Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The admirable 'insanity' of Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor's actor. Which in plain and simple terms means that what we actors aspire to become, he IS. Seemingly without effort, he melds and molds his physique, his mannerisms, the tone of his voice and his speech to fit the particular persona he's inhabiting. What many celebrities seem to have difficulty in understanding this day in age is that when your public persona outweighs any character you establish onscreen, it's bound to drown in failure on account of public oversight and critical scrutiny.

Case in point: Mrs. Jolie, a phenomenal actress who moonlights as a movie star has become so consumed by the media that many don't want to see her be anything other than what she already is. Stars have had this dilemma since the term 'celebrity' was coined, I'm sure, but it seems that now, more than ever, any deliberate attempt made by a celebrity to inhabit a role that bears no resemblence to their 'true-self' goes unnoticed.
We don't want La Lohan playing a sympathetic nurse to a dying, repentant old man.
We don't want Clooney to gain sixty pounds, drink and proclaim the end of all civilization from his cluttered office at some esteemed university back east.

And we most certainly do not want Ms. Angelina Jolie to darken her skin, shed her accent, bear maternity clothes not fashioned by a designer label and mourn the death of her husband.

We want them.

But Day-Lewis has surpassed all of this, not necessarily because of his reclusive nature (not that it doesn't help) or for the fact that he's appeared in 'smaller' features (he's still incredibly well-known, renowned in most circles). No, Day-Lewis has something that only the greatest of artists / performers discover and take advantage of.

Daniel Day-Lewis has a chameleon mind.

Not unlike some musical artists (namely Bob Dylan, Madonna, etc), Day-Lewis is always in a hungry pursuit for truth in places most individuals want to avoid at all costs, and (here's the beauty of it):
he doesn't want to bring himself along.

The brilliant Norweigan actress Liv Ullmann has gone on record as saying that she prefers to move the character through her, as though her body were a sponge that held onto what it felt was required to take on the part.

Day-Lewis, on the other hand, can only be a character by being the person.

It's a relatively simple concept, no?
To become the character, you must become the person.

So, my question is, in spite of all the present adoration for the gentleman (on account of his phenomenal performance in 'There Will Be Blood'), why are so many individuals quick to pass judgement on the man for his methods?

Crazy: adjective 1. mentally deranged; demented; insane.

My point being this:
If we're to look at one performer and judge them for the way in which they exhibit their art, then we must do the same for all.
This, of course, would bring about the destruction of all popular culture and then, the psyche of modern-day America.

I'll explain.
It goes like this:


1) The late, great Heath Ledger's last complete performance will be in Christopher Nolan's follow up to his prior Batman feature, entitled 'The Dark Knight'.

2) In preparing to inhabit the role of the infamous Joker, Mr. Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for one month straight without any human contact via telephone, the internet, etc. He studies the psyches of the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious as well as the character of Alex from 'A Clockwork Orange'.

3) The film is released and his performance is appropriately lauded for its pitch-perfect evocation of insanity and unnerving intensity.

4) People begin to discuss his preparatory methods for the character, referring to such tactics as 'insane', 'crazy', 'borderline schizophrenic', etc.

5) One person of considerable intellect or a group of fastidious critics begin to question the notion of 'acting', and whether it is simply evoking the nature of another or a means of emotional detatchment that has been overglorified this past century and has led to the cultural desensitization we face as a nation now more than ever.

6) The notion begins to catch on, the public begins to get into a moral quandry with itself: does our admiration for these individual's efforts mask our secret desire to be someone else? Is the entire notion of acting merely a popularized form of insanity? Is our fascination with celebrity reflective of this?

7) We put our brains to use and in response to the sudden call-of-duty, the mind de-activates and cockroaches rule the planet.


I'm just fascinated by it, honestly.
That we're so quick to pass a quick glance towards a true effort and miss the beauty of the performance.
You can't look at actors and expect answers.
You can't look at artists and always expect a coherent truth.

There is always truth. In each and every effort made.
The effectiveness of the effort, however, is reliant upon how much falsity there is to counter that truth.

Addison DeWitt, of 1950's brilliant 'All About Eve', sums it up best.

"We all have abnormalities in common. We're a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we theatre folk.
We are the original displaced personalities."

So quick to condemn the brave and the visionary,
but it takes so long to acknowledge the commonalities and the hypocrisy within ourselves.


Day-Lewis is God in cinema.
Ledger's Joker is already a tour-de-force.
We're morons for idolizing anything.

Thank you, come again.

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