Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger: 1979-2008

The news of Heath Ledger's death surprised us today. He seems to have been an actor who stood for craft first and foremost. Early on, he famously ditched a career path leading toward teen flick stardom and sought tougher roles. It wasn’t just a publicity stunt, either. He was getting the work and doing well.

What’s curious to me, on one level, is how sudden deaths of film actors affect us. I’m a bit sad right now, and I think I know why. As a movie lover who fashions a leisure life by following certain actors and directors, I acknowledge that Ledger treated to me to scenes of genuine feeling, moments that felt authentic. For that, I feel indebted to him.

No one who saw "Brokeback Mountain" can forget how heartbreaking his performance was as a conflicted, lonely gay cowboy. Read what NYT's Stephen Holden expressed: "Both Mr. Ledger and Mr. Gyllenhaal make this anguished love story physically palpable. Mr. Ledger magically and mysteriously disappears beneath the skin of his lean, sinewy character. It is a great screen performance, as good as the best of Marlon Brando and Sean Penn."

I also admired Ledger's work in "Casanova" and "Monster's Ball."

Though the circumstances of their deaths were different, Ledger's career strikes me as comparable to James Dean's. Ledger's turn in "Brokeback Mountain" earned him as many accolades as spoofs, just as Dean earned for "Rebel Without a Cause." To paraphrase, "Once you've been parodied, you've made it." If Ledger wasn't an icon yet, he was well on his way, whether he sought it or not.

PHOTO: Focus Features.

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