There will be surprise, oh, and blood: how Paul Thomas Anderson changed my mind

Posted: March 5, 2014 by The Social Retard in Movies
Tags: , ,

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Like the rest of the world, I was introduced to the Paul Thomas Anderson films through his second effort, Boogie Nights. I thought it was absolutely atrocious. What about these horrible irredeemable characters am I supposed to find fascinating or entertaining. Aside from topless Heather Graham (something I’d waited around ten years to see at that point, since License To Drive. Maybe not that long as I was only 9 when LTD came out and the concept of tits as eye magnets had not quite germinated), this movie held no intrigue.

I was 18 when Boogie was released and probably not in the proper or mature headspace to deal with the concepts introduced. I most certainly did not want to see Marky Mark’s dick either. My hatred of Mark Wahlberg stems from this movie (likely even further back to his awful music days). It also established PTA as a director I had zero interest in following. He was part of an indie filmmaker movement, following right behind the Kevin Smiths and Robert Rodriguezes of the world. I lumped him in with the Todd Solondzes (one sick little fuck) and Wes Andersons (yes, I really hate Wes Anderson) rather than the Darren Aronofskys.

Despite all the touting of Magnolia by a friend of mine, I stuck to my guns and refused to watch another PTA flick. It had Tom Cruise in it, along with that same pudgy creepy fucker from Boogie Nights. Fuck that. It just looked awful, no offense. Then again, this same friend said that she would watch the Firefly pilot if I watched The Royal Tenenbaums. She also tried to get me to watch I Heart Huckabees (from the then completely insufferable David O. Russell, more on him at another time maybe), which I actually just walked out on after 20 minutes. This was at least 7 years ago and I have no assurance that she has seen one minute of Firefly. This is a scenario where we both lose.

Do I even need to give a reason why I didn’t want to see Punch Drunk Love? I know that he of the Technicolor Shirt and Nightmare Beard loves it but he’s usually wrong, about everything.

With all this in mind, then, why did I bother to see There Will Be Blood. Other than the title, I couldn’t think of a reason initially. I have always been an admirer of those in film that are just good at their craft. I like to see them at the height of their powers. For all of his awards and acclaim, I had no real interest in the work of Daniel Day-Lewis. He made long, boring period pieces. Only Gangs Of New York really interested me and it was awesome. TWBB fell right into that oeuvre. I had been reading about his process of acting and the reviews all called this DD-L’s finest performance to-date. I threw my own misgivings out the window and gave it a shot.

What I saw was a mesmerizing achievement. Every moment carefully molded by a master craftsman. Granted, when you get the greatest acting performance in the history of film from DD-L, you’re starting from a position of strength. Add in a nearly equal effort from Paul Dano and all you really have to do is turn on the camera and sit back. That’s not what happens though. The whole world of the film is visceral, bleeding with life. The camera is every bit of a character, allowing us to bear witness to the magic. I’m not sure where TWBB falls in my all-time favorite movies list but if I were voting on best all-time films, I would be hard pressed to pick something else.

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All PTA had to do now was follow that up. Which he did, five years later, with The Master. With the weight of that enormous victory threatening to crash down on him, he managed to take the same approach with vastly different material. Every moment, every movement thoughtfully planned and executed. He once again gets the most out of his performers as Joaquin Phoenix and even the pudgy creepy fucker from Boogie Nights (who will now be referred to as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) give the performances of their careers. The same cannot be said for Amy Adams, as she always so amazing that it’s impossible to quantify what her standout and subpar work actually look like.

I get the feeling while watching these two movies that this must have been how people watching Orson Welles movies in the 1940’s. There Will Be Blood and The Master are two perfect films when compared to others of their time, just as Citizen Kane was likely considered the greatest of its era as the least of its superlatives. Me, I think Citizen Kane is boring. But I’m also a child of the eighties and nineties. Just as I don’t expect people of two generations after me to feel that PTA’s films to be timeless. The fact is that in this time, with this technology, and this age of public awareness and accessibility. There is simply more stimuli to occupy the attention of people everywhere that a three hour epic about an oil tycoon or a cult leader aren’t on top of people’s to-do lists. In the forties, something like Citizen Kane was new and all the more majestic. Seventy years later, there’s just more competition. This is what makes these films all the more special. In an age of instant gratification, Anderson took the time to be meticulous and dare to reach perfection, uncompromising and fearless.

Talk about delayed gratification. It took 10 years for me to find the value in PTA’s work and now I don’t want a Hollywood where someone with his vision is written off by pigheaded fools like me. These movies are some of the greatest examples of how happy one can be to be wrong. I don’t think I’m mistaken about the other films but it was wrong to dismiss PTA as a filmmaker when he was only scratching the surface of his capability. When even a hack like David O. Russell can pull out a Silver Linings Playbook or The Fighter (sorry to say but American Hustle was just alright, though Amy Adams left me gobsmacked, and Flirting With Disaster is utter shite), maybe it’s fair to wonder what Todd Solondz has been up to. His last movie was 2011’s Dark Horse. The female lead is Selma Blair? Fuck that. That’s a hurdle to climb another time.

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