Tag Archives: Daniel Day-Lewis

Phantom Thread

I fell in love with Punch Drunk Love, and by extension its director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Since I’d already loved Boogie Nights I re-visited Magnolia and found lots to love there too. Punch Drunk Love was the start of my affair with PTA, and also the end. I’ve seen and not really liked everything he’s done since: There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice. It makes me feel like a failed cinephile to admit my inability to get behind these movies and I was itching to break the spell with Phantom Thread. It currently holds a 92% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes and is being lauded for Daniel Day-Lewis’s committed (and final) performance, but no, Phantom Thread did nothing for me.

Set in London, 1950’s, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a genius dressmaker whose fashion house is coveted by all ladies in good standing. His life is rigorously regimented the-phantom-thread-trailer-1e98fcf2-7417-4ff9-bb81-a75e0cabd04band he turns out perfection in taffeta and the finest silk. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs his business and his home. Neither tolerate the slightest deviance from their prescribed lifestyle. BUT then a lovely young woman causes a disruption. Alma (Vicky Krieps) turns out to not be the meek muse that Woodcock first took her for, and his world is soon turned more inside out than the discarded gowns on a dressing room floor.

Is Daniel Day-Lewis quite good? Yes he is. His performance is measured and he puts you under his spell – almost. The trouble with Woodcock is that he’s thoroughly detestable. Alma is plain but transformed by his designs, made to feel beautiful and important, but it’s his attention that she desires and his alone. And of course he’s too fastidious, too devoted to his work to give it. But why does she want it? Women, to him, are basically just objects. They’re either housekeepers, muses, or clients – and he’s already got a housekeeper, and loads of clients. So Alma needs to find herself a niche, and she’s not afraid to carve one out herself.

Phantom Thread is undeniably meticulous in its execution, but I found it slow and I felt uninvolved. Not caring for any of the lead characters makes you feel so removed no matter how stirring the colour palette. The dresses were sumptuous and incredible really, but it felt more like flipping through the pages of a beautiful catalogue. The emotions are so inaccessible Alma may as well be a mannequin and not since Today’s Special has that been a compliment. The internet is filled with positive reviews for this movie but this is not one of them.

Farewell: Daniel Day-Lewis

Last week, Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting. He’s got one final role to unleash on the world, an untitled Paul Thomas Anderson film in which he plays fashion designer Charles James, which comes out around Christmas. And then he’s done.

But is he DONE done? Or is he retiring like Michael Jordan retired from basketball? Or Jay-Z retired from rap? Day-Lewis is at the top of his game, where, in fairness, he has been for the past 30 years or so. It just seems to me that people who are both very good at\very passionate about what they do don’t retire, they keep doing the thing they love until they physically cannot do it anymore.

And it’s not like we would have noticed Day-Lewis’s absence had he simply taken a Lew_main_1661547asabbatical. The man is notoriously reclusive and generally does only about one film every five years or so. After winning an Oscar for Lincoln in 2012 (which was the last time we’ve seen him on screen), he announced a hiatus during which he’d spend time on his farm in Dublin, learning “rural skills” like stonemasonry. You know, practical stuff. Between 1997’s The Boxer and 2002’s Gangs of New York, he left Hollywood to apprentice as a shoemaker in Italy. He’s obviously a curious man willing to try his hand at all kinds of pursuits. But quit acting?

Whether or not he eventually comes out of retirement for “one last role” I can’t help but feel this is the end of an era. DDL is the kind of actor who used those fallow periods to truly transform himself into his next character. When he did Lincoln, he stayed in character for 3 solid months; even Spielberg had to address him as Mr. President. To crawl so deeply beneath someone else’s skin must be quite draining and it’s no wonder that he’s needed such lengthy recovery times between films. But Hollywood has gotten away from this kind of acting, the total-immersion kind. Now people play versions of themselves. George Clooney, say, or Ryan Gosling: both very good actors, but if you think about it, they play versions of their charming, winking selves. Have we ever seen Clooney lose himself in a role, or even just play against type? Day-Lewis’s commitment to diving into a role completely is impressing, but is also probably a dying art. He’s only 60 but perhaps he is already a dinosaur in the industry. A super talented dinosaur who will be sadly missed.

 

What’s your favourite DDL role?

How long before he comes out of retirement?

 

Method Acting 101

There was a time when “committed” actors swore by method acting for really nailing roles, really living in the skin of the characters they portrayed. It’s a technique wherein the actor aims for total emotional identification with the part, and once they’re in the zone, they don’t leave it. They don’t break character when the director yells cut. If the character is angry and volatile, the actor will be angry and volatile for the whole 4 months. If the character is needy and vulnerable, then so will be the actor. You can understand why it’s difficult to work with such an actor – it must feel like working with a toddler, one who doesn’t take naps and won’t be sent to time out.

Lots of actors have taking method acting so far it makes my eyes roll around in their sockets but it was Jared Leto’s method approach to the Joker in Suicide Squad that led
jaredletojokerhqAngelica Jade Bastien of The Atlantic to declare “Method acting is over.” Thanks to its overuse in Oscar-baity screeners by those actively seeking accolades, the method has lost its appeal, but Leto’s over-the-top zeal revealed the “technique” as more marketing tool than anything else and the prestige is all but gone. Jared Leto sent his fellow costars screwy gifts of used condoms, dead pigs, and live rats, apparently because he felt that’s the kind of thoughtful gesture the Joker would make, or at least that it would play well as an anecdote on Jimmy Kimmell. He also watched footage of brutal crimes online because apparently pretending to be a bad person isn’t enough, one must actually become reprehensible.

Going “method” is really just a new way for an actor to show off; it makes the creation of a character more visible and signals to the Academy “I’d like my Oscar now.” This identity branding is indulged by Hollywood but often divisive if not downright disruptive on set.

Practiced by Hollywood heavyweights like Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, Dustin Hoffman, and Jack Nicholson, method acting was revolutionary in its time, and idealized in the performances of Marlon Brando. James Franco recently wrote that “Brando’s performances revolutionized American acting precisely because he didn’t seem to be ‘performing,’ in the sense that he wasn’t putting something on as much as he was being.” But Brando never took it to the extremes that we see today.

Leonardo DiCaprio has used method acting to rebrand himself as a “serious actor” after being mistaken for a hearthrob in his early career. His recent Oscar campaign for The the_revenant2Revenant emphasized the grueling ordeal he went through, including eating bison liver (despite being vegetarian), risking hypothermia by striding into freezing rivers, and sleeping in an animal carcass. But doesn’t this sound more like an episode of Fear Factor? Isn’t acting really about pretending? The Revenant isn’t a documentary about frontiersmen. I’m sure it would have played just as well had he shot the scene in a lukewarm stream instead. CGI in some breath clouds and it’s all the same to me.

Christian Bale seems to be a practitioner of the method in order to add machismo to his a99013_christian-600x450work. “I have a very sissy job, where I go to work and get my hair done, and people do my makeup, and I go and say lines and people spoil me rotten. This is just not something to be quite as proud of as many people would have you believe.” So Bale counters this by really losing himself in a role. For The Machinist, he lost 70lbs and got down to a very unhealthy 120 (on a 6′ frame), and then turned around and gained 100lbs to play Batman just 4 months later.He went on to stay in Bruce Wayne’s American accent not just for the duration of the filming, but for all the press as well.

Shia LaBeouf went 4 months without washing on the set of Fury, where he played a soldier in the trenches (this got him banished to a bed and breakfast far away from the hotel where the other cast and crew stayed). He also cut his own face with a knife, and pulled his own tooth. His co-star, Brad Pitt, non-Method, injects roles with his natural charisma rather than stunts and overly-studied contrivances. Whose performances do you prefer?

Daniel Day-Lewis may be the most over-the-top Method actor of his time. While filming My Left Foot, he refused to get out of his wheelchair, forcing crew to carry him around, and spoon-feed him dinner. He lived in the wild while shooting Last of the Mohicans, and ate only what he shot himself. He insisted that everyone address him as “Mr President” on the set of Lincoln, and forbade people from speaking to him unless it was in language (and accents) from the time period. He refused a winter coat on the set of Gangs of New York, and when he inevitably caught pneumonia, he refused “modern day” medical treatment.

DeNiro got a real cab license while filming Taxi Driver, and picked up fares around NYC 100-male-film-oliviergngk-thumb-500x250-153952between takes. Pacino made an actual citizen’s arrest while filming Serpico. Adrien Brody starved himself and sold his apartment to feel “lost” while playing a Holocaust survivor in The Pianist. If you’re getting the feeling that this so-called Method is about ego more than art, you’re not alone. And I wonder if you’re seeing the other pattern here…that all the names on this list are men.

There are plenty of Method actresses as well: Marilyn Monroe, Ellyn Burstyne, and Jane Fonda all studied the technique. They just never adopted the crazy stunts. Gena Rowlands is probably the best Method actor you’ll ever come across, but she does it without resorting to tricks. Sadly, when we hear a woman is “immersed” in a role, it almost always means she’s altered her physical appearance. So it’s pretty obvious that not only is method acting obnoxious and ridiculous, it’s also pretty sexist. But what else is new?