The trailer for I Am: Heath Ledger, which premieres at Tribeca Film Festival on April 23 and in select theaters May 3, opens with a slow zoom out of Ledger holding a camera to his face, taking photos. He's focused on his work, but smiling in a way that immediately brings tears to my eyes. Ledger's death in 2008 was devastating, and in the trailer for the new film about his life, the actor is captured many times behind various cameras, exhibiting a passion for examining the world from unique angles. Many people may not know that Heath Ledger directed a number of music videos, and this new doc aims to showcase what a special person and incredible talent he was, not just in front of the camera but also behind it.
As reported in an LA Weekly story after his death, Ledger was an integral member of LA art, film, and music collective The Masses, and he spent much of his time before his death learning about the craft of directing there. He directed several music videos during this time, which you can still watch today. Many of the videos are for well-known musicians, so you may even have already seen some of them and not realized Ledger was the one behind the camera.
The videos are evidence of an artist with a well-developed aesthetic and vision, and they will make you lament that Ledger never got the chance to put more art into the world as a director.
1"Morning Yearning" — Ben Harper
Ledger was close friends with Ben Harper, and he directed this lovely video for Harper's "Morning Yearning," featuring warm dark silhouettes moving slowly and dancing in front bright golden light and gray smoke.
2"Cause An Effect" — N'fa
Ledger directed two videos for hip hop artist N'fa. According to a statement by N'fa in the caption for the video on his official YouTube, this one was filmed in Ledger's garage. N'fa said that Ledger was dedicated to making sure the video had "more of an art house feel tha[n] a pop video for MTV." The video features a focus on high contrast images and, like the one for "Morning Yearning," showcases Ledger's adept understanding of how to utilize and manipulate light.
3"Seduction Is Evil" — N'fa
The golden ochre tones are back in Ledger's second video that he directed for N'fa, for "Seduction is Evil." There's a more narrative element at the beginning, and some awesome dancers, and the entire thing has such a cool vibrant nighttime aesthetic.
4"King Rat" — Modest Mouse
This intense and darkly beautiful six-minute video for Modest Mouses's "King Rat" legitimately deserves the often overused descriptor "epic," as it follows a group of whales on a hunt for humans to kill and skin. Ledger conceived the entire idea and storyline of the video and worked on it before his death. According to Rolling Stone, Ledger was "hoping to bring awareness to the illegal commercial whale hunts taking place off the shores of Australia by reversing the roles of the parties involved."
5"Black Eyed Dog" — Nick Drake
One of Ledger's final works was a clip for the Nick Drake song "Black Eyed Dog," which, Pitchfork reported after his death, was to be part of a larger project on Nick Drake that Ledger hoped to complete. The clip is grainy, melancholy, and artful.
It's so sad to see what beautiful work Ledger made, and could've made more of, if he hadn't passed away.