Christopher Nolan On How the Art of Francis Bacon Inspired the Look of Heath Ledger’s Joker

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Photo: Tate Britain

An interesting connection between Tim Burton‘s Batman and Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight has just come to light as the folks at the newly refurbished Tate Britain sent me some videos featuring directors such as Nolan, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach talking about how certain artists inspired their work.

To begin, for Nolan he focuses on the work of Francis Bacon, revealing how he couldn’t find the right words to describe the look he wanted for the smeared clown make-up on Heath Ledger‘s Joker so he turned to a book of Bacon’s art to relay his vision to Ledger’s make-up artist, John Caglione Jr..

While it’s always interesting to see a filmmaker’s inspiration, what’s even more interesting about this, to me, is the connection it draws between Nolan’s Joker and Jack Nicholson‘s turn as the Joker in Burton’s 1989 film.

Just below is the Tate Britain short with Nolan, but below that is a video featuring Bacon speaking over the museum scene in Batman, but the video freezes as The Joker stops one of his henchmen from destroying one of Bacon’s paintings. It seems the inspiration for the character may have been around for some time.

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A scene from Mike Leigh's JMW Turner film compared to the Turner painting that was recreated
A scene from Mike Leigh’s JMW Turner film compared to the Turner painting that was recreated

Additionally, Mike Leigh discussed JMW Turner, the character at the center of his new, as-yet untitled film on the artist starring Timothy Spall. Above is a scene from the movie recreated from the painting seen in the lower right hand corner.

The same goes for the picture below.

A second scene from Mike Leigh's JMW Turner film compared to the Turner painting that was recreated
A second scene from Mike Leigh’s JMW Turner film compared to the Turner painting that was recreated

Leigh describes the scene and how he positioned the camera exactly where it would have been and adds, “Nobody thinks that the painter in the Turner’s little painting is Turner, but we’ve made it Turner and we’ve put three ladies in here and we’ve made a little scene happen. You go to this room and you experience the light coming in through this window and you really feel what you see in this little painting, which is the atmosphere, the mood, the spirit of the room and the light. Of course, light, more than anything, is what it’s about.”

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Finally, Ken Loach is currently working on what may be his last feature film, Jimmy’s Hall, a period drama set in 1930s Ireland, and he speaks in the video below on the connections between art and filmmaking, and explains why he’d rather spend time with William Hogarth and his servants than any of the fine dandies in other portraits on show at Tate Britain.

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From Tate Britain:

These short films are part of a series in which leading creatives share artworks from Tate Britain’s collection that have inspired them.

The newly refurbished Tate Britain is now open to the public. Find out more and see how other top creative minds including musicians, photographers, poets, comedians, chefs and more have been inspired by 500 years of British art.

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