Though he’d been kicking around for a few years already, most audiences first took a written notice of Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Dislike About You . From then on, he was never out of the public eye for long if he wasn’t burning up the screen, he was embracing the tabloids.
In the new documentary I Am Heath Ledger , though, we get to see the late actor as few of us have watched him before through the lens of his own camera.
Directors Adrian Buitenhuis and Derik Murray encompas all the usual basis, pulling together clips of Leger’s performances and interviews with his colleagues and loved ones. But the cinema is never more interesting, or moire poignant, than when Ledger turns the camera on himself.
Ledger, it turns out, was constantly documenting his own existence. Some of the footage is wholly mundane: Ledger hopping around in his living room, Ledger zooming in on his own feet. Some of it depicts him experimenting, even if that merely means fiddling with the camcorder’s special effects en route to Burning Man.
In one of the most memorable sequences, Ledger points the camera at his own face as he strays through a hallway, whispering improvised talk about a supervillain chasing after him. It’s weird and charming, and seems disarmingly intimate thanks to the close-up slant and the absence of smooth. It feels like a gag between friends , not a de facto short cinema by one of the most famous performers of his generation.
It’s in instants like these that we most clearly ensure the “real” Heath Ledger that his friends and family describe in their talking head interviews: an insatiably curious artist who was “always creating” and “lived every moment to the fullest.”
The descriptions themselves, though, have a distancing effect. I Am Heath Ledger is an almost relentlessly positive portraying of the late actor, tending toward effusive but vague kudo of Ledger as a person and Ledger as an artist. It feels like we’re listening to a bunch of strangers talk about another stranger which is exactly what we’re doing, of course, but probably isn’t the impression that the filmmakers were trying to make.
That told, it’s tough to blame Ledger’s loved ones for wanting to remember him at his best. Some of the most devastating instants in the documentary arrive when Ledger’s family recollects his death. “The world did find out before we did, ” one of his sisters remembers sadly. Ledger’s father, Kim , notes further that while in some manner, they were like any other family who’d lost a child, “we had to live our impressions in the public eye.” No wonder they aren’t eager to open up any more than they have to.
But it means that there’s a real restriction to what I Am Heath Ledger is available with. Gossip hounds won’t find much to feast on here; the cinema deals with Ledger’s demons very gingerly when it deals with them at all. Indeed, everyone involved takes soreness to belie the popular rumors that The Dark Knight pushed Ledger to the edge.
“A lot of people would like to think it was a strenuous process for him, ” mentions one of the talking heads, before going on to stress that it was far from it. “He was in the best place of his life” when he died, insists another.
Meanwhile, those hoping for a more analytical look at Ledger’s life and career will likewise come away disappointed. Colleagues show up to reminisce about how talented he was, but there’s not much examination of his place in Hollywood history his relationship with his peers, or the specific brand of 2000s-era manlines that he indicated, or the lane his onscreen persona evolved over time.
In reality , no one is likely to learn much new at all about Ledger here. While there are some selection anecdotes( fellow Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn delivers a particularly entertaining one about Ledger’s “pre- Entourage entourage” ), “there wasnt” big bombshells. The cinema presumes you’re already very well known the broad masses of the strokes of Ledger’s biography. If you didn’t already are well aware that he had dated Naomi Watts, for example, you won’t find out here, even as she shows up to praise his talent.
So who, then, is I Am Heath Ledger for? One of the very first faces we see in the film is that of musician Ben Harper, who’s clearly still devastated by the loss of his friend. “I candidly reckon the universe is off its axis, ” he mentions, sounding distressed. “I’m not supposed to be talking with you.”
I Am Heath Ledger is catharsis for those who seem the lane that Harper does those who still miss him affectionately, the individuals who merely want to see him again, those who still can’t quite believe he’s moved. It’s not a film about his legacy. It’s a film about, as Harper throws it, how “some people are merely bigger than the world has just room for.”
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