Thursday, August 07, 2008

Joker's Card, Jokawild and Decapitations

The Joker is wild. But so are a many other things overlapping with The Dark Knight.

Following my posting on "The Dark Knight Curse", a phenomenon that was even discussed on CNN yesterday, some questioned whether or not the Joker is actually holding a "calling card" with a decapitated head. I was told that in the actual movie the Heath Ledger character has another card in his hand.

First to clear up what is on the card. Here below is a closeup of the card from a movie props site, labeled specifically "Dark Knight, The (2008), Joker's Calling Card." The card shows an inverted decapitated head.

See larger version at bottom of posting.

Death cards and Joker's cards are usually a little more subtle than what you are seeing here from The Dark Knight.



The Ace of Spade has traditionally been a "death card" left on bodies in military situations, as depicted from the Vietnam War in Apocalypse Now (1979). Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight is merely continuing that tradition.



The images of what the Joker is holding may have been changed in final post-production or in later publicity images, as reflected here in this promo poster of the Joker and of one of the Batman.



But in the early trailers, initial publicity photographs, and early posters, they all certainly do show the decapitation on the Joker's calling card.




The spooky links to the decapitation death of Tim McLean, who was beheaded on the Greyhound bus, continue to be found. Shown following is the routine media image of the victim, whose head is unfortunately found free-floating within the frame, with Vince Weiguang Li, the 40-year-old suspect being transported by Canadian law enforcement personnel.


Below is the MySpace head shot of the victim McLean. I mentioned on August 2, on various forums, that on his MySpace profile, McLean called himself "Jokawild," had three tattoos, owned an iguana and loved loud music and motorcycles.


Todd Campbell writing of Tim McLean at his blog Through the Looking Glass has dug up information that reveals one of the passions of the victim's, he was a big fan of Insane Clown Posse.

Campbell also found photos of Tim McLean wearing clown makeup and of his large clown tatoo on his back.



Also as noted before, Tim McLean, who loved being a carny, was headed to Winnipeg after working with the carnival in Edmonton. It was McLean's third stint as a summer carnival worker at Vancouver's Pacific National Exhibition, where he worked for LL Enterprises, which provides midway games such as rollerball and darts to carnivals across the country.


Perhaps the most famous stunt in the new Batman movie is when Joker's semi-truck completely flips over. As you can see above, the truck's side is painted with images of a ferris wheel and a roller coaster at a carnival or circus.

The melodrama of the real-life decapitation of the clown-covered carny on a Greyhound bus and the real-life decapitation of an adolescent by the Batman roller-coaster synchs strangely with the character and death of Heath Ledger, the Joker, holding a Joker's Card with a decapitation in The Dark Knight.

The Dark Knight was released on July 18, 2008. The incident on the Canadian bus where a man beheaded a fellow passenger occurred on July 30th.

A 17-year-old South Carolina teen Asia Leeshawn Ferguson, of Springfield, S.C., was decapitated by the "Batman the Ride" rollercoaster at Six Flags Over Georgia about 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 28, 2008. It was the second Batman ride-related death at the Cobb County park. Six years earlier, a 58-year-old park worker, Samuel Milton Guyton of Atlanta, was killed on May 26, 2002. Guyton was in a restricted area on a platform when he was kicked in the head by 14-year-old girl on the front car of the ride. The girl was hospitalized with a leg injury.

In March, 2007, a worker dismantling a ride at Six Flags Great America near Chicago fell 40-feet to his death. In 2004 at the same park, a maintenance worker was hit by a roller coaster and killed.

A 55-year-old disabled man was killed in May 2004 when he was thrown from a ride at Six Flags New England near Springfield, Mass. Five years ago, a grandmother strapping her 4-year-old grandson into Six Flags New Orleans' Joker's (!) Jukebox ride was hit by a spinning car when the ride began operating before she was out of the way.


More Clowns and Twilight Language

Heath Ledger modeled his Joker character after "Alex" in A Clockwork Orange.

The Joker = Heath Ledger was found dead in his fourth-floor apartment at 421 Broome Street, between Crosby and Lafayette Streets in SoHo, New York City, on the day of the Full Moon, January 22, 2008.


I've written extensively of the Name Game (e.g. Lafayette = little fairy, little enchantment), of the specialness of time and place and their ties to weirdness. I've penned words on the Phantom Clowns, a phase I coined in 1981, to capture the strangeness of killer clowns out to abduct young people, even before the seemingly free-floating head of Stephen King's It (below) terrorized the masses.

It seems as though there is a Zorro - Phantom Clown connection, as well; see my 2005 posting, "The Naked Zorro".


As the years pass by, if there's one movie which may become a magnet for the Macabré (the dance of death), it would surely seem that The Dark Knight shall join films such as the original The Omen, which tops all other films in having the most cinematic decapitation in history.


Batman and Zorro

A word definitely needs to be inserted about the movie showing on McLean's Greyhound bus. It was The Legend of Zorro.

Zorro and Batman are linked in the fictional literature ~ symbolically, historically, and closely.


In the column, "Batman Begins and the Comics, Part : Sequential Culture #34," (17 June 2005/updated 9 Aug 2005) Julian Darius writes:

"The death scene has been depicted countless times, but none as memorably as in the flashbacks in [Frank Miller's graphic comic Batman:] The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. The most startling change [in director Christopher Nolan's 2005 Batman Begins] is that the family emerges from the opera before being killed: in the comics, it has been a movie. Though the particulars have changed, the film tends to be a Zorro film. In the first chapter of Year One, it was The Mark of Zorro. In the silent flashback version in The Dark Knight Returns, only 'Zorro' is visible on the movie theatre's marquis, though the elderly Wayne seeing The Mark of Zorro on television triggers the memory."

The sequel to Batman Begins is, of course, The Dark Knight, based on Frank Miller's use of that name in his graphic novels.


Wikipedia also talks of this link between Batman and Zorro, under its discussion of the 1940 film, The Mark of Zorro:

"In the DC Comics continuity it is established that The Mark of Zorro was the film which the young Bruce Wayne had seen with his parents at the cinema, moments before they were killed in front of his eyes by an armed thug. Zorro is often portrayed as Bruce's childhood hero and an influence on his Batman persona. There are discrepancies regarding which version Bruce saw, The Dark Knight Returns claims it was the Tyrone Power [1940] version whereas a story by Alan Grant claimed it to be the silent [1920] Douglas Fairbanks original.

In the animated series Justice League Unlimited, a flashback of the fateful night establishes that for DCAU continuity, the young Bruce and his parents also were attending The Mark of Zorro, though there is nothing to indicate which version."

The version of the film being shown on the decapitation Greyhound bus trip was The Legend of Zorro, a 2005 sequel to 1998's The Mask of Zorro, both directed by Martin Campbell, and both starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.


In the previous movie in the series, The Mask of Zorro, there is a fictionalized version of a famous beheading.

The tale that merges reality with fiction within the movie is the one of Joaquín Murieta, (1829?–1853), a real-life California bandit, who was born in Mexico.

From 1849 to 1851, Murieta worked in the California gold mine fields. After he and his family were mistreated by American miners and driven from their claim, he became the leader of a band of desperadoes. For two years, his robberies and murders terrorized California, until the legislature authorized Captain Harry Love, deputy sheriff of Los Angeles County, to organize a company of mounted rangers to exterminate Murrieta's band.

Surprised at his camp near Tulare Lake, Murrieta was shot, decapitated, and most of his followers were killed or captured. Murrieta's head was displayed for all to see afterward.


In The Mask of Zorro, Matt Letscher plays Captain Harrison Love, who kills Zorro's brother, and shows the brother's head in a jar.


Batman and Mothman

A synch headnote about Mothman: it is a headless creature specifically seen in the Point Pleasant, West Virginia, area from 1966-1967. At first called a "big bird" by locals, an Ohio newspaper's copyeditor, who was a fan of the "Batman" series on television at the time, coined the name "Mothman" for a headline. It stuck.

There is no "Mothman" character in any of the Batman TV programs. It appears the copyeditor merely came up with the invented name because of the sound of the word.

The Mothman Prophecies, a 1975 book by John A. Keel, was made into a 2002 movie, directed by Mark Pellington.

One of the most dramatic scenes was the re-creation, of the 5:04 PM, December 15, 1967, collapse of Point Pleasant's Silver Bridge during rush hour. A total of 46 people perished, and 44 bodies were recovered. Several seemingly related deaths have ended up on the "Mothman Death Curse" list.

For more background, see Mothman and Other Curious Encounters.

As the movie began screening on January 25, 2002, one group of the original witnesses, the Mallettes were attending a funeral in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Stephen Mallette, who was one of the first four witnesses, was mourning the passing of his brother, Charlie, due to a brain tumor. Charles Putnam 'Charlie' Mallette, 43, of Point Pleasant, died Thursday, January 22, 2002, at his home. (This happens to be the same date as Heath Ledger's death date, six years later.)

Over 80 people are on the list, including, on July 30, 2004, Jennifer Barrett-Pellington, 42, wife of The Mothman Prophecies director Mark Pellington, who died suddenly, in Los Angeles, after a short illness.




FilmNoir23 said...

Excellent Loren...this post really ties all of the known elements together quite nicely.

A seminal piece to be sure.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff. One fragment to add: in most versions of Batman's origin, the Wayne family is leaving a screening of The Mark of Zorro when they're met by a mugger in an alley, the elder Waynes are shot, and Bruce is left an orphan.

Anonymous said...

i actually got physical goosebumps from this article.

Anonymous said...

Loren, just saw the movie last night with my son.
At one point, while in custody, the Joker is explaining to Batman how alike they are, how so far above the masses.

He says to Batman, and I am paraphrasing from memory,

"When the chips are down, these people will turn cannibalistic and eat each other."

Anonymous said...

I was once nearly decapitated at a carnival in my late teens on the waltzers ride. I was/am tall, nearly six foot four inches. I had never been on the waltzers before and I found that while my average height friends who were with me had their heads supported by the back of the waltzer car, my head rose well above the head rest and wasn't supported in any way. When the car began to rotate my head was instantly thrown backwards and I was unable to raise it back again until it stopped. Such was the tremendous centrifugal force I felt acting on my head that I was certain that it was going to be ripped off my body and that I was going to die. I tried to alert the guy in charge of the ride, whom I could see on every rotation, but I couldn't move any part of my body or even use my voice. Even now I'm sure that if the ride had continued for even a few seconds longer then I would have died, probably in a rather gruesome manner.

And, oh yes, when I was a much younger kid I used to go to Saturday matinee cinema for children where I would watch, amongst other things, Batman and Zorro serials. I also remember having a Zorro hat, mask, cape, and sword (with a chalk holder at the tip for writing "Z" on walls with).

And then I ended up on this blog. It must be fate (or something).

Anonymous said...

The fly in the ointment of this supposed amazing constellation of synchronous events is, of course, that the guy associated directly with the Joker was the victim who was beheaded, whereas in the Batman card the Joker is not the victim but rather the apparent perpetrator of the decapitation.

However, let us see if we can spin out the coincidences in this case any further. We might note, for example, that the Joker in the modern deck of playing cards is derived from the Fool (i.e., the Holy Fool or madman) of the earlier Tarot card deck. If you ever saw Johnny Depp in the supernatural horror film "The Ninth Gate" you will remember that Tarot symbolism featured heavily in the film and that Depp's character was, indeed, the (un)Holy Fool. But Depp also played Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" which, you will remember, featured numerous beheadings committed by the legendary Headless Horseman, and, in at least one instance, the Horseman picked up a severed head while on horseback by skewering it with his longsword, like the Joker in the Batman card. And, of course, Burton was producer/director of two of the Batman films. (Let's not get into Antoio Banderas' association with both Depp and Zorro, or Jack the Ripper and Sweeny Todd, two of Burton's/Depp's other film subjects, since these only involved cutting rather than severing necks.)

Does any of this actually mean anything? I very much doubt it, and I actually fear that it may be all somewhat disrespectful to the poor young man who died so horribly on the bus. However, as a final point of movie trivia, I wonder if this original Joker playing card was the inspiration for the Batman sword wielding Joker card:

And could this Japanese Joker (actually, it is a native variant called an ogre or demon card) be the inspiration for the Batman Joker's makeup?

(Well, it would, at least, tie up the loose end of the Canadian bus attacker being an Asian.)

Erica2368 said...

I think all of this borders on the laws of attraction. This is an interesting article and nicely written. A friend on stumble upon shot me your page, I made sure to give you a nice thumbs up!

Anonymous said...

Hey, great post. Have you found anything tying in with Brandon Lee, and his death as the Crow?

otterdisaster said...

For some additional Batman/Moth linkage, there is a minor Batman villain called the Killer Moth.

Anonymous said...

this is fascinating although at the same time it is sad to hear about Asia and Tim. Tim was only 20 years old.
I got goosebumps just thinking about it. I definitely cannot imagine how their friends & family felt.
You tied the elements together really well. Additionally, I thought this post was an excellent read due to your writing style & skills.

Keep writing!

Anonymous said...

For an even more immediate Zorro copycat connection, it should be noted that that the Zorro film being watched on the bus also has a decapitation in it.

Quoting from the Film Freak Central's review of 'Legend of Zorro':

"Consider the way the chief henchman (flint-eyed Nick Chinlund) is dispatched via messy (and crowd-pleasing!) decapitation..."


Anonymous said...

Dark (K)night of the soul

Anonymous said...

wow, those photos are so cool@

jason said...

What an amazing post. Seriously, I didn't even think about a quarter of this stuff after seeing the Dark Knight but now I can't wait to go back and watch it with all this in mind. I'm sure I'll see everything in a completely new light.

Laura said...

Just FYI. The name Jokawild and the references on Tim's blog had nothing to do with The Dark Knight or any kind of curse. His nickname, his tattoo, and his face paint were all because he was a fan of the group ICP's music.

Loren Coleman said...

Yes, Laura, that is clear to regular readers of this blog, but the timely, name game, and "Joker/clown/Jokawild" overlap is part of the twilight language being noted here.

Alan said...

Speaking of Mothmen, cinema, death cards, clowns and their doppelgangers and decapitations, let’s not forget Elizabeth Bishop’s 1946 poem “The Man-Moth,” based upon a newspaper misprint for “mammoth.”

An n as “decapitated” m. She takes this decapitation and creates a very Dark Knight like poem almost certainly set in Gotham city.

Resonant lines include:

“Here, above,
Cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.”

“He emerges
From an and opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
And nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.”

“Up the facades,
His shadow dragging like a photographer’s cloth behind him”

“to push his small head through that round clean opening
And be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.”

“He flits,
He flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
Fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.”

“He does not dare look out the window,
For the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
Runs there beside him.”

And then there is Cliff Burton, original bassist of Metallica, who after his last performance in Sweden played a card game with Kirk Hammett had to determine who would get the “best bunk” for the all night bus ride. This was the tour to support “Master of Puppets” and Cliff drew first, the Ace of Spades, the “highest card” but also the death card. He took “Kirk’s bunk,” the best one, and that night the bus crashed and Cliff was thrown out of the window and crushed by the bus. The driver claimed he had slipped on “black ice” but tire marks look more consistent with a driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel.

I’ll leave the significances and puncepts up to the interested.