The Joker as Performance Style from Romero to Ledger

The Joker as Performance Style from Romero to Ledger

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The Joker as Performance Style from Romero to Ledger -Shifting Makeups -The Joker_ A Serious Study of the Clown Prince of Crime 


Perhaps one of the most common debates among Batman fans concerns who has best portrayed the Joker on film: Cesar Romero (Batman [1966] and its homonymous television series), J ack Nicholson (Batman [1989]), or Heath
Ledger (The Dark Knight [2008]). Comparative arguments o f this s ort are nothing new: fans have long delighted in placing related texts side by side in order to argue for a p referred or “definitive” textual feature. The surprising volume of discussion on the Joker, however, reveals not only the considerable impression the character has made over five decades of Batman film adaptations, but also the variety of interpretations brought to the Joker role over the years. After all, aside from a shared propensity for flamboyant costumes, these three performances could not b e m ore different from each other. It is difficult to detect Romero’s merry prankster within Nicholson’s sarcastic gangster, just as neither seem present in Ledger’s lip-smacking psychotic.

Clearly, there is not one, but many Jokers. Like most enduringly popular fictional creations, the Joker has repeatedly morphed his mannerisms, appearance, and raison d’être to meet the styles and trends of the time. Perhaps even more than his pointy-eared nemesis, the Joker does not have a primary urtext, leaving the precise definition of his character scattered over numerous texts from multiple generations. Previous scholarship has taken several perspectives in explaining these character fluctuations, ranging from changes in the ideological zeitgeist; to negotiations between producers and fan communities; to efforts by corporations to stretch their characters across multiple media platforms and target audiences; to socio-historical trends in pop culture and the comic book industry.

While acknowledging the importance o f these perspectives in analyzing historical change, this essay considers the varying Jokers in relation to a source that is much more obvious, but nevertheless widely disregarded: the actor. As
perhaps the most publicly visible interpretations of the Joker, screen performances have been crucial locus points of the character’s historical shifts, especially for countless consumers who never picked up a comic book. Accordingly, I will argue for the centrality of acting to our engagement with the Joker within specific texts, a s w ell a s our general understandings of “Joker-ness” over time. In the first section, I defend the value of performance studies for film analysis and outline ways in which we may study the craft of acting onscreen. In the second section, I bring this mode of analysis to bear on the work of Romero, Nicholson, and Ledger, tracing (1) how their performative choices
shape the meaning of their respective Jokers, and (2) how these performances fluctuate over several decades of changing cinematic style.

Whither the Actor?

Within film scholarship, actors are cattle, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock. Although performers are among the most discussed cinematic elements for the general public (if I only had a nickel for every time acquaintances both inside
and outside academia began and ended their thoughts on a film by commenting on the quality of its acting), the study of performances has encountered conspicuous silence within film studies.

The reasons for this neglect are methodological a s w ell a s institutional. Perhaps some scholars, observing the attraction that performances carry for laypeople, conclude that actors are too banal a point of study for their interests, o r that analyses of acting cannot have their own critical vocabulary. The overall methodological thrust of film studies has further occluded most rigorous considerations of acting. Early writers, inspired by Soviet montage
theory o r French auteur perspectives, d e-emphasized performers in order to argue the importance of editing or the artistry of specific directors. The move into psychoanalytic and semiotic theory in the 1970s further marginalized actors in favor of broad inquiries into social sign systems and cinema’s linguistic functions, while the subsequent poststructuralist turn critiqued the very notion of “the individual,” much less the actor. Today, scholars are usually keen to interpret a character’s meaning within the narrative, but they take for granted the means by which the players modeled their actions in accordance with other filmic elements in order to convey that meaning.

In contrast to film theory’s reticence, there has been a sizable amount of work on actors done within celebrity and star studies. This literature, however, tends to treat performers as cultural signs in an d of themselves, embodying social ideals or illustrating discursive tensions between public and private life. Consequently, most studies limit their focus to the performer’s persona as a unified system across a body of texts, and how instances from the subject’s personal or private life either reinforce or subvert this star image. Within film analysis, this perspective treats actors as signifying their star systems whenever they step before the camera, a s if the films capture the “natural behavior” of actors simply playing themselves.

One example of this approach—and one of the only academic commentaries on a Joker performance as of this writing—occurs in Justin Wyatt’s book High Concept, when the author reserves several pages to discuss Jack Nicholson’s tur n in the 1989 Batman. Wyatt argues that Nicholson’s role offers viewers a stable set of star meanings, insofar as it plays off the actor’s image as the lovable nonconformist familiar through texts such as Easy Rider (1969), The Last Detail (1973), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). These associations allow audiences to accept Nicholson’s “ bad b oy” performance a s the Joker, thereby placing the wild nature of the role within a structure of existing star e xpectations.13 “The effect,” Wyatt w rites, “is a curious match between Nicholson-as-star and Nicholson-as-character which maximizes his star status.”

While Wyatt is correct that Nicholson’s presence shapes viewer expectations in certain ways, his argument relies upon several misguided presumptions a bout h ow actors convey meaning. Wyatt assumes that a star ’s very presence within a film transmits a stable set of personality traits to the audience. However, actors n ever convey their characters b y merely Stan ding in front of the camera. Rather, they always produce “meaning precisely through doing”—namely, through flows o f movement that all ow viewers to infer information a bout their characters’ in tensions and emotional states over time.15 To be fair, Wyatt does briefly discuss Nicholson’s “broad, ostentatious” style of acting, but he does so primarily to relate it to Nicholson’s “pre-sold” star connotations, and to argue that the Joker is an excessive presence that “destroys the unity of each of his scenes.”16 When it comes to comprehending precisely how the Joker’s gestural and vocal choices convey a sense of excess, however, Wyatt’s description of Nicholson’s screen persona remains overly broad and vague.

A m ore nuanced analysis o f screen acting should move beyond “ the meaning o f the performer” t o more considerations a bout “ the meaning of performance.”17 According to James Naremore, this involves recognizing how actors use their bodies and voices to communicate meaning to viewers; after all, watching performance is always fundamentally taking “delight in bodies and expressive movement” itself.18 This perspective forces us to take seriously the labor, training, and craft of the acting process, and disregard our impulse to treat the actor’s work as all-too-easy. Even in a special effects-packed Batman production, we must resist the fallacy (sometimes popularized by actors themselves) that performances involve purely physical demands rather than real oratorical or emotional labor.

Instead, we should see how the performer’s choices function within the film’s other stylistic devices. Quite often, we find that other elements of film art that receive wider academic attention—such as editing, lighting, or framing—may function primarily to direct the viewer to the actors’ performative actions. Even Lev Kuleshov, whose name is now synonymous with montage theory, had to admit that, oftentimes, “an idea must be expressed through the actor’s work above all.”20 Insofar as the actor expresses detail through movement itself, there are arguably few devices that carry as much uniquely cinematic potential a s performance (even if acting itself well predates the cinema).

Recent research in cognitive psychology further suggests that audiences draw upon the hum an f ace an d body t o anchor their emotional responses toward events on-screen. As it turns out, there is little cognitive difference between viewing co-present interactions in the real world and watching the same actions on a film screen.21 This is hardly surprising: as social creatures, our attentions tend to drift toward the most interesting elements of our surrounding space—namely, the faces and bodies of other human beings. For performers, this means that n o detail is too small w hen expressing detail about their characters: from the slightest shake of the hand to d art of the eyes, actors carefully plan each of their filmed movements, weighing how best to verbally or non-verbally emphasize the physical and emotional qualities of the scene.

For scholars, this reveals how performances draw from a bank of possible gestures, motions, and intonations, most of which are familiar to us from our everyday interactions. A comparative-historical study of film acting, therefore, should concentrate on two issues. First, there is the (admittedly elusive) question of origin: how and why did the things we see on-screen get there? At the most basic level, this could imply an examination of individual performers’ working methods, training, or background in order to uncover the assumptions about craft that the actor brought to the role. On a broader level, we may focus on a variety of contextual factors, including the film’s overall style and tone, the director’s preferred mode of working with actors, the type of production, the employed editing style and speed, dominant perceptions about filmic realism, and other historical-aesthetic constraints that could impact acting decisions. Of course, these factors and contexts often converge and intertwine with o ne an other, making c lean judgments a bout causality difficult to make with any real finality. Much like the Joker himself, performances have multiple and mysterious origin stories.

Second, there is the question o f f unction: what precisely do we see onscreen an d how does it contribute to our understanding of the character? Note that this is distinct from questions of interpretation. For the purposes of this analysis, I am less interested in demarcating exactly what a given performance “means,” which will always vary by the observer’s historical place and intellectual allegiances (for instance, arguing that the Joker signifies a terrorist, a minstrel, or aqueer threat). Rather, following David Bordwell, I am more interested in suggesting how a performance is able to signify meaning in the first p lace.22 This line o f in quiry leads u s back to the analysis of movement, specifically the way in which actors signify not through static images or poses (though to be sure, the Joker does leave an indelible visual impression), but through the actual process of motion and performance itself. Regardless of whether we can uncover a precise origin or intention behind each performative choice, the actions remain preserved on-screen for us to consider their overall effects.23 Considering the affective dimensions of Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger respectively, it becomes possible to chart not only the evolution of the Joker over five decades of Hollywood filmmaking, but also the aspects of the character that have captured millions of viewers’ imaginations.

“You’ve Changed Things”: The Joker’s Screen Evolution

Changes Across Cinematic Style

From their earliest training, film actors often l earn t o p an the duration, intensity, s peed, and emphasis o f their motions in r elation to the compositional and rhythmic style the movie employs. Depending on a particular scene’s lighting, camera placement, and lens length, certain features of the actor become more highlighted than others. This exclusivity forces the actor to be conscious of which parts of her or his body appear in the frame, and how best to play the scene using the available space.24 Shot length is also key. Performers must rehearse their actions to match the director and cinematographer’s timing requirements, which further informs their choices: a motion developed over ten seconds naturally requires a different level of energy than one developed over five.

While specific styles always vary by production, certain regularities about the “proper” way to make movies exist during different periods of history. Hollywood’s production norms have evolved dramatically from the Batman of 1966 to The Dark Knight of 2008. David Bordwell argues that since the sixties the industry has moved to a form of “intensified continuity,” encouraging faster editing, constant camera movement, and closer shots. The average shot length (ASL) for a full feature has plummeted from roughly eleven seconds between 1930 and 1960 to only a couple of seconds by the early 2000s. Contemporary filmmakers are noticeably less judicial with their cuts: they not only cut more frequently, but are also less timid than their predecessors about cutting on movement.

Perhaps the most significant change (at least for actors) involves the increased popularity o f t ight sing le shots. Traditionally, studio filmmakers based their editing off a single master shot of the scene (i.e., a wide view of most or all of the principles doing a run-through of the entire scene), cutting in to closer shots of characters or objects for any necessary emphasis. Most scenes would play out with actors (especially males) framed in medium-long shots that cut them off around the waist or knees (the so-called plan American shot), and shots pairing t wo or more performers in layered proximity were fairly common.27 In contrast, today’s productions may jettison master shots altogether and frame the scene entirely through medium shots or closeups of each individual actor. Rather than staging multiple actors in a single, wider shot, filmmakers now will shoot close views of one actor reading their lines and then cut to individual reaction shots of the other characters.

In short, today’s films edit more, cut faster, and frame tighter. Actors now must register their actions more quickly, against a moving camera, and alone in the shot. This style moves the entire locus point of meaning from their bodies to their faces. Bordwell summarizes as follows:

The pressure to use closer views has narrowed the expressive resources available to
performers. In the studio years a filmmaker would rely on the actor’s whole body, but
now actors are principally faces. . . . Mouths, brows, and eyes become the principal
sources of information and emotion, and actors must scale their performances
across varying degrees of intimate framings.

Indeed, the idea of screen acting as close-up face-contortion has become so naturalized that acting manuals today tend to treat it as a general truism.

Few roles have so dramatically embodied these changes as the Joker. Even a cursory look at the introductory scene of the Joker in each film is revealing. Cesar Romero’s first appearance in Batman (1966) occurs at the headquarters of the United Underworld. The scene begins with an establishing shot of the United Underworld logo before cutting out to a long shot of the Joker wildly cackling and flailing about in plan American. He conjures a bouquet of trick flowers before prancing off to screen right, where the camera pans to reveal fellow baddies Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Riddler (Frank Gorshin) also on set. The camera maintains this wide to medium-wide position for most of the proceeding scene, a shot setup very common for the Batman TV series, as well as many other multi-camera television productions of the era.30 Director Leslie Martinson, who shot the film under a rushed schedule, intentionally mimicked television cinematography because it allowed him to stage the action across multiple shots without changing the lighting setups.

Despite its rather simple production style, this early scene quickly establishes the contours of Romero’s Joker. Framed in long shot for the majority of the scene, Romero has ample screen space to extravagantly throw his arms a way from his body an d move a bout. The available s pace, along with the film’s high-key lighting scheme, bright color saturation, and high ASL (the scene averages 10.81 seconds/shot), lends this Joker a full-bodied physicality. And Romero certainly takes advantage of this display. Actors in long shot always have to perform more “loudly” in order to be noticed, and Romero allows almost all of his actions to take on a broad theatricality: instead o f walking, h e prances, emphatically b ending his knees an d kicking one leg in front of the other; when electrocuting Penguin and Riddler with a trick hand buzzer, he stresses it with a slap down on each of their hands; and when reciting a line, he tends to raise his hands and arms outward for added emphasis. Romero gives all his gestures a feeling of controlled rapidity, enacting motions with a high degree of energy but letting them linger in space like cartoonish poses.

Compared t o Romero’s full physicality, J ack Nicholson’s performance twenty-three years later is more oriented around the upper torso. Unlike the 1966 feature, which relied heavily upon medium long shots and arranging several characters within the frame at once, Nicholson’s Joker is typically filmed in medium to medium close shots by himself. This camera placement, combined with Batman’s darker lighting scheme that distinguishes Nicholson’s white makeup from the surrounding shadows, places greater emphasis on Nicholson’s upper body, especially the face. The medium framing forces Nicholson to move his hands within a closer radius to his body and, despite the energy that the actor invests in each motion, also keeps his version of the Joker relatively still (compare this to Romero, who is often flouncing all across the screen). Only in a handful of instances, such as the scene where he merrily vandalizes an art museum to Prince’s “Party Man,” is Nicholson afforded the necessary screen space and shot duration to echo Romero’s physical ostentation.

Lacking the full use of his body, Nicholson transfers most of his dramatic emphasis to his f ace. Rather than expressing excitement through a skip or a dance, he signs it through a raised eyebrow, a widening of the eyes, or, of course, that hideously full-faced grin. How appropriate, then, that the film’s spectacular debut of the Joker—when the character “returns from the dead” to murder mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance)—places such intense revelatory focus on the face. The scene (ASL: 6.29 seconds/shot) begins with Nicholson cloaked in silhouette, but when he eventually walks forward into a key light illuminating his face, the camera rapidly zooms into a low-angle close-up of his head, as if presenting it as the epitome of the character’s transformation. After cracking, “As you can see, I’m a lot happier,” the Joker’s smile widens and his eyebrows rise into a look of devilish self-amusement, the prelude to a murderous outburst ( he begins frenetically shooting Grissom directly afterward). Nicholson’s frequent, yet controlled facial gesturing, along with makeup that contorts the sides of his mouth into a constant grimace, lends his Joker a perpetually sarcastic air.

If Nicholson’s tongue is always planted firmly in his cheek, Heath Ledger’s tongue is always swarming about. The Dark Knight epitomizes nearly all of the stylistic tropes o f contemporary Hollywood, from the rapid editing rate to extremely tight singles for dialogue scenes. As a result, Ledger’s Joker, with very few exceptions, is virtually all f ace. Filmed in c lose-up for nearly all of his major scenes, Ledger communicates almost entirely through his eyes and mouth, resulting in the “darting eyes, waggling brows, chortles, and restless licking” of the lips that immediately became focal points for parody and emulation among many Bat-fans.33 Ledger himself corroborated this, stating in interviews that he felt his performance was “less about his laugh, more about his eyes.”

When Joker first reveals his f ace at the end of The Dark Knight’s opening bank heist, the film frames Ledger so tightly that even the top of his head and bottom of his chin are cut out, a striking shift from the long shot that opened Romero’s appearance in 1966. Ledger’s first major dialogue scene, when Joker crashes a meeting of the Gotham City underworld and demonstrates his so called “pencil trick,” maintains a similar facial proximity. Taking advantage of his intimacy with the camera, Ledger slides between signifiers of extreme control and compulsiveness by strategically varying the intensity of his stare and tightness of his lips. When conveying nonchalance, Joker’s eyes tend to rove from side to side, his composure is loose (relaxed shoulders), and his mouth appears slightly unfastened, with the tongue darting in and out at unexpected intervals. When perturbed or angered, however, his eyes harden into a deadly glare, his lips tighten, an d his head tilts forward. The extremely short shot length of the film (only 3.16 seconds/shot in the “pencil trick” scene) also means that Ledger’s movements are not only close, but also quick.35 This propensity for rapid facial motions may in part explain why Ledger’s Joker comes across more as a compulsive psychotic than do Romero or Nicholson.

Changes Across Performance Methods

To raise an obvious point, Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, and Heath Ledger are not the same person. Even accounting for the way their performances adapt to production styles, each actor brought his own personal histories, eccentricities, and methods to the Joker role. Consideration of these details allows us to see performances as not merely grounded in historical or aesthetic determinations, but as resulting “from ideologically informed but conscious decisions made by individuals.”

The three actors arrived at their respective Batman films with a variety of acting backgrounds and influences in tow. Prior to his late-career casting in the Batman television program, Cesar Romero was best known for roles in musical comedies and light romances during Hollywood’s studio era. Trained as a dancer on the nightclub circuit and Broadway before turning to film acting, h e w as an in tensely physical performer known for his debonair attractiveness and comedic abilities. All accounts suggest that, while Romero brought a reliable quality of work to his job as the Joker, he never regarded his Batman performance as anything more than a frivolous amusement. By his own admission, never a “great student” of the Batman,38 he would later remember the role as a relatively simple one to perform. “You just fall right into it,” he recalled in o ne interview. “It was just a ball t o do.”39 Adam West corroborates this level of casual glee Romero brought to the set, even recalling that Cesar would regularly nap between shots until it was time to film. In a famous anecdote, Romero also refused to shave his trademark moustache for the role, proclaiming that he would rather lose the part than his “mystique.”

In contrast, Jack Nicholson came of age during the demise o f the classical studio system and received his performance training throughout the 1950s. One of his most influential mentors, Jeff Corey, was renowned for his Stanislavsky-inspired method of encouraging students to play and improvise within the boundaries of their role. The description of Corey’s method directly presages Nicholson’s Joker role thirty years later: “Be unpredictable. Go for laughter where someone might think ‘tears.’ Interrupt yourself with sudden, inexplicable rage.” Above all else, though, “be yourself.”41 Nicholson’s eventual work would be a bricolage of old studio “personality acting” with recognizable trademarks and newer Method-influenced strategies of improvisation and self-analysis.

A childhood collector o f DC C omics, Nicholson took his casting a s Joker seriously, c o-writing his own di alogue43 and prepping his mannerisms through conversation with B atman co-creator Bob Kane and screenings of Conrad Veidt’s performance in The Man W ho Laughs (1928), which partially inspired the c haracter.44 The more improvisational side of Nicholson’s personality reportedly thrived on the set of Batman, where Tim Burton allowed the player to play around within certain boundaries.45 “He can come up with different approaches to a scene time after time, and I’d find myself wanting to do extra takes just to see what we would do,” Burton claimed in one interview.46 Nicholson advised against taking a comic book movie too seriously, however, allegedly advising co-stars Michael Keaton and Kim Basinger on-set to “let the wardrobe do the acting.”

In many ways the polar opposite of Romero and Nicholson, Heath Ledger never received formal acting instruction, instead cultivating and modifying his craft from job to job. When asked about his method, Ledger would reply, “I don’t have a technique . . . I’ve never been a believer in having one set technique on how to act. There are no rules and there is no rulebook. At the end of the day, it all comes down to my instincts.”48 Ledger framed his approach to the Joker in similarly impulsive language: “Somewhere inside of me, I knew instantly what to do with [this character] . . . I didn’t have to search, I had a plan of attack. Part of me feels like I’ve been warming up [to playing the
Joker] for y ears.”49 For a t l east a month during preproduction o f The Dark Knight, Ledger isolated himself to a hotel room, experimenting with voices and compiling a “Joker diary” filled with disturbing ideas and images to help guide his approach.50 Filming exhausted him, and by the end of production he admitted to only sleeping a couple of hours a night.51 Urban legends persist to this day that this immersion into his “inner clown” deepened the dependence on the prescription antidepressants that lead to his untimely death in January 2008.

The wildly different discourses surrounding these actors have interesting parallels with the history of screen acting writ large. The evolution of acting across the twentieth century is often simplistically summarized as the move from the star system to the more studied turn to the Method in the 1950s, beginning with the “raw” performances of figures like Marlon B rando an d Montgomery Clift. A more accurate portrait, however, would be that screen acting has generally changed its priorities from star personality to improvisation to impersonation. Bordwell has summarized this shift as the growing expectation for “serious” actors to “shape-shift for every project—acquiring accents, burying their f aces in makeup, gaining or losing weight.”52 W here classical performers were advised to sculpt recognizable trademarks across roles, and Method actors had to find themselves within the character, today’s performers are expected to inhabit their roles as an indication of their depth and complexity.

Ledger’s performance occurred during a historical moment w hen self transformation and obsessive embodiment were seen as markers of “quality” acting. Unsurprisingly, the marketing blitz surrounding the film repeatedly referenced L edger’s performance in order t o back The Dark Knight’s status as a psychologically deep work. Director Christopher Nolan was extremely outspoken o n this front, claiming that Ledger literally “ became” the role: “Everything about what he does from every gesture, every little facial tick, everything he’s doing with his voice—it all speaks to the heart of this character.”53This discourse of psychological complexity recalls Richard Dyer’s idea that, for an image to register as “authentic,” it must gesture to a truth lurking beneath the surface.

While he could not have foreseen how viewers would read his performance following his death, L edger certainly crafted his expressions with a goal of authenticity in mind. Beyond merely connoting psychosis, the Joker’s facial and vocal fluctuations rhetorically function to imply a complexity extending beyond the mask. When told midway through the “pencil trick” scene that he is crazy, Joker suddenly freezes his composure and glares at his accuser unblinkingly (with the exception of his right eye, which twitches once). While vocal qualities are impossible to replicate through the written word, they are essential to how Ledger sells his reaction. “No, I’m not,” he replies, quickly and softly, before repeating the line with increased pause and emphasis on each word: “No . . . I ’m . . . not!” (with exaggerated enunciation on the final “t” in “not”). The Joker’s octave-shifting voice has been the subject of much discussion, and is most prominently displayed during the scenes when he explains the origins of his scars. His vocal tone shifts registers at unexpected beats, conveying an odd mixture o f narcissism, pain, sarcasm, and deathly seriousness from moment to moment. His e yes, which tend to roll back or dart sideward, further sell an image of introspection.

Compare this to Romero and Nicholson. As would be expected from his background, R omero emb races their reverent surface details of his character. The very image of untroubled glee, he shouts his lines with what Chuck Dixon observes as “the painfully-correct elocution of an American theater actor.”55 Nicholson displays some of the emotional shifts that Ledger does, but his voice remains leveled throughout his film and his overall sarcasm is very rarely in doubt. Clearly, the expectations and strategies brought to the character have changed markedly over the decades, transforming the Joker from a character not worth shaving over to an Oscar-winning one worth dying for.


To be clear, these changes in performance style run concomitant with many other cultural changes in the Joker, some of which the feature films spearheaded, and some of which they followed. The greater privileging of psychological “ depth,” f or instance, is also observable in the Neal A dams/Dennis O’Neil era of Batman comics starting in the 1970s. The shifting focus from the body to the face also echoes a similar move in comics imagery, from the splash covers of oversized Jokers in the Dick Sprang era to the grotesque eyeand mouth-centered covers of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum and Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s Joker.

Furthermore, the differences between these performers and performances should not b e overemphasized. In all o f his in carnations, the Joker h as been a trickster figure that thrives on thwarting expectations and hovering in the un comfortable, y et mesmerizing z one beyond what description can encapsulate. If there is one thing shared by all of the screen Jokers, it is their devilish capacity for stealing the show. Roger Ebert said it best in his review of Batman that the villainous clown s o captures viewer attention in e very scene that we must sometimes remind ourselves not to root for him.57 Then, as always, the Joker remains a magnet for viewer attention, a testament to all of the performers whose talents have made the character so compelling, fascinating, and, yes, fun for so many generations.

It has been my contention in this piece that comparative acting analysis can help probe what has made the Joker consistently intriguing across multiple manifestations. By giving this oft-neglected element of film style its due, we may better understand the changes in the media industry over time, while still maintaining our focus on why audiences continue to give their time to its products—not because they are necessarily duped, manipulated, or coerced, but because they are genuinely entertained. As film styles change over time and the cultural capital of various characters ebbs and flows, let the debates over who played the “best” Joker continue to rage.


The Joker as Performance Style from Romero to Ledger -Shifting Makeups -The Joker_ A Serious Study of the Clown Prince of Crime 

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