Heath Ledger's Final Days Among the Masses | Film | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly

Heath Ledger's Final Days Among the Masses 

L.A. Art Collective Struggles to Go On After Actor's Death

Wednesday, Jul 9 2008

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Ledger drifted in and out of the early Masses scene, which was jelling in Los Angeles. But in the fall of 2006, when Amato’s relationship with Campbell was on the rocks, and Amato was struggling to keep up a good front, Ledger sensed trouble. He’d been doing some editing at South Orange and realized firsthand the stress he was adding to the relationship. So he offered to set up a space for the Masses. “He said, ‘Let’s get an office,’” Amato remembers. “‘I want everything that’s in your office at home to be there.’”

When Amato and Campbell eventually did split, many tears were shed across Los Angeles — not only because their 10-year relationship had come to an end but because there would be no more dinner parties, no more all-night editing sessions, no more joy at South Orange. But in its place was something else, a new office in Hancock Park, where the Masses really took shape.

Building 98, a few blocks west of downtown Marfa, was originally designed as an officers club and quarters for Fort D.A. Russell, featuring a square, single-story construct with a courtyard in the middle, a half-dozen bedroom units and an L-shaped room that’s been transformed into a gallery and a bar. The building is now used as a multipurpose gathering place. On this early evening, with Cornfed’s bus parked to the side, the many Masses and Magnetic Zeros are in overdrive, zipping around the complex as the light turns from orange to rust, each figuring out a task that needs doing while adjusting to the surreal Texas vibe. It’s a different animal out here, where the absence of sound creates a kind of presence.

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But then there’s music through the silence. First some drums spilling from a room, then a bass, then a guitar — a band is rehearsing. It’s a three-piece called Victoria, led by Antony Langdon, former guitarist for the Brit-pop band Spacehog. Langdon and his two mates are playing songs written for them by actor Joaquin Phoenix. They’re debuting them tonight at Building 98, but first, they have to learn them. Now the scene has a soundtrack.

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Finding the light: Ledger directing "Quicksand"

Jon Ramos

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Reconnecting: Scenes from Marfa

Jon Ramos

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In the gallery, various Masses members unload their prints from the bus, and each batch of images conjures a different story. Icelandic photographer/director Borkur’s gorgeous underwater shots of floating beauty stir memories of Ramos and Amato traveling to northern Iceland to shoot Sigur Rós. As they hang little graphic illustrations of monsters by Masses designer and illustrator Daniel Auber, the knowledge of Auber’s work with director Terry Gilliam, and how he met Ledger on the set of the 2005 film The Brothers Grimm, paint the joyful little mutants with extra weight. (Gilliam’s other project with Ledger, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, was halted upon Ledger’s death but is back in production with three actors, Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp, in the late star’s role.)

“In the Masses, he wasn’t the boss,” Auber tells me later, back in L.A. “Like in the Renaissance, you have the people called mecenate. I think the translation is ‘patron [of the arts].’ It felt like that but in a really natural way. It was completely spontaneous — and so much fun. The Masses was a shelter from the bad side of Hollywood.”

When nature filmmaker Bayer sets one of his prints on a mantel — a peaceful shot of a group sitting around a campfire at night — a scene from a year prior jumps into the room. Taken from perhaps 10 feet away, all the people glow orange inside the night. You feel the warmth just looking at it.

Bayer shot it in August 2007 on a beach in Mexico during a Masses surfing trip. For the dozen or so there — including Sara Cline; Amato; Alex Ebert (a.k.a Edward Sharpe of the Magnetic Zeros) and his companion, singer Jade Castrinos; Bayer’s girlfriend, singer Mia Doi Todd; and a half-dozen others — it was a spur-of-the-moment respite, a motivator, a sort of commitment ceremony and understanding that the company Heath had decided to finance 10 months prior was more than just a company.

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