Day-Lewis’s craft is a notch above current celebrity culture

With the advent of this year’s Academy Awards being greeted with a comparatively muted level of fanfare, it was perhaps ironic that one of the film industry’s most cherished sons finally gained a second Oscar in the considerably low-key affair. Daniel Day-Lewis was awarded Best Actor for his role as Daniel Plainview; the protagonist of There Will Be Blood which is based on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil! It was a mere 18 years between his current accolade and the one he received for his portrayal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot.

What has set Day-Lewis apart during this time has been his trenchant refusal to muddle through the mainstream and appeal to the ‘norm’ of celebrity culture which has seen nonentities rise rapidly to the summit. From his fondness for unfashionable Millwall FC to his shoe-making hiatus in Florence following his role in The Boxer, Day-Lewis has fashioned a mystique that means he can operate on his own terms. It is perhaps partly this refusal to play the game that outrageously saw him leave the Academy Awards empty-handed following his excellent roles as Bill Cutting in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Gerry Conlon in In The Name of the Father. Indeed it was the latter film, directed by Jim Sheridan, which suitably bridged the gap between the sublime (Alan Clarke’s Elephant) and the ridiculous (Nothing Personal) in the ever-expanding canon of celluloid depictions of the Northern Irish conflict.

In a similar vein to other great ‘Anglo-Irish’ figures such as Morrissey it is his enigma that has made him so appealing. Whereas many other famous British actors have come to the age of 50 with a flabby repertoire of money-making films on their CV, Day-Lewis has chosen only roles in which he can fully immerse himself without having to suffer accusations of being a charlatan. It is arguable then whether any award can do justice to the skill and craft which Day-Lewis has been possessed of through his career. Award ceremonies have now become so common across the cultural spheres of music, film, television and art that their over-inflation of celebrity ego contributes little other than a meandering addition to the television schedules. Even the viewing public has seemingly lost its appetite for events such as the Oscars, with viewing figures in America this year falling to their lowest since 1974 when the ratings system that is currently in place began. There have been suggestions that this was due to the critical if not commercial success of the fare on offer, with another excellent but moody film, No Country For Old Men winning four awards.

Surely if one thing can be realised from this year’s non-event it is the stark comparison between the graft of Daniel Day-Lewis who started out in theatre school and worked hard to become the respected actor that he is today, and the inexorable rise of nobodies who are treated by the media as ubiquitous figureheads for a dull mainstream where critical facilities among cultural consumers seem to be at an all-time low. In such a climate it is at least a moral victory to see somebody like Day-Lewis, who has proved vexing for many of those who willingly accommodate and celebrate quick-fix stardom, win out. And judging by his career thus far, he would probably enjoy the fact that it was done with the minimum of fuss.

Source: Belfast News Letter, February 2008


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