I’m a great one for saying this or that film or actor should win an Oscar, but since I am completely allergic to award ceremonies, which are almost the most completely brain-curdling form of television there is, and since my newspaper-reading is patchy on the cultural front, I missed completely that Daniel Day-Lewis won most of the best actor awards going for There Will Be Blood in 2008, a film which popped up in a DVD bargain bin in a supermarket. So I’ve only just seen it, and only just become aware that it seems to have already been voted by Those Who Know into all-time classic status.
But before I weigh in with my very late-in-the-day opinion, a word about its packaging. It came encased in a thin film of plastic. Once this was removed, and discarded, there was a thin card-board slip-case to deal with. The information on this exactly replicated the cover of the case in which the DVD was held – same image, same words, identical in every respect. Why? Why all this packaging? Of course, it’s common: in replacing (see The Great Cassette Disaster a few weeks ago) Dory Previn’s Mythical Kings And Iguanas, I found that the CD came in a box. The box – quite sturdy and durable – offered no information at all, and had the same cover as the CD. It’s what I call the Avocado Syndrome – avocados, once the ultimate in luxury, and now just another fruit, routinely come in twos in moulded black styrofoam, which has then been covered in clingfilm, or something like it. And this is a fruit with a solid, inedible skin!
Calm down, Bill.
Anyway, I thought There Will Be Blood, which is about the corruption of the early oil industry, and the corruption, sort of in parallel, of the early evangelist churches (1900-1920, roughly), had a really startling performance by Day-Lewis, one which you could see he’d sunk his fangs into, but was itself a loose-limbed, over-long and generally less than brilliant effort. The central character brought up another man’s son as his own, and was at one point conned by a phoney half-brother, and his rejection of both was mildly disturbing. But otherwise, it was just another melodrama, with a corny title, and a really corny end (nothing very subtle about having your main character announcing ‘I’m finished’ just before the close. It was a film which rambled incessantly, and if it hadn’t been for Day-Lewis, it would surely have sunk without trace. Huge amounts must have been spent on getting the set straight, right down to constructing a two-lane bowling alley, but nothing, as Bob Dylan said, was revealed.
What I hadn’t realised until the credits was that it had been, admittedly very loosely (it made no pretence otherwise, I should say), on an Upton Sinclair novel, Oil!. And I realised how little I knew about Sinclair, who turns out to have had a much richer (and longer – he made it to 90) life than I had realised. I certainly didn’t know that he’d made an attempt to be governor of California. I only knew about his amazing documentary novel, The Jungle, pretty well the only novel of which it could seriously be argued that it changed things – it’s about the gross world of meat-packing in the US, and its publication led to laws being passed. I haven’t, I don’t think, even seen one other of his many novels on a shelf in this country. I’ll have to start having a look. If you haven’t read The Jungle, seek it out. It’s astonishing. It might make you a vegetarian, and it will certainly tell you all you need to know about the suffering birth of the United States after mass immigration began.