I went to watch Joker.
Just as Yesterday was not the sort of film I would go and see, so the same applies here. I’m just not into that whole cartoon superhero world. I couldn’t give a monkeys what happens at the end of Avengers Endoscopy or whatever the last one was called. Until Deadpool 2 came along, I hadn’t visited my local fleapit to watch a comic-book inspired movie since way back in 1978 when I went to see Christopher Reeve as Superman. You know, when I was a kid.
Actually, I did go and see Logan, the last/latest in the Wolverine franchise. Thought it was okay. Nothing special, just okay.
And the reason for going to see that, and now Joker, was because my interest has been piqued by the fact that these films seem to be stepping away from the world where our caped hero battles and inevitably triumphs over the bad guy, and stepping into darker terrain, where the darkness and a credible back story take precedence over Biff! Bang! Pow!’s.
I’d read a lot about Joker in advance, and was aware that it has divided audiences, some thinking it to be brilliant, others believing it over long and self-indulgent. Joaquin Phoenix plays the lead character, so I was expecting the latter – has he made a good film since Walk the Line? I’m struggling to think of one.
I mentioned to someone at work that I was going to see it, and he grunted that he wasn’t interested, considering it “a rip-off of Heath Ledger”. I was tempted to point out that if they were going to try and cash-in on Ledger’s Oscar winning performance then they probably wouldn’t have waited the eleven years since The Dark Knight to do it. Rather, I thought the reverse to be true: leaving it so long to try and stop comparisons being made was probably the idea. And besides, I’m sure had they been able to cast Ledger in Joker, then they would have, but I gather his agent has stopped sending him to auditions.
Mind you, this is the same work colleague who, apropos of nothing asked me earlier the same day “Why do they give ugly birds a pleasant personality?”
My response was: “Welcome to the 1970s!”
He came back at me with: “Bloody PC, you can’t say anything anymore”.
“No,” I replied, “it’s nothing to do with political correctness, it’s just most people prefer not to say offensive things anymore. And that sentence had at least three offensive things in it.”
“Go on then,” I ventured, despite myself. “What’s the punchline?”
“There isn’t one!” he exclaimed, still laughing.
“Jesus, that was the punchline?” I exasperatedly sighed.
I digress, but not without reason. Being funny is difficult. Being a stand up comedian even more so. We’ll come onto this later.
Regardless of my work colleague’s sage (by which I mean outdated) words, I booked a seat and then read something which mentioned the name of the director – Todd Phillips; not a name which immediately rang any bells, so I popped to imDb to see what else had his name attached to it. The list almost made me unbook my ticket: Old School, The Hangover (Part I, II and – Jesus wept, they made three of them?? – III), Project X…the signs were not good.
But I decided to give it a go. Mostly so I had something to write about here. I suffer for my art, see.
Here is a spoiler-free synopsis: Phoenix plays Archie Fleck, a man who by day earns his crust dressing as a clown and performing wacky moves to promote local stores, by night he looks after his housebound mother, and fantasizes about appearing on his favourite late night chat show, hosted by Murray Frankling (Robert De Niro).
Here, if I may interject the plot spoiling for a moment, was one of the things which impressed me in the film: I had read how, when writing the script, Phillips had been inspired by the films of Martin Scorcese, and this reference to 1983’s The King of Comedy was not wasted on these eyes and ears. It wasn’t overplayed, it was just there, hiding in plain sight for all those relatively well versed in cinema history.
Back to the plot: we see how Fleck’s life unravels: he is beaten up by kids whilst working; his analyst has to end their sessions due to governmental cuts, and with them go his medication; he loses his job.
Added to this, you are aware that there is a blurring of the lines between reality and Fleck’s hallucinatory imaginigs. At first this is clear from him envisaging how he is picked from the studio audience at one of Frankling’s shows, whilst he is in fact watching the show at home with his mother, but as the the film progresses, one becomes less sure about what is real and what is in Fleck’s head.
This culminates in the film’s denouement, where he is invited to appear on Frankling’s chat show, only you’re not entirely clear whether or not that’s true or not. Until you are very sure.
But all of this confusion does lead to one really good, Sixth Sense-esque “Oh, so that‘s not real either!” moment, which I won’t ruin for you.
As for the bits where he is trying to do stand-up, well there’s only really one scene, and much has been made of the fact that one of the two jokes he tells has been stolen from elsewhere. I certainly heard Bob Monkhouse tell it (at least) once. And that’s probably the point: his first (self-written) joke gets no laughs, his second is stolen, a guaranteed ice-breaker which gets a similar reaction. It’s all part of his life, and even his aspirational life, unravelling.
The one thing that bugged me about it was this: there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that Fleck has mental health issues, as does, it transpires, his mother. And that is what is painted as being the issue, that people with such problems are an often violent concern. And that simply isn’t true. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.
It’a not terribly clear exactly when the film is set; there is a scene where a Charlie Chaplin film is being played, but then to counter that answerphones exist. But it doesn’t really matter when it’s set, because there’s a message here, one which comments on mob culture jumping onto the actions of one deranged figurehead, blindly following them despite their obvious-to-everyone-else flaws. The target of the rioting protestors just happens to be the wealthy, and in particular the Wayne family are, literally, in the cross-hairs: it’s pretty well handled – you don’t really notice the surname until one particular scene – but the link between Fleck and his soon-to-be adversary has its roots explained, even if we don’t get to the point where they’re actually locking horns here.
Overall, I came away from the cinema having rather enjoyed it; I embraced the darkness and I think I like it, to misquote Katy Perry.
Which leads me on to the soundtrack. To be honest I found most of the original music annoying, sounding like a light aircraft hoving into earshot and out again.
But as for the other tunes used? Well, I was particularly impressed by the juxtaposition of these two tunes seamlessly segue waying into each other, and thereby highlighting the difference between light and dark:
NB: I’m pretty sure that’s the Herb Alpert track that is used, but curiously I can find no mention of it in any OST searches.
Which leads me on to a certain song which pops up in the film, and some criticism it has received in the redtops in the past week or so.
The song in question is Rock and Roll (Parts One and Two) by Gary Glitter, and already you can sense quite why the sensationalism.
For the inclusion of said song in the film had the usual papers – The Sun, The Daily Mail, etc etc etc – frothing at the mouth because convicted paedophile Glitter would earn (a lot of) royalties from its use.
Now. I’m not about to start trying to defend a child molester, but there’s someone else to be considered here, namely Mike Leander, or, more accurately, since he’s dead, the estate of Mike Leander.
See, Leander co-wrote that song with Glitter, and I’ll wager since Glitter got put away, his family haven’t made a single penny out of his efforts for the past twenty years or so, such has been the blanket refusal to play any of their records.
Plus, nobody seemed to give a monkey’s when this record, which samples heavily from the same tune, was a smash hit back in the late 1980s:
I’ve tried really hard to find out whether either got a writing credit and/or any royalties from that, with no luck, but since it plays such a major part in the track I imagine they got something out of it.
They certainly did for this one, since both Glitter and Leander have co-writer credits on it:
Funny, I don’t remember a peep from the tabloids about either of those at the time.
It’s almost like they were looking for something this week to deflect attention away from Brexit, backstop alternatives, Boris and the American former pole dancer he’s alleged to have had an affair with and – more importantly – ensured (again, allegedly) public funding was funnelled into her company as she obtained clearance to go on some overseas business trips with Johnson, despite having permission blocked previously, to distract our attention.
Yup, I can crowbar an anti-Brexit comment into pretty much anything.
See.You thought I’d do something utterly predictable like posting The Steve Miller Band’s The Joker, didn’t you?
Credit me with at least trying to post the unobvious, won’t you?
Anyway. Joker. I liked it. Go see.