Todd Phillips’ Joker is enjoying the biggest opening rollout in October movie history. Opening at what is now officially $96 million—above the $93.5 million Warner Bros. estimated on Sunday—the picture surpassed last year’s Venom for the opening weekend record and would appear to prove that hard R-rated content and adult character studies can still do massive business… at least so long as they are attached to familiar intellectual property like the Clown Prince of Crime.
While we tend to think Joker earns its stripes, thanks in large part to actor Joaquin Phoenix’s haunting work, there has been controversy swirling around the film ever since its first trailer dropped. And it’s only grown more pronounced after it took home the Golden Lion from the Venice Film Festival. Now, new concern has emerged due to a problematic song choice: the inclusion of Gary Glitter’s 1972 anthem, “Rock and Roll Part 2.”
The song, which appears in the film’s most marketed sequence, plays as Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck finally embraces his new Joker persona in full for the first time. He is dancing down the steps of a steep concrete staircase and having a blast as Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” jams on, at least in his mind and the audiences’ ears. This once decades-long staple of every sporting event in the United States—as well as frequent pop culture touchstone in movies as varied as Air Bud and Bring It On—has become virtually forgotten by sporting events… which likely has something to do with Glitter currently serving time in prison as a convicted child predator and pedophile.
In 2015, Glitter began a 16-year prison sentence for attempted rape, indecent assault, and sex with a girl under the age of 13. While these crimes were committed in the ‘80s, he was also arrested in 1999 for possession of child pornography. Since his recent conviction, it’s become increasingly rare to hear his party anthem anywhere, except as a deliberate choice in Joker. One that CNBC has investigated.
“Glitter, whose real name is Paul Gadd, is reportedly expected to receive a lump sum for allowing the recording to be used in ‘Joker,’” wrote CNBC’s Sam Meredith. “He is also thought to be in line for music royalties depending on the success of movie theater ticket sales, DVD sales, and film soundtrack sales.”
It is up to each viewer if this detracts from Joker as a film—personally, it does not—but one must wonder why this particular song was chosen by Phillips, especially given reports like this would become inevitable. A case could be made about it is in keeping with Arthur Fleck’s greasy lurch toward nihilism throughout the film. Prior to the scene in question, he has just committed two gruesome murders of people he knew in his daily life, and afterward felt like “celebrating.”
Some might say that Arthur embracing the music of a child abuser is in keeping with Joker’s own growing ugliness as a person. The sentiment that led Joker to state, “I used to think my life is a tragedy, but now I know it’s a comedy,” and calls into many questions about the film’s ambiguous ending. Or it could just be a cynical bit of provocation from the filmmaker who got laughs out of Zach Galifanakis drugging his friends, twice, in The Hangover movies.
Joker, meanwhile, is still running off with Gotham’s bank in theaters now.