Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Will the Real Joker Please Stand Up
Just watched Christopher Nolan's "Batman: The Dark Knight" the other evening, which I realize puts me on the last train to latesville, but hey sometimes it takes me a while to get around to doing things. The one piece of knowledge I was equipped with going in to the flick was that Heath Ledger did a phenomenal job as the Joker, perhaps even better than the legendary Jack Nicholson. I admit to being a fan of Jack and such a claim made me skeptical. Was this another case of the artist being put on a pedestal because of an untimely early demise?
Thirty minutes in, though, I had to concede that Ledger's performance was incredibly freaky, I would not have wanted to be in the same country with the psychopath who was dancing madly on my screen and killing or frightening to death everyone in his sight.
All of sudden, though, in the midst of the scene where Bruce Wayne fetes Harvey Dent, I came to a shocking realization. Heath was mimicking another actor. I couldn't put my finger on who at first, for the man being impersonated is not very likely to scare you unless you live in the state of Minnesota and aren't Jesse Ventura.
The real Joker was in fact not a complex character evolved through the use of brilliant acting technique, but rather a reproduction of the mannerisms and speech patterns of one Al Franken. Yes, the same Al Franken who wrote for and starred as a cast member of Saturday Night Live for many years, most notably as Stuart Smalley, host of the show Daily Affirmations. The very same subversive who has carved out a political career by first broadcasting a show 0n Air America Radio and subsequently riding that gig to the post of United States Senator from Minnesota (assuming Norm Coleman finally admits that he lost the race before the term expires).
I thought, maybe I am just crazy, it could be I just was unconsciously unwilling to admit Ledger had acted Nicholson into a corner. I searched the IMDB comments page to see if anyone else had noticed the same thing. After flipping through a hundred amateur reviews of the movie I found nothing. It seemed I was wrong - until I found the smoking gun.
Reality bites and the truth is as plain as day when the two are put side by side. It seems patently obvious that Heath had long ago seen the similarities between the two while doing his character research. I found pictures of Franken side by side with the Cesar Romero Joker from the old TV series (see above) as well as the Jack Nicholson Joker.
Don't be sad though, Ledger fans, what is acting but mimicking the behavior of others ? Who is to say that in the light of this new evidence (well probably not new, but it is to me and probably you) that Heath Ledger was not still a fantastic actor who put in a stellar farewell performance? He is still Jack Nicholson's bitch, though.