Jack Nicholson warned Heath Ledger on 'Joker' roleGood actors become their roles, and Heath Ledger was a great actor. Some people have misinterpreted Nicholson's statement as some supernatural hoodoo. My feeling is that Nicholson understood what a demanding and extreme role would do to a sensitive artist like Ledger. His experience even before his death should be a cautionary tale- divorce, sleep disturbance, depression. But there is more to see in the world of the Symbols that Ledger found himself immersed in.
BY JOE NEUMAIER
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, January 24th 2008, 3:18 AM
Heath Ledger thought landing the demanding role of the Joker was a dream come true - but now some think it was a nightmare that led to his tragic death.
Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in 1989 - and who was furious he wasn't consulted about the creepy role - offered a cryptic comment when told Ledger was dead.
"Well," Nicholson told reporters in London early Wednesday, "I warned him."
Though the remark was ambiguous, there's no question the role in the movie earmarked as this summer's blockbuster took a frightening toll.
Ledger recently told reporters he "slept an average of two hours a night" while playing "a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy .I couldn't stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going."
Prescription drugs didn't help, he said.
Heath Ledger's makeup in the new Batman movie isn't the first time someone from the big-time media borrowed from Killing Joke. Here's Jaz Coleman wearing an earlier version of the makeup, with the lipstick drawn across the cheek as we see with the Joker. The song he is performing there- for the first time on television, mind you - has an interesting history.
The song is called "Eighties" and was released in 1984. There's an interesting tie-in to Our Gods Wear Spandex in the lyric, "I'm in love with the Coming Race." Interesting to note that this semiotically-loaded video ends with one of the band's usual torchlight processions. Note also the bonfire in the middle of the clip. As with the later "Hosannas from the Basements of Hell" video, they were attempting to charge this clip with occult resonance. A promotional tool becomes a ritual working. Not being an occultist, I can't speak to the video's efficacy. I can only ask: what were the results?
You may have heard the lead riff of "Eighties" in Nirvana's 1992 hit "Come As You Are." To say the very least, Killing Joke didn't appreciate the homage and took Kurt Cobain to court, only to drop the suit when he committed suicide in 1994.
Not a fortuitous precedent for ripping off the Jokers.
Somewhat of an earlier variation of the riff was heard on a 1982 album by the Damned, ironically titled "Life Goes On," but it was clear where Cobain nicked the riff from. Ironically, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl would later play with Killing Joke on their 2003 self-titled album, whose lyrics read like a David Icke lecture.
Hosannas from the Basements of Hell is a bit of a different story. The song itself is about how Jaz Coleman uses Killing Joke to channel his aggressions, but the album is filled with very heavy occult themes- songs dealing with Babalon ("Invocation") and Lucifer ("The Lightbringer"), as well as songs with titles like "Walking with Gods" and "The Judas Goat." However you care to explain it- whether through psychological or supernatural means- powerfully-focused ideas in art can take on a life of their own. By modeling the new Joker off of Jaz Coleman's stage makeup, there is almost some sort of transference at work.
Add to that the psychotic nature of the role itself, the immense demands big budget movies make on actors and the general self-abuse so common among young celebrities and you have a recipe for sorrow.
I have to say I was saddened that a brilliant young actor like Ledger left us so early, but I wasn't shocked. So much of his film work seemed to radiate darkness- his deaths in two of his most prominent roles (The Patriot and Monster's Ball) come to mind. And then there is the Clown Prince of Crime, nearly a satanic figure from the looks of the Dark Knight trailer. There is a strange echo of the death of Brandon Lee (star of The Crow) as well, certainly through the synchronistic link to Paul Raven's death if nothing else. That film's hit soundtrack was chock full of Killing Joke admirers like Nine Inch Nails and Helmet.
Some individuals seem to become strange attractors of a sort. When they die it's always tragic, until you look back on their lives and find that Death seemed to be their constant companion.
For the rest of us, it seems advisable to be very careful about the symbols we toy with. One may not believe in their supranatural power, but even a knee jerk skeptic can't rightly dismiss the power of suggestion from the equation.
Of course, that might just be two ways of saying the same thing.
In honor of Heath then, a requiem filmed in -of all places- Loreley, Germany...