Batman Stars, but the Joker Steals the Show in 'The Dark Knight'


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson.

Today, we listen to new music by Madonna ...

Answer a question about the American railroad system ...

And report on some big, bright ticket sales for the "The Dark Knight."


"The Dark Night"


Last weekend was a historic one for the American movie industry. It was the biggest three-day weekend in Hollywood history. Movies earned more than two hundred fifty million dollars.  The most popular movie last weekend was the long awaited Batman movie, "The Dark Knight." That movie made history too. Faith Lapidus has our report.


"The Dark Knight" is now in its second weekend in theaters in America. It had the biggest opening weekend for a film in movie history. By Monday morning it had sold more than one hundred fifty-eight million dollars in tickets. That beat last year's record of one hundred fifty-one million dollars for the movie "Spider-Man 3."

"The Dark Knight" is British writer and director Christopher Nolan's second Batman movie. Welsh actor Christian Bale plays the comic book superhero, as he did in Nolan's two thousand five film, "Batman Begins." Batman is a mysterious crime fighter who wears special clothes and a mask to hide his true identity, billionaire Bruce Wayne.

Batman's enemy, the Joker, is played by Australian actor Heath Ledger. "The Dark Knight" was the last film Ledger completed before his death in January at the age of twenty-eight. He died from an accidental overdose of medicine.

The Joker wears ugly white make-up on his face to cover wounds that shape a permanent and horrible red smile. Critics and co-stars have praised Ledger's performance. There is talk of a possible Oscar nomination for Ledger. The character of the Joker is extremely evil. Movie critic Roger Ebert describes this Joker as "more than a villain." He says the Joker's actions are designed to present his enemies and innocent people with moral tests that appear to have no good answer.

Three years ago, "Batman Begins" explored Bruce Wayne's tragic childhood and how he became Batman. "The Dark Knight" is a history of the Joker. Here Christopher Nolan discusses how he and Ledger wanted a fresh representation of the character.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN: "We really focused in on this idea of The Joker as an absolute force of pure anarchy. Somebody devoted to chaos. Somebody who truly does just take pleasure in tearing down the world around himself.  That's the fear we wanted to inspire in the audience. That's the threat we wanted underlying everything in the film. And that's something we've not seen from this character before. Heath was able to put together a number of different attitudes for the character. But he never loses sight of the humanity of the character. That the character is a real human being and, therefore, is a real dangerous force."


Many critics praise "The Dark Knight." Other critics say Heath Ledger is the only thing that makes the film worth seeing. As the Joker himself says:

HEATH LEDGER: "This town deserves a better class of criminal. And I'm gonna give it to 'em."

American Railroad History


Our listener question this week comes from Bosnia. Danijel Djordjic wants to know more about the history of the American railroad and the Museum of the American Railroad.

An important event in railroad history took place in eighteen sixty-two. President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act. This approved the first transcontinental railroad that would be built from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California. It would later link the railroads of the eastern United States with California on the Pacific Coast.

When the transcontinental railroad was completed, the Central Pacific railroad connected to the Union Pacific railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah. A gold object was placed in the ground in eighteen sixty-nine to mark the completion of the railroad. Some consider this Golden Spike ceremony to be the first live mass media event in American history. Telegraph machines communicated that the railroad had been finished to people from the east to west coasts.

The creation of the first transcontinental railroad made travel easier for Americans. Instead of taking six months to travel from one side of the country to the other, it now took only one week.

Until about nineteen twenty, almost all people traveling from one city to another used trains for transportation. However, in the nineteen forties, cars became a more common way to travel. In the nineteen fifties, airplanes became popular. Still, the train was able to stand the test of time.

Today, the government-owned company called Amtrak is the largest operating passenger train system in the United States. It provides rail service in forty-six states and carries about twenty-five million passengers a year.

Many museums have been created to teach people about the history of trains. The Museum of the American Railroad, in Dallas, Texas, is one of the largest. It contains parts of many trains from different time periods. Visitors can walk through the trains to get an idea of what train travel was like. People continue to use trains today to enjoy the beauty of America.



Madonna has been reinventing her sound and image for over twenty-five years. Her latest record, "Hard Candy," is her eleventh studio album. "Hard Candy" is filled with dance beats influenced by hip-hop music. Pat Bodnar tells us more.

(MUSIC: "Beat Goes On")


That was the song "Beat Goes On" which Madonna performs with the rap artist Kanye West. When she was ready to make a new album, Madonna was not sure what kind of music she wanted to make. So she thought about the records she was listening to that she loved. She decided she wanted to work with Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Justin Timberlake to create the new sound of her album.

Here is "Candy Shop," a sexy song that makes you want to dance. It is a good example of the kind of music that has made Madonna a star.


Madonna has been working on several other projects. She will be performing throughout Europe and the United States starting next month. She recently finished working on a documentary film about parentless children with AIDS in Malawi. The film "I Am Because We Are" has a personal connection for the singer. She recently adopted a young son from Malawi.

We close with a song that expresses another form of social concern. In "4 Minutes" Justin Timberlake and Madonna have only a short amount of time to save the world. This best-selling song is filled with the energy of two skillful artists who enjoy making musical magic together.



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Caty Weaver, Elizabeth Stern and Dana Demange, who was also the producer. To read the text of this program and download audio, go to our Web site,

Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.