Clown in the big city: How the image of the Joker was created.

Batman's main enemy

The Joker, invented by Jerry Robinson , Bob Kane and Bill Finger, appeared for the first time on the pages of comic books back in 1940 and has since established itself as the main supervillain of the DC Comics universe. There are various theories about the hero’s past: from a gangster to an unsuccessful comedian. According to the canonical version of Alan Moore, a man who became a Joker gained his specific appearance after falling into a vat of acid, frightened by Batman during the persecution during a robbery of a card factory. The main features of the character - pale skin, green hair, a frozen smile and a purple suit - eventually developed into a canonical image, firmly entrenched in popular culture and more than once embodied on the screen.

Eccentric joker

The first in the movie and on television, the Joker was embodied by Julio César Romero in 1966. In his interpretation, the Joker is more likely not a dangerous criminal, but a joker and a dirty trick. With light green hair, a whitened face (although even under a thick layer of make-up you could see Romero's mustache, which the actor for some reason refused to shave), a smile drawn with bright red lipstick, and a raspberry three-piece suit (costume designer Pat Barto), he most like a sort of operetto-circus villain.

Gangster dude

In the movie Tim Burton "Batman" (1989) in the role of the Joker Jack Nicholson shone. The actor allowed himself a frank grimacing and clownish buffoonery, which corresponded to the grotesque aesthetics of the film comic strip and looked organically. Transformed from a gangster Jack Napier into a clown - the prince of the underworld, this hero demonstrates the most diverse wardrobe among all on-screen Jokers (costume designer Bob Ringwood), while maintaining a love for the rich purple color. By the way, Nicholson's Joker is the only movie Joker who wears a hat that refers both to the canonical character of a comic book character and to the gangster past Napier. Nicholson received another nomination for the Golden Globe for this role.


Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008) created a memorable image of anarchist psychopath whose sophisticated filigree crimes plunged civilized society into chaos. Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for a month, inventing what his Joker should be like. This is no longer a fabulous hero who survived after falling into an acid tank. The frozen grin is replaced by two long scars on the cheeks ("Glasgow Smile"), stretched from the corners of the mouth almost to the ears. The makeup was deliberately carelessly applied on his face, and in one scene he is completely absent. As a result, a new reading of the seemingly already battered character caused a sensation among the audience and critics (the actor was awarded the posthumous Golden Globe and Oscar awards), and the Joker costume (costume designer Lindy Hemming) - a suede purple coat, green vest , purple pants in lilac stripes and dark purple gloves - began to be actively circulated by cosplayers and fans of Halloween parties.


In "Suicide Squad" (2016), Jared Leto played the most repulsive and physiologically unpleasant of all the Jokers. With tattoos, iron dentures, licked green hair and a purple crocodile skin coat over his naked body (costume designer Kate Hawley), he looks more like a drug lord than the head of the underworld of Gotham City. Such an interpretation of the image was far from convincing everyone, and the actor was even nominated for Golden Raspberry.

From comics to social drama

Todd Phillips' Joker is a surprise movie. It was shot in a completely different aesthetic than the typical movie production of the DC universe. This is not an old-mode comic book with flat characters, but a deep socio-psychological drama in which Phillips, based on the "Batman: The Killing Joke" story about the Joker, convincingly demonstrates the transformation of the unfortunate clown and stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck into an antihero, killer and main inspirer riots in Gotham. The huge gloomy city, sometimes hostile, sometimes indifferent, itself becomes a full-fledged actor and is able to engender hatred and aggression even in a good, in fact, person. Phillips has repeatedly said that, deploying the action of his film in 1981, he was inspired by the masterpieces of the American new wave, and especially by the paintings of Martin Scorsese (who at first was even listed as one of the producers of the project). So, the story told by Scorsese in "Taxi Driver" is the story of the good guy Travis Bickle (young Robert De Niro), suffering from the Vietnamese syndrome, whose psyche cannot stand the daily contact with the cruelty and filth of New York in the 1970s, is very consonant with the story of the transformation of the clogged Arthur Fleck into the odious Joker. And even the parallels and even the dialogue with the bitterly funny "The King of Comedy", where the same De Niro plays the unlucky comedian Rupert Papkin, kidnapping the main star of the popular comedy show to get on the air, are completely transparent. And the fact that Todd Phillips invited the aged De Niro to the role of Franklin Murray, television star and idol Arthur Fleck, is very symbolic.

Role preparation

Role in the Joker - Joaquin Phoenix's explicit Oscar bid for the upcoming award season. When the director Todd Phillips, together with co-author Scott Silver, began work on the script for the film, in the main role they both saw only Phoenix and even hung his photo on the computer, so to speak, to visualize their desires. Although there was little hope of getting an actor in the project, since Phoenix always avoided filming in superhero blockbusters and even refused his role in Doctor Strange, considering that the producers would be able to limit his acting freedom. However, the Joker script delighted Phoenix so much that he no doubt agreed and was very enthusiastic about Phillips' non-standard view of the comic villain. In an interview, Phoenix admitted: "It was a challenge for me as an actor. The story itself was designed to shake the public opinion regarding the Joker. I thought it would be really difficult. " In addition to the heroes mentioned by De Niro from Scorsese films, during the formation of the image, the actor also focused on the adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel "The Man Who Laughs" (1928), where Conrad Veidt, who shone in the masterpieces of German film expressionism, played Guinplen, who was disfigured in childhood.

In order to enter the unstable emotional and psychological state of the hero, Phoenix decided on extreme weight loss and lost 23 and a half kilograms. The actor joked: "You really become a bad person when you lose weight so dramatically in a short period of time." They say that at some point he ate no more than one apple per day (although in our interview Phoenix insists: these are director’s tales, there were still salad and asparagus in vinegar). The main acting task for him was the search for the Joker laugh. According to the plot of the picture, Arthur Fleck suffers from uncontrollable attacks of laughter, which overtake him in any and often very sad situations. The hero even carries a special card with him to inform people about his ailment. "I watched videos of people suffering from pathological laughter or crying," says Phoenix. - In the script, laughter was described as something painful. I rehearsed alone for a long time and then asked the director to listen to my laughter, because I had to be sure that I could do this on the set in front of other people. I didn’t want to imitate laughter, I wanted to find him. " As a result, many critics and viewers said that the laughter of the Joker in the performance of the Phoenix is ​​the most piercing and memorable.

Joker costume

As a costume designer, Todd Phillips invited twice the Oscar-winning Mark Bridges ("The Artist", "Phantom Thread"), who had already successfully worked with Joaquin Phoenix on two projects by Paul Thomas Anderson - in "The Master" and "Inherent Vice". What should a depressed, mentally unstable and baited society look like? Starting to form Arthur’s wardrobe, Bridges asked himself several questions: "Where does the hero buy his clothes? Does he care what he looks like? Does he dress like a little boy? "Since Fleck still lives with his mother, the artist decided that an element of clumsiness and infantility should be read in his clothes. Perhaps he has been wearing the same shirts and sweaters for years, most likely bought in second-hand clothes.

The script stated that Fleck, before his transformation into a Joker, was dressed in a terracotta costume in the 1970s style. However, Bridges found this decision too cliched. At first he wanted to give Phoenix a coat like the one worn by the hero of Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy", but after trying out the suit he abandoned this idea, considering that in this version Joaquin did not look quite infantile.

Bridges eventually opted for a beige hooded jacket, baggy trousers, a stretched brown cardigan, light floral shirts, brown boots, and white socks. This is the outfit of a loser, in every possible way emphasizing his painful thinness and angularity. Fleck’s predominant brownish-earthy wardrobe palette obviously refers us to the appearance of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, even though the latter looked much more manly in his clothes.

Riges built the character’s wardrobe, starting from the final suit. The closer Arthur was to the final transformation into the Joker, the darker the color palette of his clothes became. Things that he had once worn, formed the basis of a new image, which gave even greater authenticity. So, the orange-yellow vest, which was part of the costume of the unfortunate clown, becomes one of the brightest touches in the guise of a killer with a clown’s face. When creating the Joker outfit, the artist relied on the description in the script: "a reddish-brown suit that Arthur had for many years."

Bridges immediately decided that the Joker suit should have three colors: green, gold and red, which together form a very strong and impressive combination. At the same time, he completely and completely abandoned the violet - the dominant color of the villain in the comics. The color of the Joker-Phoenix suit and shirt is closest to the look of the first Joker movie - Cesar Romero from the 1966 film, which is natural, because Arthur probably could see this hero on the screen. Such a postmodern touch.

"When Joaquin and I had the final fitting of the complete Joker ensemble, all the elements were perfectly matched: the right shirt, the right vest," says Bridges. - All this was tied to the style of the 1970s, with the exception of a longer jacket than it was worn. And in all this vestment, Joaquin immediately had a smooth movement and confidence that Arthur did not have and which suited the Joker so much. I was very pleased with the result. " Indeed, it is difficult to resist applause when Arthur first appears in the image of the Joker under the drive song "Rock-n-roll. Part 2" Harry Glitter.

Broccoli hair

As for the makeup and hairstyles of the Phoenix, here the experts also adhered to the most realistic approach. According to the script, Fleck's hair was black, but the main hairdresser Kay Georgiou ("Shakespeare in Love", "Lincoln", "Carol") thought that on the screen it would look too gloomy, and only slightly darkened the dark blond hair of the Phoenix. As for the canonical green hair of the Joker, then the idea was planted by the production designer Mark Friedberg. "Mark said the hair should be the color of green broccoli," says Georgiu. - Todd immediately agreed, but the question arose: what kind of broccoli? Organic, cheap, fresh, old ... Broccoli has a ton of colors. " In the end, Georgiou took several samples and dyed her hair in different shades of green so that Phillips could choose the desired color.

Clown makeup

Niki Lederman was responsible for the make-up in the film ("Sex and the City", "Vinyl", "The Devil Wears Prada", "The Irishman"). According to her, the working makeup of the clown, whom Flek portrays as a duty, must be recognizable and unique at the same time. Subsequently, he transforms into a Joker mask, becoming more sinister. The same colors are used - white, blue and red (by the way, the color palette resembles the clown mask of the infamous maniac John Wayne Gacy). All paints are matte, not glossy, in accordance with the muted color palette of the film. These are not pure colors, with an admixture.

So, the blue color with which tears are drawn around the eyes (this eyeliner refers to the images of the Joker in old Batman comics, for example, in "Laughing Fish" and "The Joker Sign"), is a combination of green and blue. The red color of a smile and eyebrows gives a tan and resembles gore. In this case, the Joker Phoenix, unlike his predecessors, the tip of the nose is also painted red as an echo of his clown profession.

Realistic wardrobe and Fleck-Joker make-up, coupled with the phenomenally accurate game of the Phoenix made it possible to create on the screen the most humane image of an already seemingly cliched villain. The process of transforming a clogged loser into an uncompromising killer is shown so subtly that, given the background of Arthur (which we learn about in the second half of the film), the viewer cannot stop empathizing with the hero, even when he begins to commit his atrocities.

If you have not watched the movie "Joker", we strongly recommend that you do it!

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