there is the capacity to feel things our everyday identity would never feel, to be a person we wouldn't even recognize.

Heath Ledger's Joker is brilliant. He isn't Nicholson's Joker, who represented a mid-life crisis of sorts, this Joker is a young man who's made old by pure cynicism that Ledger manages to make almost sad. Every movement and mannerism is bizarre and off-putting without being over the top, and his body movements reveal the weakness and tragedy of the Joker's madness. He stumbles awkwardly, hangs his head out an ambulance window with an almost neck-less, animal joy, like a mad dog. Apparently he based some of the character on Alex from Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, and I can see it. He's one part thug, one part John Wayne Gacy. One part anarchist, one part antichrist. When I think about the performance, I actually feel sad. To tell you the truth, thinking about the performance coupled with his subsequent death makes me want to cry.

I guess I'm a believer.

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