The Dark Night’s Ghastly Joker: Heath Ledger Touted for an Oscar

The Dark Knight’s Ghastly Joker: Heath Ledger Touted for an Oscar

Handsome is as handsome doesn’t in The Dark Knight. Of the three male actors who dominate the movie, it’s Heath Ledger with his face hidden behind twisted clown makeup, whose perfect features are never seen, who has proven to be the most memorable. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight is both a demonic creation and three-ring circus of one. Ledger died in January at the age of 28 from an accidental overdose, after the principal photography of the film had concluded. His death could have cast a paralyzing pall over the movie if his performance were not so alive. Ledger’s Joker is a creature of such ghastly life, and his performance is so visceral, creepy and insistently present that the portrayal pulls you in almost at once.

Ledger’s performance is so intense and lasting in part because, despite his insane mask, it’s a subtle and nuanced performance that is so powerful it almost erases all memories of the handsome Australian actor behind the Joker’s mask. The makeup seems to have liberated Ledger. Ledger’s body movements are flexibly agile, he’s expressive with only his eyes and his voice has oscillating surges of irony, mockery and psychopathology. Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight is an essay, in a way that he’s never shown before when playing straight-faced characters, in pure magnetic charisma.

While Hollywood’s Academy Awards are still more than six months away, the late Heath Ledger already is being touted for a supporting actor nomination for his terrifying performance in The Dark Knight. Ledger’s performance is so mesmerizing and daring as Batman’s clown-faced arch enemy that it’s possible he might become the first performer since Peter Finch (in the 1976 Network) to receive a posthumous Oscar.

The Dark Knight (Official Movie Trailer)

You can read more about what I’ve written earlier about Heath Ledger here and here.

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Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

Trumbo: Reminders of Political Persecution in America

The Fall of Dalton Trumbo

Trumbo is a new film about the Hollywood blacklisting of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, opening in theaters this week. The film includes a wealth of documentary footage from the House Un-American Activities Committee years and is, in its own way, a very personalized history of the notorious Hollywood blacklist.

Dalton Trumbo was a prolific Hollywood screenwriter who wrote dozens of movie scripts during the 1930s and ’40s, including Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle. His anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun won the National Book Award in 1939. But in 1947, Trumbo was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as part of the Hollywood Ten, who were questioned about their ties to the Communist Party. Trumbo refused to testify and was found in contempt of Congress.

Subsequently, he was kicked out of the screenwriter’s guild, and all of the Hollywood motion picture studios almost immediately blacklisted him. For his refusal to testify in the HUAC hearings, Trumbo eventually served nearly a year in federal prison. Dalton Trumbo’s ruination took him from being one of Hollywood’s highest-paid writers to a Hollywood pariah.

After Trumbo was released from prison, he remained on Hollywood’s blacklist for nearly a decade, but went on to have a prodigious writing career under a list of at least 13 pseudonyms (writing for films that included Roman Holiday, Gun Crazy, The Brave One). Trumbo’s film The Brave One, written under the pseudonym Robert Rich, won an Academy Award in 1957. It is the only unclaimed Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards. Trumbo finally received credit for his work on Exodus and Spartacus in 1960.

In 1970, Dalton Trumbo delivered a speech about the HUAC hunt for good guys and bad, which contained this admonishment: “There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides; and almost every individual involved, no matter where he stood, combined some or all of these antithetical qualities in his own person, in his own acts.”

Dalton Trumbo’s life story stands as a poignant reminder of a weird, scary time, a paranoid era which, some think, could happen again. Some Hollywood observers maintain that the potential for similar political persecution still exists, perhaps not in the exact form it happened before. However, they claim that there are things going on now in the current political administration that should serve as reminders that it could happen again.

Dalton Trumbo: A Blacklisted Writer in His Own Words:

The Hollywood Ten (Trumbo, 2nd Row, Left)

The Hollywood Ten

A Letter from Prison to My Wife: Read by Actor Josh Lucas

Trumbo: The Official 2008 Movie Trailer

Studs Terkel: A National Literary Icon

Studs Terkel and the HUAC Blacklist

This article has also been written in honor of a friend, 96 years old Studs Terkel. At the time when Senator McCarthy began blacklisting supposed subversives, Studs Terkel hosted Studs’ Place, a network television program on NBC, and wrote a regular column for the Chicago Sun Times. However, immediately after he refused to give names to McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, NBC pulled his television program and the Sun-Times cancelled his newspaper column. Terkel was unable to work until 1953, when a Chicago radio station hired him, telling Terkel “p*ss on the blacklist.” Subsequently, Terkel has written a number of acclaimed books, won the Pulitzer Prize (1985), two National Book Awards, and received The National Humanities Award (1997) and The George Polk Career Award (1999).

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And to You Whoopi Goldberg, Bravo!!

As most people probably know by now, Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony featured many montages, one of which was described as a “montage of Oscar hosts” when it was introduced by George Clooney. The retrospective montage of past hosts included a moment of almost every host in the show’s history. But there was one host who was not included in that montage, the 4-time host and Academy Awards winner Whoopi Goldberg.

On Monday’s airing of the ABC television program The View, the subject was discussed ad nauseam by the “chatting-heads”, and Whoopi’s feelings of disappointment about the omission were abundantly and painfully clear. The other co-hosts spoke of Whoopi’s many historical milestones related to the ceremony: she was the first female Oscar host, the first Oscar winner to host, and only the second African-American woman to ever win an Oscar. Up until now, most writers about that particular program have described it simply in terms of how displeased the co-hosts were with the slight.

However, there is a different, possibly more plausible perspective on what actually took place Monday on The View. Consider that not only does Whoopi have to suffer the daily indignity of being reduced to just another “chatting-head” on The View, but also that her co-hosts insisted upon going on and on, in front of millions of American people, rubbing in the fact that the Oscar winning actress and Oscar hosting actress had not been shown in one of the montages on Sunday night. Dumb and dumberer Elisabeth Hasselbeck babbled on and on about how it must feel so terrible to be so slighted. Placing a cherry atop the poison pudding, the ever-duplicitous Barbara Walters unwittingly asserted that nothing Whoopi had ever done at the Oscars was really a Great Moment.

Whoopi just sat there, looking unbelievably miserable, trying to collect the remaining shards of her dignity that were being scattered around the set. When the others just wouldn’t stop, Whoopi quietly got up and gave each of them “the kiss of death” just to shut their mouths, briefly weeping when she got behind Barbara Walters.

Update: On Tuesday, the producer of the Oscar awards show apologized to Whoopi for leaving her out. The View should be interesting to watch tomorrow.

George Clooney: The Oscar Montage of Hosts

The View: Sadly Embarrassing Moments

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Hollywood’s All Abuzz: It’s Oscar Dayze!!

Hollywood news conferences, The Red Carpet, movie stars, celebrities, fancy designer gowns, jewels and parties! Hollywood is a town that’s all abuzz as celebrities are flocking from all over the world for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. Here’s a video of Oscar Winner Predictions, as well as other great videos, including: a video about the worst movies of all time, an imaginative short film about the Oscars and a video about Eve Arnold’s wonderful celebrity photography.

The 2008 Academy Awards Oscar Predictions

The Worst Films Ever Made

The Oscars

Eve Arnold’s Celebrity Photography

Viewers can read The New York Times’ Oscar Predictions here.

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