HCH 17 / July 2017
I Am Heath Ledger, by Antonia Tejeda Barros
I Am Heath Ledger (2017). Directed by Adrian Buitenhuis & Derik Murray
I am a huge fan of Heath. I actually discovered him after he already died. He struck me and enchanted me, and I suffered a Heath’s fever that lasted more than a year. I bought all his (16) films, and saw his TV series. I also spent more than 3 months writing an article about Heath’s art. Today, my obsession is gone, but the admiration will always be there. So, I was eagerly waiting for the new documentary about him, I Am Heath Ledger, and I bought it on DVD as soon as it came out. I watched it with my husband (who fell asleep) on our cinema projector, and, although the documentary is beautiful and touching, I must say I was a bit disappointed. I wanted more of Heath the artist and Heath the actor. I think that the documentary tends to forget why we all love Heath. We love him because of his movies. We love him because of his art. Also, the image we get from Heath in I Am Heath Ledger is a one-sized-image, not a multidimensional one, and that’s a real pity. Heath was human, and, as amazing as he was, I am sure he also had many flows, like all of us, but nobody dares to mention any of them.
I Am Heath Ledger has a very personal touch. Heath’s friends, ex-girlfriends, parents, and sisters talk about him with love and admiration, which is very nice, but, in my opinion, other angles are missing. I definitely missed more directors, actors and actresses talking about Heath’s art. I would have loved to see and hear Jake Gyllenhaall, Wes Bentley, Shekhar Kapur, Christian Bale, Christopher Nolan, Rose Byrne, Bryan Brown, Gregor Jordan, Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Billy Bob Thornton, Lasse Hallström, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Todd Haynes, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Terry Gilliam, Christopher Plummer, Andrew Garfield, Verner Troyer, and Matt Damon talking about Heath.
Also, many of Heath’s films are simply missing. Nobody even mentions them: Two Hands, The Sin Eater, The Brothers Grimm, Casanova, and Candy are just not there. Why? How can you make a documentary about Heath Ledger without mentioning these films? It’s not that Heath made 100 films and you can easily omit 5 of them. He only made 16 films, some better than others, surely, but I definitely think that they all should have been included. The amazing documentary about Woody Allen, directed by Robert B. Weide, Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012) also omits some of Allen’s films, which is a pity, but is understandable and can be forgiven since Woody Allen has made more than 50 films.
In addition, I Am Heath Ledger does not mention some roles Heath took in some TV series, and his uncredited appearances in some movies. Before his first big role for the big screen (Two Hands), Heath appeared in 1992 (at the age of 13) in the movie Clowning Around as an orphan clown (uncredited) and in 1993–1994 in 3 episodes of the TV series Ship to Shore as a cyclist (S1,& ) and as an actor (S2, Ep.1). In 1996 he appeared in 26 episodes of the TV series Sweat as Snowy Bowles, a gay cyclist (yes, gay!), and, in 1997, in 11 episodes of the TV series Home and Away as Scott Irwin, and in small roles in the drama Blackrock (as Toby) and in Paws (as Oberon). The documentary only mentions Roar (an American production –13 episode TV series– shot in Australia) where Heath stars as Conor (which is a quite bad series, despite Heath’s smile).
And, what about Heath’s death? His death is only mentioned by the way. Well, we don’t have to get stuck on his death, we don’t have to see again those horrible photos of Heath’s body covered by a black sheet carried by policemen out of his apartment that the media loved to show time and again during the days after his death… but to talk a bit about his death, to throw some light about his sudden end, wouldn’t have hurt, would it? The only thing we can feel in the documentary is the fact that Heath was not depressed the days prior to his death, that he was full of projects and wishes, but that was already said by Terry Gilliam and others years ago.
Heath died at the age of 28 (two months and a half before his 29th birthday) due to an accidental overdose of prescription pills (a combination of 6 different painkillers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills: oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam –Valium–, temapezan, alprazolam –Xanax– and doxylamine). A real lethal cocktail indeed. Today he would have been 38 years old. Heath appears in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus much thinner. When Heath came back to New York after shooting in London, he said he was a little depressed about not having seen his daughter. Nevertheless, Gilliam and Heath’s co-stars in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus remember Heath’s vitality, energy and strength, and denied that Heath was down.
Although his life wasn’t easy by the time of his death, Heath had a strong love for life and was full of projects. His father shows in the amazing documentary Too Young to Die: Heath Ledger (2012) several scrips of projects that Heath kept for doing in the future. The day after he died he was supposed to meet director Shekhar Kapur to discuss several projects. Heath suffered from insomnia. In addition, he had a strong backache and a chest infection the days prior to his death that didn’t allow him to sleep. Heath had several types of pills prescribed by doctors from different countries. Although no pill taken on its own was extremely dangerous, the combination of all together proved to be lethal. He took 6 pills (which is a lot), but he didn’t take 30, which is common in suicides. Heath died probably without suffering. He just stopped breathing. His death was purely accidental.
A missing figure in the documentary I Am Heath Ledger is the mother of Heath’s daughter. That did not surprised me, because I never found Miss Williams generous enough to share anything about Heath with Heath’s fans (but, still, didn’t she have anything nice to say about him? Weird). Not that I think she was more special than all the others girlfriends of Heath, but, nevertheless, she is the mother of his daughter. Heath had many girlfriends and none lasted more than 2 years. To fall in love is not difficult, on the contrary, it’s rather easy. What it’s difficult is to keep the love, year after year, and that was something that Heath didn’t know to do or didn’t want to do, because he kept having short relationships one after the other, which is a bit of a pity. There are two ex-girlfriends of Heath who are generous enough to talk in the documentary about Heath: Christina Cauchi and Naomi Watts.
A nice thing about I Am Heath Ledger is that the documentary finally puts emphasis on the creative side of Heath as a photographer, video camera man, and director of video clips. Heath was fascinated by Nick Drake whom also died at a very young age (26), in 1974, and thought about doing a movie about him. And he created a music label called Masses Music Co. (known as The Masses) and directed several music videos. “I do have some wonderful distractions … I have a music label and I direct music videos and so I immerse myself in a different industry which kind of keeps acting really fresh for me”, said Heath once.
I Am Heath Ledger shows us lots of unseen footage of Heath: Heath with the camera and Heath with his friends, which is amazing and touching to see.
The worst: the lack of directors, actors, and actresses taking about Heath, the one-dimensional view of Heath, the missing movies and TV series, and the fact that the DVD does not have English subtitles (so deaf people can’t enjoy the documentary).
The best: the unseen footage, and the human and personal touch.
Antonia Tejeda Barros, Madrid, June 26, 2017
Originally published on Pasión cinéfila obsesivo-compulsiva on June 26, 2017