By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
"I kind of gulped a little bit,” Vernon recalls, “Like, ‘Holy cow, this guy’s going to stay here for three days and grieve?’ It was kind of an intense idea, and I was really touched as well. It was definitely the strangest three days of my life, and also, simultaneously, three days of this heavenly, out-of-this-world, almost-like-a-dream state. It was an incredibly heavy thing to observe and to partake in. It was very thick. And exhausting. It’s the quickest I’ve gotten to know someone that deeply, for sure, in my entire life,” the singer concludes.
Through the making of the video, Amato was particularly struck by the lyrics: “Someday my pain, Someday my pain/ will mark you,” begins the slow, soft song, which Vernon sings in falsetto. “With the wild wolves around you/in the morning I’ll call you/send it further on.”
Solace my game, solace my game
It stars you
Swing wide your crane, swing wide your crane
And run me through
And the story’s all over you
In the morning I’ll call you
Can’t find a clue when your eyes are all painted
What might have been lost —
Don’t bother me
“After I read [the lyrics], I asked Justin why he wrote that song — which is a terrible thing to ask a musician,” Amato concedes. “He said, ‘I don’t know. Maybe it was your friend talking to you.’”
Back in L.A., the Masses office was in shock, but within a few hours it became a gathering place for a large group of Ledger’s friends. Similar wakes were occurring all over the world: in Perth, where his family and some of his oldest friends were mourning; in New York, where Michelle Williams, the mother of his child, had arrived from Sweden; in Vancouver, where the actor was in the middle of making Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus; and at Sundance, where Bayer and Cline and dozens, if not hundreds, of former colleagues and collaborators heard the news on the crowded streets of Park City, Utah. Cline hopped a plane to New York. Bayer hopped into his sleeper van and immediately began the 15-hour trek back to Los Angeles.
By the weekend, everyone had returned, and the Masses office became an open-all-night port of call. Amato was busy channeling his heartbreak into editing both the Bon Iver shoots and, more important at the time, a 10-minute memorial video for the service in L.A. Among the moments from Ledger’s life he included was footage the actor shot of himself with the camera: spinning around with joy in London’s Hyde Park between The Dark Knight takes, absorbing the scene at Burning Man, surfing, stoking a campfire on a Mexican shore.
Shannon Woodward and her boyfriend, Andrew Garfield (who was working on the set of Dr. Parnassus with Ledger) brought some board games, and she entertained them with some song and dance. The newest Masses addition, Matthew Cardarople, brought in a blank canvas and some paint. And through it all, no TMZ crews or cable-news reporters found the group. Centerless Los Angeles hid its grieving masses neatly, whereas in New York, a circus was centered on Ledger’s apartment building.
“It proved to me that we really did a great job in creating that safe place for him,” Jessica Slagle says, “because the paparazzi never showed up, and nobody knew where we were.”
The vigil was very unlike the last time Amato had seen Ledger in New York, when a group of Masses associates had flown in to attend a concert celebrating the release of Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There.
“It was getting so crazy in New York before he died,” remembers Amato. “One of my last images of him, on the last day I was with him, is of him pressed up against the glass of the windows where we were at, just looking to see where all the photographers were. Trying to navigate his way. Trying to chart his course before he went out.”
But in the feeding frenzy that followed Ledger’s death, it appeared that the media were steering the narrative of the actor’s last days.
“I’m really annoyed at what I’ve seen in papers — that the darkness of the Joker character took over his personality. That is so ridiculously wrong,” says Auber, who was in London during The Dark Knight shoot, working with Ledger on the Modest Mouse video. “He was having a lot of fun. He was really enjoying it. He wasn’t dark at all. It was actually a real happy moment when I was in London [with him]. Matilda was there, Michelle was there. They were a happy family. He had a lot of free time for London and his friends — he would only shoot a few days a week. He really was not depressed by the character at all.”
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