Rather than a standard film review, we’ve been compiling a visual glossary of likely inspirations in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film The Master. Huge props go to Fandor, A Bittersweet Life and various others for compiling similar versions of this over the years. We’ll periodically update this article with new additions as we find them, so hit the comments at the bottom if you think you’ve spotted another visual cue.
Early on in Phantom Thread I started thinking about the miniaturized nature of certain segments in the cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson. At the top of this latest film we see Reynolds Woodcock’s morning routine, clearly practiced to the point of automation, nearly mechanical, though the whole scene lasts less than thirty seconds. He shaves, he slicks his hair, he pulls on his big winecolored socks, his pants. And that’s it. The dressmaker is dressed. One might expect a little more extravagance from a film that’s ostensibly about high-end style and tailored beauty, no?
But Anderson has always employed this device throughout his films, these little nugget-sized glimpses that seem like — or sometimes actually are — improvised scraps rather than written scenes. In Inherent Vice this was sort of the entire movie, an assault of crisscrossing people and places and scenarios that rarely evolve into extended sequences. A better example is The Master, probably Anderson’s finest film, throughout which there’s more of a balance in the overall pacing. We meet Freddie Quell lounging on a battleship, then cut to him commiserating with a group of waylaid soldiers, then cut to him masturbating at the edge of the ocean. Later there’s a very quick scene in which he’s chased down after possibly poisoning someone with a stiff drink, and in this span of a minute or so we already know Freddie to be a scrappy rogue fending off all comers on the outskirts of society.
Hey — it’s Christmas! Let’s go to the movies. Slug some hot chocolate, throw on your wool hat, follow the colored lights strung from tree to tree on the citywide commons to the movie theater or the cinema or the multiplex or whatever you call it in your neck of the woods. I’ll get the tickets, you get the popcorn. What do you want to see? It’s Christmas, remember, so we need something that will encourage our merriment and warm up our capacity for joy. That disqualifies The Revenant. What about Star Wars for the fifth time? What do you mean you saw it again this morning? Why didn’t you invite me? Whatever, just go get the popcorn.
Here we go: a new Tarantino movie. One would think that a brand spankin’ new flick from Tarantino would, if nothing else, be entertaining. It’s Tarantino. This is the diabolical purveyor of histrionic, action-packed jaunts that bleed style and ooze cool, of movies that have banging soundtracks and automatically generate an Academy Award for Christoph Waltz. This is the director that champions violence in film as fun, responding to the masses that claim violence in film is a potentially toxic influence on viewers with a beautifully composed shot of red blood spewing out of a newly-severed neck. Take that! The violence-is-bad point always reminds me of part of the testimony of famed censorship bogeyman William Gaines during the 1954 hearings on the validity of the violent comic books he produced: “Do we think our children are so evil, so simpleminded, that it takes a story of murder to set them to murder, a story of robbery to set them to robbery?” I picture Tarantino saying that, only with a lot more gesticulation and overeagerness and a lot of “alright, you know, okay?” and a lot of averted glances.
Buddy films almost always have two clashing personalities at the core. Butch and Sundance, Woody and Buzz, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Thelma and Louise — more often than not it’s the Hardass and the Free Spirit, or the Mentor and the Newcomer, or the Brainiac and the Simpleton. But as far as the casting goes you can usually say cool: those two guys will be great together. Newman and Redford is a more obvious pairing than Hanks and Allen, but the latter’s not strange enough to raise any eyebrows.
But Jackie Gleason and Steve McQueen? That’s not an immediate sell as a buddy-comedy duo, is it? Each of them is legendary, but in a different fashion. Gleason is a comedic entertainer at heart, delivering highly effective drama in smaller portions in The Hustler and a handful of other notables; McQueen, meanwhile, would build his career on strong silent types even in his lesser-known dramas, from The Sand Pebbles to The Getaway. He would rarely do comedy, and Gleason would rarely share the limelight in any of his comedic films (not intentionally, of course; he just stole the show pretty much every time). So perhaps a Gleason/McQueen team-up isn’t inherently strange until you consider that a) it’s a comedy with the duo sharing top billing, b) it’s fairly dramatic at times in a satirical Catch-22 sort of way (more on that in a minute), and c) McQueen is the loopy goofball and Gleason is the knowing-smile know-it-all. That said, the most important consideration is d) Soldier in the Rain is highly underrated.
- Lots of production at the Rumor Mill this week, including the possibility of Mad Max‘s George Miller taking on directing duty for a future Superman film; there’s the possibility of Jon Hamm playing the villainous Negan in The Walking Dead; and there’s the strange possibility of Star Wars: Rogue One utilizing a CGI version of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin. Likely? Unlikely? Awesome? Weird? Both?
- The New York Film Festival slate is shaping up well this year, including as a bit of a surprise Paul Thomas Anderson’s Junjun, a short documentary about Radiohead guitarist and There Will Be Blood composer Jonny Greenwood.
- Christian Bale will reportedly play Enzo Ferrari for Public Enemies director Michael Mann, continuing the ill-advised trend of Not Being Batman Anymore.
- Motion State turns 1 this week! A special thanks to all of our contributors and readers.
- EW released a few new pictures from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, featuring Jesse Eisenberg as a hairy Lex Luthor and Gal Gadot as socialite Diana Prince. Oh, and Batman and Superman.
- This weekend is San Diego Comic-Con, and even though some of the usual suspects aren’t participating this year (like Marvel Studios) it’s still going to be a heck of a lot of fun. Unless you’re not attending, of course. Ah, well. You can still sit on your couch and catch glimpses online of Batman v. Superman, Warcraft, Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight and — fingers crossed — Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
- Paul Thomas Anderson is rumored to be considering directing a live-action Pinocchio with Robert Downey Jr. attached to star, because nothing else makes sense as a follow-up to the marijuana-fueled Inherent Vice besides a Disney flick.
Stories about filmmakers in their early days have become a part of Hollywood legend. Sam Raimi and his friends got lost in the woods on their first day of shooting The Evil Dead. Kevin Smith sold his comic books and maxed out ten credit cards to finance Clerks. Paul Thomas Anderson dropped out of NYU after only two days and used his college fund to film Cigarettes & Coffee. These stories are charming, funny, and encouraging for aspiring filmmakers. But for every apocryphal story about a celebrity’s climb to the top, there are hundreds of stories about those who didn’t make it. American Movie is one of those stories. Sort of.
In 1996, Mark Borchardt began production on his short film Coven in the working class town of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. The plan was to use Coven to inspire investors to fund Borchardt’s feature film, Northwestern. Documentarian Chris Smith, fresh out of film school, chronicled Mark’s year-long struggle to finish his short against all odds. With only friends, family, and townies to help him finish his film, Mark faced a stoned crew, a stubborn uncle, and stiff cabinetry in this hilarious, yet oddly inspirational documentary. Continue reading American Movie (1999)
Doc Sportello ain’t a do-gooder, as one of the trailer lines for Inherent Vice sings, but he’s done good. Paul Thomas Anderson’s seventh movie doesn’t seem to match up with anything else he’s done, tempting though it may be to shove it in the same category with Boogie Nights simply because they’re both comedies. There’s a little Boogie in there, for sure – there’s also mid-’80s Leslie Nielsen zaniness, a bit of Robert Altman, a bit of early Guy Ritchie, a bit of everything. Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc, a sofa-riding P.I. suddenly embroiled in a kidnapping/murder case that’s way, way over his head. The moving parts of the case are as perplexing to Doc as those of the film proper might be to us, and when Doc gives up trying to make sense of it all is about the time we do the same.
So, yeah: Inherent Vice has Jewish real estate moguls, ex-convicts, flat-topped cops, Japanese drug cartels, the Aryan Brotherhood, doped-up dentists, maritime lawyers and an increasingly large cross-section of people known from San Fran to San Diego with clear disdain or clear indifference as hippies. There are loan sharks, FBI agents, tenor sax players. There’s a big boat which might be called The Golden Fang, might not. How could these disparate agencies possibly be connected?