January 28, 2009

On Heath Ledger + the Academy Awards Play by Mary Bevington

If you can’t fix it…you gotta stand it”. ~ Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain

Recently I reacquainted with a family friend who worked closely with Heath Ledger. At a lull in our conversation I gathered the courage to bring him up.

“I thought about you when Heath Ledger died –“

She stammered, “Oh no, no, can’t talk about him. It’s just too – too sad”.

Instantly I felt her seismic pain.

Sometimes you just want to vault the hard times. And lord knows grief can take a while to stabilize. My brother Peter’s death sends me there still and he died nearly 6 years ago.

Just over a year has passed since I heard the NPR headline, “Actor Heath Ledger was found dead in his New York apartment….”. In that moment a 21-gram ripple surged through my skyways.

Words crush.

I liked Heath Ledger: his eye-shine, his voice, his being impressed me. I often imagined we’d come from similar stardust.

I act. And love the way acting connects me to my sub-personalities, my soul’s kaleidoscope.

I respect Ledger’s work, partly because of his passion and partly because acting is scary.

I barely act anymore, and yet it remains in my daily life, as it does in everyone’s daily life.

According to the performance theorists, of which I am one, we perform throughout our whole lives from the cradle to the grave: our work, our religion, our rites of passage, our loves, our lies, our truths. We actors just rehearse more, drop-in deep and sell tickets.

Now, The Academy and their minions, perform an honorific performance for Heath Ledger.

Words meant to hook us murmur in the media sound score: amazing legacy, and-if-he-wins-who-will-accept, Matilda, accidental-overdose, worthy….

And in the downbeat a solemn bagpipe sounds.

Clearly, the Academy reveres Ledger’s work in The Dark Knight. How could they not?

As the new Joker, Ledger dove head first into the cauldron. And emerged as a mass murderer endowed with physical elegance and deformity, an unbridled emotional expression,  and a weirdly comic sensibility.

Dante’s Gates of Hell saw nothing more sublime.

Plus, his last few performances in Brokeback Mountain, Candy, The Brothers Grimm, and I’m Not There landed. In the years/months leading up to his passing, Ledger, the artist was individuating himself from the throngs in a way you couldn’t quite put your finger on.

But beyond the merit of his performances, Ledger is now immortally touched.

And as his status ascends to iconic, his brand revenue flows endlessly down stream.

And more will be written in this mercurial story line.

And Heath will win the Oscar – and so will we.

It’s the perfect choice, as it allows sweetness within fate’s bittersweet twists and turns.

And in this Winter 2009 we experience a darkly uncertain and at once sunlit time. Magical President Obama captains our three-sheets-to-the-wind country, as we all hang onto our hats. And the weavers of modern mythology responsively work their magic.

For Hollywood knows to contrast the dark shapes with warm light, and how nice it is to veil the sad, the frightening, the madness with a happy ending, if only for a moment.


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