The man who laughs

Viedt

This person may look like the Joker. That’s because he, according things I read on the Internet, kind of is.

Many nights, instead of going to sleep at a reasonable time (which, for me, because of my newspaper job, means before 3 a.m.), I stay up and read the Internet. This includes an excess of Wikipedia, which results in a vast (but largely shallow) knowledge of mostly esoteric things — like Conrad Viedt, the maniacally grinning guy in the charcoal drawing above, being Bob Kane’s basis for the Joker.

What sent me to the Internet to learn about Conrad Viedt was a movie I saw on TCM five or six years ago: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” It’s a silent German Expressionist film from 1919 that still stands up as one of the most disturbing movies ever made. It also was the movie that got into me into silent films, as well as German Expressionism.

dc

For me, part of the reason it stands up as so disturbing — other than a plot involving an asylum — is because it’s silent and black and white. It creates a look and a feel that is inherently unnerving. Watch “Nosferatu.” Watch “The Phantom of the Opera” with Lon Chaney Sr. The black-and-white silent atmosphere of those movies is as important (and as creepy) as the plot. For “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” there’s also the set design, which is all stylistically bent and gnarled.

But about the Joker. “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” led me to”The Man Who Laughs,” another silent German Expressionist film which also starred Conrad Viedt — and in it he looks like the Joker. “The Man Who Laughs” came out in 1928; the Joker made his first appearance in 1940.

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