Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Script Reads Him

There is something magical about the Englishman Daniel Day-Lewis. His acting is beyond himself. This is what separates him from the Hollywood litter. When even the most famous actors are playing a role, you see them as the actor first, then the character. For example, in amazing performances like Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, you see Hanks first, then Forrest. Or more recently, Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds, on the screen you still see Brad Pitt first, then Lt. Raine. Part of the fault of that falls on the obsession America has to know the details of every celebrity's personal life (Brangelina anyone?). When you know so much about a person's life, it is hard to separate that knowledge from the performance. Even when that feat is conquered, you still are never really convinced of the transformation. Little is known about Daniel Day-Lewis' personal life because he rarely lets us know it. He lives quietly and modestly in a way that it avoids paparazzi from seeking a scandal. As for the transformation, when Day-Lewis puts on his character, he steps outside of himself, completely separating the ties between the two, and makes you forget Daniel Day-Lewis even exists. A new person is born, and using the shell of Daniel Day-Lewis, he is seen in silver screens across the world.

Selective about his roles, he has even waited 5 years between them which is almost unheard of in Hollywood, the town that easily forgets. Famously known as a method actor, most people do not realize the extent and commitment that this entails. He puts his own health and well-being aside, considering the performance as the priority.

Easily earning his first Academy Award for his performance on "My Left Foot", he portrayed a man who was born with cerebral palsy and could only control his left foot. DDL, at the time not the world renown actor he is today, refused to break character long after the cameras stopped rolling. He stayed in his wheelchair (and hunched over position) and the crew resented him for having to lift him and wheel him around, being annoyed by the dedication. DDL learned of his character's embarrassments and sense of being a burden. This gave him the amazing insight to portray the character as marvelously as he did. Oh, and did I mention he broke two ribs from staying in that hunched position in the wheelchair for so many weeks? He just kept on going. Yeah, that's how much of a badass he is.

For his character Hawkeye in "The Last of the Mohicans", he lived in the woods and did intensive physical training. He actually learned to live off of the land where his character lived. He learned to fish and hunt and skin animals using only the primitive techniques of the Indians. He was never seen without his long rifle with which he literally slept with.

He earned his second Oscar nomination for the film, "In The Name Of The Father" in which he was a political prisoner. He spent weeks living inside of a prison cell and instructed the crew to physically and verbally abuse him. Next he played the iconic John Proctor in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" and even went to meet and learn from Miller himself (marrying Miller's daughter shortly after.)

Still, my favorite performance by the greatest actor alive is his role in Scorcese's "Gangs of New York". Having seen this as a teenager I remember being traumatized by the amount of gruesome gore and violence and remembered little of DDL's performance. After growing up a bit, I decided to revisit one of my childhood traumas only for the sake of DDL. I was heavily rewarded. Playing Bill 'The Butcher', he embodied an American Nationalist in the age of America's formation. A villain with principles and honor. A man you hate but understand and somehow respect (not an easy feat to make us hate you and respect you at the same time). For his performance he spoke in his New York accent on and off the set and took lessons as an apprentice butcher. He even was diagnosed with pneumonia during filming but refused to take treatment because it didn't go along with the time period. This earned him another Academy nod.

His most recent Oscar comes from his performance in "There Will Be Blood" where his research involved finding and studying letters written from wealthy oilmen of the era. He assumed the role of a man much older than himself and added an early American accent along with a snarl and a hunched posture. As the film proceeds you grow to hate his greedy character Daniel Plainview who puts his own greediness in front of his own son's well-being.

This chameleon is a modern treasure. He is able to change his voice and body drastically all for the sake of cinema. Accents from all over the world with impeccable diction. Postures and weight varying from film to film. Robert Downy Jr.'s character on 'Tropic Thunder', Kirk Lazarus, is based on him. And in Kirk's hilarious own words, "Man, I don't drop character 'till I done the DVD commentary" and "I don't read the script. The script reads me". Watching him act is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball or TIger Woods play golf. No one has mastered the craft like he has. Brilliance at its finest. Each second on screen is like watching an artist add another stroke to his masterpiece. Daniel Day-Lewis, we are eagerly anticipating your next move.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

7 Artists You Should Be Listening To

This is a list of my current relatively unknown bands. Some have gotten more exposure than others, but I will not assume anything to make sure you don't miss them. All worth checking out. If you're not convinced to buy the album, go on their myspace page or search them on YouTube to give them a preview. You will not be disappointed.

1. Wild Sweet Orange- Maybe they did hit the big time. I mean, they were on Letterman and "The Land of No Return" was featured on a Grey's Anatomy episode (which sadly is today's equivalent of the 'Big Time'). Yet every time I ask someone if they've heard of this band named after a discontinued tea at Starbucks I usually get the same confused look. I saw them on accident as the opening band. They stole the show. I immediately went online and bought all of their released music and have seen them another 4 times in concert. Their only album, "We Have Cause To Be Uneasy" was my favorite album of 2008. Definitely my most listened to. I have given copies of this album to all of my close friends and anyone who will listen really. They recently broke up temporarily only to come back a year later with some new members (and some old loved ones gone). They released a couple of songs on an album called "The Birmingham Tapes" as a new band. I am eager to see what they will provide for us in the future. Their amazing indie-folk sound and haunting poetic lyrics never gets old.

Download: "The Land of No Return" and "Wrestle With God"

2. The Great Book Of John- This band is a product of the previous one, as it was a side project for two of the members of WSO. But when Wild Sweet Orange broke up, their guitarist and their drummer, Taylor Shaw and Chip Kilpatrick, went full-time with this band with Shaw on lead vocals. They took their name from the Hank Williams song "They Angel Of Death". They ran with Wild Sweet Orange's folk sound and took it to the next level stripping aside most electronics and seeking the pure folk that single-handedly caused a revolution in the 60's. I cannot stop listening to them, and after any of their songs are over I immediately want to hear them again. The symphony of heavy harmonica, violin, dead-on background vocals, acoustic driven folk that makes it's way to your ears is nothing short of bliss. Great build-ups that bring the song to the climax. With a heavy and honest style of songwriting, this is a band that I definitely hope to hear more from.

Download: "Political Song" and "James"

3.Ray LaMontagne: Okay, okay, so he was featured on SNL and is played non-stop at Starbucks' across the nation. This still doesnt mean that you have perked up and taken notice. With a raspy, rough, yet beautiful voice, he wins you over after just a few notes. His energy and sensitivity towards music is unmatched. Watch his performance on SNL.

Download: "Empty"

4. Mumford and Sons-This quartet is relatively new on the music scene. I don't have much to say about them except that they will rock your face off. Their whole "Sigh No More" album is relentless from cover to cover.

Download: "Winter Winds" and "Sigh No More"

5. Delta Spirit-This is music that will make your foot stomp. Their music overtakes your body with an overwhelming feeling to dance. Everything you want from an indie band.

Download: "People C'mon"

6. The Tallest Man On Earth: Although he is actually normal sized, TMOE is a stripped down, straight up, reincarnation of Bobby Dylan. Maybe he will never reach the influence or cause the movement that Bob did, but he definitely has the spark. Another similarity is that his voice is not the easiest on the ears at first, yet it's rawness grows on you. This man is singing you the truth.

Download: "The Blizzard's Never Seen The Dessert Sands"

7. The Avett Brothers- This three man band is banjo-driven. They vocals are clear and precise with a harmony that makes your first listen feel like you have been listening to them for years. Unique in their style, they are like the product of what would happen if country and inde-folk got married.

Download: "Die Die Die" and "The Weight of Lies"

There it is. Give me your feedback on what you thought of the bands suggested on the comments section here.

Noting Feet: I like to give credit where credit is due. Thank you to my brother Emiliano for introducing me to 3 of these bands, Christopher Noerr for challenging me to search for music instead of letting it come to you, and Mat Kearny who had a great major label debut album ('Nothing Left To Lose') through whom by a spider-web of trails I have come across several great artists. (Mat, you're follow-up was mediocre at best).