Joaquin Phoenix puts in a truly devastatingly spectacular performance as Batman’s arch-nemesis Joker in the new DC film of the origin of the Clown Prince Of Crime. I am a big fan of comics, mostly Marvel, but in Batman and most of his villains DC has something on a par with the Marvel Universe. However, until now the film adaptations of DC characters have been at best sporadically good. But with ‘Joker’ they have moved into the Premier League. This film, directed by Todd Phillips is for me potentially the best superhero related film ever, in fact, I would say that it is possibly the best film that I have ever seen. It works as a study of abuse, bullying, isolation and mental breakdown and how society treats those who are different. There are obvious superhero and supervillain references given the iconic nature of one of DC Comics’ best-known villains. However, even with no knowledge of comic history or the key characters, you would probably agree that this is a stone-cold great film. For nerdy comic fans like me, you do get to see a young Bruce Wayne. Apparently, Joaquin Phoenix lost 52 pounds to play the character and he based the maniacal laughter on “videos of people suffering from pathological laughter” He didn’t look at previous Joker portrayals for inspiration, but he read a book about political assassinations so he could understand killers and motivations. He must be in line for an Oscar in my opinion.
The soundtrack from Icelandic musician and composer Hildur Gudnadottir. Hildur is a classicly trained cellist and has played with Throbbing Gristle and Animal Collective. She also provided the soundtrack for the recent TV mini-series ‘Chernobyl’. The musical soundscapes that she has created for ‘Joker’ are dark, moody and gothic and help to build scenes perfectly. Click here to listen to her soundtrack on Spotify. In addition to Gudnadottir’s work, there are a lot of previously hit or classic songs used at key points in the film. At one point you can hear one of my favourite 70s soul songs in the background while Phoenix as Arthur Fleck is putting on his clown make up. That song is “Everybody Plays The Fool” by the Main Ingredient. Other songs that feature are “Smile” by Jimmy Durante and “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra, both of which take prominent roles in the film’s soundscape. Tracks by the Doors, Joy Division, Pink Floyd and Donovan. “Left Speaker Blown” by Liars an LA-based band formed in the 90s is deeply dark and bordering on the scary side of beautiful. There is clearly at least one controversial track used in the film though. In quite a pivotal scene as Arthur Fleck’s mental state moves him more toward the Joker character he becomes he dances down some steps backed by a soundtrack of notorious UK paedophile Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part 2”. Now to many people, particularly in the UK, the thought of the former Paul Gadd making money is gross. However, were the music pickers form the film aware of Glitter’s activities? He never really sold much in the USA, he was essentially a one hit wonder in America. I understand that he is not likely to receive ongoing royalties for this, but will probably receive a lump sum payment. Half of that will go to his co-writer Mike Leander, who I have a degree of sympathy for. In my opinion, it was, with hindsight, foolish to use this tune. However in the context of the film it works!
The bottom line is that this is an incredible film and well worth seeing, don’t let the Glitter shit prevent you from giving it a shot.
As a footnote, last year in a Rolling Stone interview discussing his favourite Glam Rock songs Joe Elliot of Def Leppard said of Glitter’s “I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!)”; “This is going to be very controversial because nobody talks about Gary Glitter anymore, since he’s a child molester, but there’s no doubt that in 1973, him and Michael Leander, who previously worked with the Beatles, made a fantastic song. It’s just an absolutely tremendous sing-along, laugh-along pop anthem. It was just undeniable. It starts off with a motorbike and then Glitter and the band start this “Come on, come on” chant and it speeds up and then just stops and he goes, “Do you want to be in my gang, my gang?” and it’s just begging for what comes next, which is the whole Glitter band going, “Oh yeah.” It’s just really well-constructed stuff.
You won’t hear him on the radio in the U.K. anymore because he’s banished to bloody hell because of all his misdemeanors with underage girls. But probably no more so than Jerry Lee Lewis who still gets played. And Chuck Berry had all these tours before he died, and nobody seems to remember that he put cameras in the toilets of his restaurant and filmed people. So people pick and choose their pariahs, I suppose. But if you discuss music and nothing but music here, the songs you had when you’re a 12-year-old kid were fantastic. And that one song in particular was the best one I ever heard.” I am not for one moment this condones anythine Glitter the paedophile did, but this is just another view.
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