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NF-Lee's Gildor and Frodo

Heath Ledger: article by Reed Johnson, plus some screencaps....

Posted on 2008.01.24 at 15:34
Tags: , ,

I still feel in a haze of thought and emotion to do much talking here, but here are a few remarks, a great article, and some screencaps.

If you visited this LJ after the release of Brokeback Mountain, you’ll know that it’s my favourite film after the LotR trilogy, and that Heath Ledger’s performance as Ennis Del Mar is probably my favourite in all of film. While his dying is a huge loss to the people in his life, who loved him and worked with him, his dying is a loss to me, as an appreciator of his great acting and the character he created. A friend in another LJ said she felt that an irreplaceable work of art had been destroyed. I can relate to that.

Whatever are one’s reasons, many of us are finding ourselves grieved, and surprised and disoriented by the grief we feel for a person we don’t even know. Yet I feel as though I knew him, I guess because I feel like I “know” Ennis. Even though Heath Ledger virtually disappeared into the role, to do that he had to sink himself, his whole self, into playing that part. He put some of his soul into that character, I’ll swear it. And I feel the loss of it.

Another LJ friend who especially loves the character he created in Brokeback Mountain said that hearing that Heath had died felt like Ennis had died. So we are experiencing a double-mourning.

I’ve been reading articles in the last few days, to help me wrap my mind around this. I’ve saved several, thinking I might post some excerpts. But I just read the article below. I feel that it so well expresses what I would have wanted to say (but better than I would say it), I’ll just post the whole thing. Some of you will already have read it, others may not have. It’s from today’s Los Angeles Times.

Heath Ledger, vulnerable male

By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
January 24, 2008

THIS sadly underachieving decade, which the British tellingly call the "noughts," has been a troubled one for the concept of masculinity. That's been as true of Hollywood movies as it has of the increasingly nebulous entity we call the real world.

As much as any serious actor of his generation, Heath Ledger, the 28-year-old Australian who was found dead Tuesday in a Manhattan apartment, grappled on screen with the shifting, clashing ideals of what masculinity might mean at the start of the 21st century. Whether playing a heroin-addled poet, a goofy but earnest medieval knight who beats time to '70s rock tunes, a British officer determined to recoup his lost honor, a womanizing Venetian libertine or a sheep-herding cowboy who falls tragically in love with his bunkmate, Ledger wrestled, painfully and often very movingly, with trying to reconcile manhood's competing claims of duty, honor, love, sexuality, work and loyalty (to a woman, a man, a country, an ideal).

In contrast to certain of his lighter-weight contemporaries in their 20s and early 30s, Ledger didn't simply make "guy films." He seemed to steer away from the frat-house jocularity and beery "I-love-you-man!" sentimentality that so many young male performers fall back on in order to reassure their fans, their publicists and perhaps themselves that, underneath whatever sensitive, emotionally layered character they may be portraying, they still haven't lost that ol' macho swagger. Tough guys don't dance, the recently departed pugilist-novelist Norman Mailer once wrote. Neither do they tear up on screen very often, at least not if they still want to be seen as tough guys.

Ledger had a basso profundo ruggedness about him, a premature cragginess that already had begun to nip away at his youthful beauty. But he wasn't afraid to show a deeper vulnerability beneath the scrappy Aussie exterior, a self-doubt that apparently mirrored the actor's own soul. "I like to do something I fear," he told The Times in a 2005 interview. ". . . I like to be afraid of the project. I always am. . . . There's a huge amount of anxiety that drowns out any excitement I have toward the project."

It was largely that roiling anxiety and vulnerability -- and the courage to show it to the world -- that set Ledger apart from the plastic action-hero and pretty-boy Hollywood masses, and that made him especially appealing to female audiences. (If you doubt this, check out the copious digital eulogies now flooding the Internet.)

Like his namesake, Heathcliff, the brooding hero of Emily Brontë's archetypal Gothic novel "Wuthering Heights," Ledger gave vent to obsessive, over-the-top emotional states that Western popular culture, since at least the Romantic period, has more commonly assigned to women. His brave, emotionally (and often literally) naked performances, typically shorn of any protective irony, exposed him to risks that some other stars avoid. By certain accounts, his recently completed work as the Joker in the next "Batman" installment may have taken him to a darker, more dangerous place than he himself expected to go.

Even, or perhaps especially, at his most tight-lipped and stoic, as the lovesick cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," Ledger conveys the sublime inner torment that comes from willingly sacrificing everything, even your own sense of self, in exchange for a few stolen moments with an obscure object of desire, in this case the slicker, more resilient and emotionally evasive Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

In the film's final seconds, alone in his trailer home some time after Jack has been brutally murdered, probably in a gay-bashing hate crime, Ennis gently fingers his friend's old shirt while surveying the ruins of his own broken life. "Jack, I swear . . . ," he says, choking up, leaving the thought unfinished, a gesture of monosyllabic eloquence that Ledger pulls off with a graceful economy few actors could muster.

Following the adage of Evelyn Waugh in "Brideshead Revisited," another great fictional work centered on a homosexual romance, Ennis learns, at a shattering price, that "to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom." What made Ledger's performance an instant touchstone for gay audiences, and earned him an Academy Award nomination for lead actor, was how he convinces us that Ennis, despite the agony it has caused him and others, considers that price to have been worth paying.

Robert Stone, Ken Kesey and others have written insightfully about how the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution and the other social upheavals of the 1960s radically altered our notions of what makes a man manly. In a single decade we flipped from John Wayne to Mick Jagger. Reflecting our confusion, the period ushered in a generation of troubled male loners (Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle).

Marlon Brando and the ever-youthful ghost of James Dean (with whom Ledger inevitably now will be compared) remain the gold standard of ambivalent masculinity in postwar Hollywood. A handful of young actors will keep trying to express those ambiguities in physical and spoken form. Gyllenhaal, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gael García Bernal, Adrien Brody, Christian Bale and Tobey Maguire come to mind.

But one wonders when another image of a male character, or two, will take hold of the imagination as firmly as the poster design for "Brokeback Mountain." That instantly recognizable pairing of the two actors in partial profile was immediately seized on by parodists and political cartoonists, who substituted other odd couples, such as Bush and Cheney, for Ledger and Gyllenhaal. The movie's representation of the ultimate American rugged individualist, the Marlboro Man, in tears, gives rise to powerful, uncomfortable emotions at a time when America itself has been humbled and, in the eyes of much of the world, emasculated.

A colleague of mine suggested that Ledger may have been the Eli Manning of actors. Manning, the young, half-proven New York Giants quarterback who will lead his team on Super Bowl Sunday, possesses something of Ledger's articulate reticence, his knight- errant quality mixed with a slight, enduring gawkiness, his aura of a hero yet-to-be.

Whether those qualities in Ledger, and his streaks of brilliance, would have coalesced into an era-defining artist is now unknowable. All we are left with is sentence fragments, inchoate feelings, the low murmur of an unfulfilled promise. "Jack, I swear. . . ."


Below are some crops taken from my BBM screencaps. They are from scenes in which I thought Heath Ledger did some of his best, most naked work (and I’m not talking about clothing). Every scene he did was brilliant, and some of my favourites are not represented here (like the fights and arguments Ennis has with Alma and Jack, or his laughing talks around the campfire), but I thought these scenes not only showed his ability to get inside of and open up a locked-up character, they soothe me somewhow. I guess I am feeling opened up right now: inward and tender towards the man who died and hurt and angry towards his fate. To me, these scenes capture some of that mix of moods.

~ Mechtild


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belleferret at 2008-01-24 22:03 (UTC) (Link)
A wonderful tribute. Thank you.
mechtild at 2008-01-24 23:13 (UTC) (Link)
You're welcome, Belleferret.
aussiepeach at 2008-01-24 22:24 (UTC) (Link)
What a wonderful article. And the screencaps show what Heath was capable of.

I guess if we can't fix it, we've got to stand it.
mechtild at 2008-01-24 23:14 (UTC) (Link)
Apt quote, Peachy.

It *is* an exceptional article, isn't it? I should write the author a letter of appreciation.
bagma at 2008-01-24 22:37 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you very much for this beautiful and moving post. I totally agree with the author about the last scene; I can't read or even remember Ennis' words without feeling like crying.
mechtild at 2008-01-24 23:16 (UTC) (Link)
All this makes me want to watch the movie again. Tonight. Unfortunately, we're receiving a beloved houseguest any moment, and all poring over BBM (and maybe this LJ) must be set aside.
(Deleted comment)
mechtild at 2008-01-24 23:21 (UTC) (Link)
Oh, the "hat in hand" scene. What a brilliant scene, exquisitely shot and acted. I really am blown away every time I watch it, it's such a work of art. That makes it sound like I just "admire" it and say "ah" over its artistry, but that's not what I mean. It is superb art and a real, convincing, and deeply moving piece of drama at the same time: It's art at its best: both beautiful *and* true to life, reaching the heart and the aesthetic sense of the viewer at the same time.
addie71 at 2008-01-24 23:39 (UTC) (Link)
A wonderful article and a beautiful, moving tribute. The article really does sum up why so many of us are so deeply hurt by the loss of this talented young man.

Thank you.
mechtild at 2008-01-24 23:42 (UTC) (Link)
Isn't it good? I just was reading it again when you commented. Thanks for stopping by, Addie.

Edited at 2008-01-24 11:42 pm (UTC)
mariole at 2008-01-25 01:21 (UTC) (Link)
*hugs you * lights a candle*
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:13 (UTC) (Link)
*hugs you back, Mariole*
primula_baggins at 2008-01-25 02:55 (UTC) (Link)
This is a moving tribute, just as you always do. An excellent article, and the pictures are wonderful.

I don't know anyone who didn't gasp in shock when they found out. He should not be gone. He's supposed to be here for many years sharing his great talent with us. Sometimes, the world gives us only a little taste of magnificence and then cuts it off as if to make us realize how good we had it.
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:14 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, Primula. "He should not be gone." That's how it feels.
frolijah_fan_54 at 2008-01-25 03:41 (UTC) (Link)
What a lovely and loving tribute - *hugs*
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:14 (UTC) (Link)
You are welcome, Frolijah Fan.
notabluemaia at 2008-01-25 04:14 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Mechtild, for speaking to our sadness, and for sharing such a sensitive article - and, of course, those lovely caps that bring back the iconic film and Ennis, too.
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:16 (UTC) (Link)
You are Welcome, Notabluemaia. It was a wonderful article. I loved the way it not only lifted up the gifts and accomplishment of Heath Ledger, but tied it into the larger picture: how the work he did--and the way he did it--fit into a larger, cultural scheme of significance.
ellinestel at 2008-01-25 05:10 (UTC) (Link)
Oh... Thank you, Mechtild. Your post made me cry. :(
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:17 (UTC) (Link)
I know you had a soft spot for Mr. Del Mar, Ellin. Thanks.
julchen11 at 2008-01-25 05:16 (UTC) (Link)
What a wonderful, sensitive and moving article. Thank you, mechtild, for posting.
It still hurts so much, it feel like running in circles, not knowing what to do now.
The screencaps, as you say, are propably the most moving scenes in this great movie.
Watching it will never be the same …
*hugs tight*
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:19 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, Julchen, and thanks for the hug. *returns the comfort* Yes, it's been bewildering. I feel as if I can't sit in one place, inside, but am sort of...wandering around.
maeglian at 2008-01-25 09:49 (UTC) (Link)
Thank you so much for posting this, Mechtild. It's a good tribute from the LA times, and a lovely one from you. You know what this has meant to me. I cried a bucketload last night (again). It is such terrible tragedy.

Those images from Brokeback.... I feel so sorry for Michelle Williams and for Jake Gyllenhaal too. Not only for their grief, but also I think it may prove tough for Jake to be the representative of both Jack and Ennis going forward. For the article you quoted is right in pointing out how the Brokeback poster, and the quotes, and the whole story have become a cultural landmark, frequently referred to and referenced - and now Jake is left alone to represent it.
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:36 (UTC) (Link)
Maeglian, you wrote:

I think it may prove tough for Jake to be the representative of both Jack and Ennis going forward....the Brokeback poster, and the quotes, and the whole story have become a cultural landmark...and now Jake is left alone to represent it.

And Jake will have more than that to represent in Heath's absence. Did you read the little snippet on Jake that was in a news story? I found it last night just scrolling through the new items. I had been wondering how things have been for him, for I know they were close, besides being godfather to Matilda. Just in case you didn't see it, here it is:

JAKE Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger's best friend and Matilda's godfather, has been left to grieve on his own and has not been seen since the actor's death.
According to TMZ, people on the set of his new film, Brothers, are helping the star keep it that way as he is too distressed to talk to media.

Gyllenhaal is currently filming in New Mexico and has been holed up in the studio. There are no plans to stop the film's production to give Jake time to fly to New York to be with Michelle Williams.

The set has been closed to non-crew members and extra security has been hired to keep photographers at bay and to ensure the actor's privacy, according to TMZ.

Now that two-year-old Matilda is left to grow up without her doting father, the responsibility to keep Heath Ledger's memory alive falls partly on her famous godfather, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jake, Heath and Matilda's mom Michelle Williams, bonded on the set of their Academy Award-winning hit Brokeback Mountain, for which they all received Oscar nominations.

"Heath and I are best friends now making the film was very intense for us," said Jake, 27, who played Heath's sheep-herding love interest in the Blockbuster hit. He described being Matilda's godfather as "an amazing honor," he told Page Six.

"I remember being in rehearsal, and the two of them had googly eyes with each other," he has said of the romance between Matilda's parents.

~ The Daily Telegraph 1-25-08

Here's an excerpt I found very moving from a good article by James Barron in the 1/23 NY Times:

In a recent interview with WJW-TV, a Fox affiliate in Cleveland, about “I’m Not There,” in which he was one of several actors playing the music legend Bob Dylan, Mr. Ledger struck a philosophical note. He responded to a question about how having a child had changed his life:

“You’re forced into, kind of, respecting yourself more,” he said. “You learn more about yourself through your child, I guess. I think you also look at death differently. It’s like a Catch-22: I feel good about dying now because I feel like I’m alive in her, you know, but at the same hand, you don’t want to die because you want to be around for the rest of her life.”

I watched BBM last night. We have a dear houseguest in who had never seen it and, because of the news, asked if we could watch it. The whole while I watched, loving it as usual in the usual way, I was also thinking, "he'll never laugh like that again; he'll run those beautiful long fingers over a script or an animal's flank or a lover's body like that again". And in the drive-in scene, when Alma takes Ennis's hand from where it is draped around her shoulder, bringing it down to her stomach to feel the baby moving, I couldn't help but think of him feeling the movements of his own child through his lover's skin--the child he won't hold again--or any future child he might have had. I didn't make a distraction as we sat in the darkened room and watched, but the tears just sprouted out and rolled.
melyanna_65 at 2008-01-25 11:16 (UTC) (Link)
What a great post and a wonderful tribute!

I'm still so sad about Heath's death. It's tragic and unbelievable, I never thought it could affect me that much. I wasn't exactly a fan of his, but I immensely loved Brokeback Mountain and I know I'm going to miss his smile.

*hugs you*
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:38 (UTC) (Link)
Melyanna, thanks for stopping by. It really is just so sad.
verangel at 2008-01-25 11:56 (UTC) (Link)
"Ledger wrestled, painfully and often very movingly, with trying to reconcile manhood's competing claims of duty, honor, love, sexuality, work and loyalty (to a woman, a man, a country, an ideal)."
"Ledger had a basso profundo ruggedness about him, a premature cragginess that already had begun to nip away at his youthful beauty"
Then the para on his delivery of "Jack, I swear...". I'm teary reading this.
This tribute is so beautiful, well thought out, comforting. I am still so haunted and saddened by it all. Its a painful loss and one I know I will never forget.

hugs you close. xoxoxox v
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:40 (UTC) (Link)
The article was a real keeper, full of great observations. I really, really appreciate that the writer wrote it and published it to share. I am the richer for it.
frodosweetstuff at 2008-01-25 13:57 (UTC) (Link)
I didn't know much about him and I loved the article you posted - very well written and thought-provoking.

Not sure though why the writer called Jack Twist "emotionally evasive"? *puzzled*
mechtild at 2008-01-25 17:56 (UTC) (Link)
It was a great article. I said to someone above that I loved the way he not only lifted up and defined so much that was significant and memorable about Ledger and his performances, but he put it all in the perspective of the wider culture, showing how significant his contributions were even beyond the world of people who like good films or like to swoon for actors.

"Emotionally evasive". I wish he had been more specific, but I think I know what he meant. I am guessing he meant the way Jack tended to tell partial truths. (Ennis was always the height of plain-spoken, and was terribly transparent when he was trying to cover something up intentionally, like his explanations to Alma when dashing off on the fishing trips.) The example that first comes to mind is in their last camping trip when Jack tells Ennis that he's having an affair with the ranch foreman's wife. He is having an affair with the ranch foreman, in fact, and they both plan to leave their wives and go up to Wyoming, to help on Jack's father's ranch while starting up a place of their own on the property--as Jack's cold, mean-tempered father reveals in the scene when Ennis comes up to Lightning Flats, offering to scatter Jack's ashes on Brokeback Mountain.

I actually think Jack was about to tell Ennis about his plans (to leave him and make a life with someone who was willing) there by the river, when he said, "The truth is...." He pauses for a long time, then says "Sometimes I miss you so much I can't stand it." Personally, I think what he was steeling himself to say was, "The truth is, I'm going to leave you to start a new life with someone who is willing to start a new life, since you won't" (or words to that effect in Jack-talk). But he can't do it, or is afraid to do it, saying instead the reason why he has been unfaithful (because he is unsatisfied with such an intermittent affair with no prospect of ever living together), and why he intends to leave Ennis.

That's just my interpretation of Jake Gyllenhal's delivery of that line, of course. But the fact remains that he told Ennis that he was bedding the foreman's wife when really he was having a serious affair with the foreman himself. I think that when Jack asked Ennis if he hadn't thought about marrying again (which was why Ennis volunteered the information that he was "putting the blocks" to a waitress in Riverton, but wasn't interested in anything past that), he was hoping to hear that Ennis had some other options, *because* Jack would feel less guilty when he told Ennis that he was going to enter into a real, living-together relationship before it was too late. But he never does tell Ennis, and Ennis knows nothing about it until he hears it out of the mouth of Jack's father, after Jack is dead.

Gee, that turned into a long answer! I guess your comment got me thinking.

Edited at 2008-01-25 05:59 pm (UTC)
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