Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The man who laughs

I went to London today to meet Helen Szirtes for lunch. It was a glorious day and we sat at the terrace cafe at Somerset House on the river in bright sunshine.

As usual, I talked too much. Writers are all probably a little too fascinated by their own story and have a tendency to blather on. Or at least that's my excuse. Although Helen is a writer too and she is no where near as bad. Perhaps - and this goes for so many things - it's just me.

Or maybe it's men.

Or maybe just me.

We talked about all kinds of things - my work (a lot), her work (a little), books in general, movies - and in particular The Dark Knight.

I watched The Dark Knight on a boy's night in with my son. We had watched Batman Begins the week before and though that movie was violent, it did not prepare either of us for The Dark Knight. How on earth did that movie get a 12? Has the world gone mad etc etc?

But that (nor Christian Bale's silly Batman voice) was not my main problem with the movie. Heath Ledger has been so lauded for his turn as the the Joker it seems something approaching sacrilege to say that I did not think he was right at all. I'm sure he gave the performance he was asked for - and I'm not faulting that performance at all - but the Joker is not a beefy, brutal thug. No, no, no.

Helen tried to convince me that this was simply a clash with my take on the Joker, but I don't think it is true. I think the strongest thing that Batman has going for him is the way that he is reinvented constantly so that he acquires the quality of a myth. But the Joker (like all Batman's enemies) is bizarre and nightmarish (and I would question the point in trying to make a 'realistic' Batman movie). He is doesn't smirk, he howls with laughter. He is demonic.

Some say (though it is hotly disputed) that Batman's creator, Bob Kane, claimed as his inspiration for The Joker, Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. Oddly Heath Ledger uses the story of this movie as one of his explanations for his scarred face: namely that as a boy a knife was used to carve a permanent grin. . .

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