There’s likely to be a fresh outpouring of public grief for Ledger when Derik Murray’s Spike TV documentary about him premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 23. The courageous Australian actor, who died at 28 of a prescription pill overdose in 2008, left a vacuum impossible to fill.
I Am Heath Ledger, which incorporates moments from intensely intimate home movies, captures the actor’s warmth, humor, playfulness, and passion, not least for experimenting with cameras. His beauty—which could seem “dreamy” (10 Things I Hate About You), rugged (Brokeback Mountain), or degenerate (The Dark Knight)—and unaffected masculine vigor comes through in every frame in which he appears.
Murray’s film comprises private film clips, excerpts from Ledger’s movies, and interviews with friends and family, including Naomi Watts (his Ned Kelly co-star and onetime girlfriend), fellow Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn, and Brokeback director Ang Lee.
There’s no indication from the trailer that the actress Michelle Williams has participated in the film. Williams and Ledger had a three-year relationship after they met during the making of Brokeback. Their daughter Matilda Ledger was born in 2005.
The revelation that emerges from I Am Heath Ledger is the actor’s fascination with movie and video cameras and the suggestion that he was gearing up to direct films eventually.
This forges a link between Ledger and James Dean, who would have almost certainly have directed movies, possibly under the guidance of his Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray, had his life not ended tragically early. While there’s no mitigating the losses of Ledger, Dean, or River Phoenix, some consolation may be found in the extraordinary films each of them left behind.
I Am Heath Ledger will have a limited theatrical release on May 3. It will air on Spike TV on May 17.