Tag: david bowie

Jack Nicholson as The Joker: A Remembering

For some reason, I always remembered the original Batman as a sort of sublime representation of the property; a wonderful blend of the serious, dramatic side and the charming camp of the television series.  Before we get to The Joker and Jack Nicholson, a few notes from when I watched it again recently:

  • I totally forgot Billy Dee Williams was Harvey Dent.  Obviously this never built to him playing Two-Face for whatever reason.  That would have been very interesting to see.  Shame.
  • I’m not a big Tim Burton guy; I enjoy most of his work, but I don’t automatically like everything he does.  His work in Batman is superb though.
  • The art destruction scene, while campy and dated, is a pretty great representation of the Joker character.
  • The pileup after the first chase scene is hilarious.  It’s like a million cars, vegatables, bricks, and a mountain of other inanimate objects.
  • I still think Michael Keaton was a curious choice for Batman/Bruce Wayne.  He ended up being quite good, but I can’t recall any body of work that would make anyone think he would be specifically good at either part of the role.  But he is.
  • Why would Batman fly up to silhouette on the moon like that?  Oh whatever.
  • I think there might only be four women in this movie.  Vicki Vale, the girl that was dating the Joker and the old mob boss, the news lady, and Bruce Wayne’s mom.  I think all the extras were dudes.  This movie is a sausagefest.
  • Fucking Danny Elfman.  Everything he touches is gold.

OK, with that out of the way: Jack Nicholson as the Joker.  It gets weird.

So, the defining characteristic of all of all of the 80s/90s Batman movies is that they paid homage to the camp of the TV series.  To me it’s pretty clear that this was intentional, but I also think it would have been done deliberately if only because Batman villains are very cartoonish and campy in their own right.  The villains typically don’t have superpowers (since Batman technically doesn’t either), so they are strange and fantastical in their own right, with curious origin stories and blown-out characterizations.

What we now know is that the Joker can be gritty, real, and terrifying while still maintaining the trademark name, facepaint, and character traits.  Heath Ledger’s turn as the iconic villain has been heavily lauded as one of the greatest villain performances in history, and much of that is owed to the writing of the character.  In The Dark Knight, the Joker seems very real, very dangerous, and very believable to many extents.

However, the original Batman movie was still stuck in the mire of camp, so the characterization of the Joker was still rather silly.  Creating an origin story that had never really been explored, Jack Napier is a bad guy turned worse by circumstance, with a mangled face (to explain the perma-grin) and a chaotic sense of entitlement.

Jack-Nicholson-as-The-JokerHowever, when compared to all the other villains in that initial run of Batman movies, the Joker certainly stands out.  Part of this is that the Joker is simply the least ridiculous of the villains; all the others were either historically weirder or just portrayed as extreme caricatures.  The other part is Jack Nicholson.

Is it strange to feel that Nicholson both helped and harmed the Joker character in Batman?  I feel that his performance was a double-edged sword.  Let me explain.

What Nicholson did lend to the Joker role was prestige and menace.  The simple fact that it was him portraying the Joker made the performance important, only because Nicholson is important.  Not to say Michelle Pfeiffer, Jim Carrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny DeVito, et al aren’t important, but Nicholson brings with him some serious dramatic weight, no matter what the role.

Additionally, nobody can appear menacing and charming at the same time quite like Jack.  This did lend the Joker character a true degree of danger, despite the purple suit, cheesy jokes, and perma-smile.  I’m not sure if Nicholson was the only person who could have done that, but he certainly did it.

However, Nicholson clearly didn’t have his heart into the character whatsoever.  It’s a common problem with him in many movies, where his performance is still good because he’s largely incapable of poor performance, but his lack of enthusiasm is evident in the quieter parts of the performance.  The crescendos are magnificent, but the expository parts of the dialogue are lackluster.  It’s as if the gravitas of his personality still fills the role, but he himself isn’t trying very hard.

The casting alternatives for the Joker role are always tantalizing.  Names like Robin Williams, Tim Curry, and David Bowie are fun to think about.  However, the best name I’ve ever heard associated with that role was Willem Dafoe.  I think Williams and Curry would have definitely filled the humor and insanity parts of the role well, but I would have concerns on how much menace and danger either of them could portray.  Dafoe would have been able to make the Joker more dangerous, similar to how Nicholson did.


 

Funny thing I just realized while typing this: I probably would have never considered myself a Batman fanatic, but I’ve written like three or four blog posts in the last month about the movies.  I guess I am one.

Advertisements

Three Souls

I remember the first time I heard Motorhead.  Like, really heard Motorhead, as in listened to a whole album.  I had probably heard Ace of Spades years prior, but listening to a whole Motorhead album was like getting in a car wreck.  It’s exhilarating, disorienting, and afterwards you’re not quite sure what happened, but you’re sure something has changed.

Google “bands like Motorhead.”  Go ahead, do it.  Google will associate a number of bands that are related, and none of those bands are quite like (or even close) to Motorhead.  That might be as great a modern compliment that can be paid to a band, especially one has storied as Motorhead.

I loved Motorhead mainly because they were a perfect blend of old-school metal sensibilities and punk rock energy.  They certainly weren’t either genre, but a blend of each genre’s strengths.  The constant, never-ending sonic assault personified the best parts of loud music, and there really hasn’t been anything like them since.

At the center of Motorhead was Lemmy Kilmister, probably the best-named frontman in all of music (and at the very least, that last name is real).  The mole, the gravel-on-fire voice, then relentless energy.  Even when his lyrics weren’t aggressive, every word had “fuck you, this is what I love, and you’re going to fucking like it” laced into it.

Some would rag on Motorhead for never really changing or re-inventing themselves.  “If you’ve heard one Motorhead song you’ve heard them all” is certainly a thing I’ve heard many times.  Normally I would hop on that “evolve, please” train, but fuck that.  No one else was giving you what Motorhead gave you.  It was simple, it was primal, it was relentless, it was punching your eardrum with every beat.  I’d like to think that they knew this, and that they considered trying a new creative approach, but then collectively said “fuck that, we’re doing what we love”.  I can’t rag on that.

Lemmy, and by proxy Motorhead, was special.  I’m sure we’ll find another band with the same perfect blend of genre and merciless aggression, but I don’t think there’ll ever be anything quite like Lemmy or Motorhead again.


 

The cultural impact of David Bowie is practically immeasurable.  Setting aside any part of what he did is to do him a disservice; his entire creative body of work in the studio, on the stage, and on the screen all screams one simple truth: be who you are, and don’t be afraid of it.

Two common threads throughout all of Bowie’s work is unabashed love in what he was doing, and not a care in the world what anyone thought of it.  No matter how strange the costume, or how unconventional the music, David Bowie was truly authentic, honest, and artistic.

The joy of Bowie’s work permeated throughout culture.  He showed us all that it’s OK to be who you are, no matter how strange or weird you think it might be.  He showed us that if we’re being true to what we’re doing, there is no social barrier that can stop you.  He showed us that no matter how strange, art is art.

To me, David Bowie isn’t among my favorite musicians.  A few select songs are special to me for differing reasons, but I rarely put on David Bowie by my own volition.  However, his presence in music is to be respected, revered, remembered.  There is nothing more gratifying to witness than an artist performing his art on their terms, with no fear of repercussion.  David Bowie did that every moment of his artistic life, and that’s something we should all learn from.


 

Alan Rickman is one of my favorite actors.  His trademark double-bass voice and premier acting ability lent credibility to a strange movie in my childhood, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  Despite Kevin Costner barely making an effort to sound British, Rickman’s performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham was memorable to me.  The “carve his heart out with a spoon/IT’S DULLER, IT’LL HURT MORE” line was a source of great joy to me, in particular.

I don’t remember him as Snape; I have seen some of the Harry Potter movies, but didn’t get too much in them.  I remember him as Marvin.  As the Metatron.  As Hans Gruber.  All unique roles for a unique talent.

What is there to learn from him, besides that he’s a great actor?  That giving up on a dream can be foolish.  Hans Gruber (Die Hard, for you plebeians who haven’t seen the greatest Christmas movie of all time) was his first major role, and he was 42 when he got that role.  It was only his 9th credit on television or film, and his first role in three years at the time.  42!  How many people have given up by then?  All?  I’d assume all if it wasn’t for him.


 

All three of these wonderful souls have passed on, sadly.  All three gave something wonderful to the world, and all three will likely never be duplicated.  While they were all in different worlds, they all taught us important lessons through their life’s work.

When people talk about “legacy”, that’s what we should be thinking about.  Not how much stuff we have, or what personal accomplishments we achieved.  What is important is the meaning of those accomplishments to the world around us, and the lives we touched in a positive manner in our journey to them.  All three of these men did just that, in different but interesting ways.