Thursday, January 14, 2010

Modern Maestros: Paul Thomas Anderson

Robert here with another installment of my Modern Maestros series. This week one of America's best directors.

Maestro: Paul Thomas Anderson

Known For: Movies about unique individuals and takes on modern Americana.
Influences: A little bit from everywhere but first and foremost it’s all about Altman
Masterpieces: You could pick any film or films. For me it’s Magnolia and There Will Be Blood
Disasters: zero
Better than you remember: I know some people who aren’t enamored with Punch Drunk Love. They should be.
Awards: Nominated for five Oscars. Best Director in Berlin and Cannes.
Box Office: 40 million for There Will Be Blood. Who says Oscar nominations don’t help?
Favorite Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman appears in all of his films but for the most recent.

A lot of movies are about outsiders. If most films were about normal people leading normal lives, well, they wouldn’t be. But Paul Thomas Anderson’s characters are beyond outsiders. It’s almost as if they were born without the ability to fit into this world. And immediately we're at the place where Anderson and Altman differ. Altman’s characters were often outsiders, down on their luck, anti-authority, non-conformist but always actively rejected society or were actively rejected by. But not Anderson’s. Barry Egan never made the decision to reject society (neither did Daniel Plainview, Dirk Diggler, or the cast of Magnolia for that matter). Their outsider status was less a choice and more of an inevitability.  I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that Anderson is amplified Altman. For example, where Altman connects his characters with an earthquake, Anderson uses a plague of frogs. And he’s assisted in creating these amplified realities by artists like Jon Brion, Robert Elswit, and Jonny Greenwood, at the top of their game.

But Paul Thomas Anderson’s larger than life characters and situations don’t exist for their own sake (though they could stand alone as the sole purpose of his films). They are in fact around to explore the elements of (often American) life. Whether it be how fame and money corrupts, love redeems or all lives are coincidentally connected.  And with a wide knowledge of film history Anderson finds inspiration in directors besides Robert Altman.  Elements of directors as varied as Welles, Kubrick, and Kalatazov can be found in his films.  Like Tarantino, P.T. Anderson is considered a child of the VHS generation, one that had access to cinema unlike any generation prior (his father hosted a weekly B-movie show in my hometown of Cleveland).  And there is a "can't believe your eyes" unpretentious B-movie quality to Anderson's pretentious (meant as a compliment) A-movies.  Movies are in Paul Anderson's blood. Having dropped out of film school after a short time, he confirms the theory that directorial talent can't be taught.  It has to be inherent (like the outsider status of his characters).

inevitable outsiders

Despite all the heightened realities and odd characters in Paul Thomas Anderson films, there’s a strange honesty that comes through. Perhaps its from demonstrating how certain truths stand up even when applied to the most unusual situations or people. And there's an essential modernness to the films as well.  Even a period film such as There Will Be Blood combines elements of performance, score, and cinematography into a surreal almost postmodern statement.  For his next act, Paul Thomas Anderson is will be directing The Master (working title, I presume though there’s nothing wrong with it) which will star favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman as a 1950’s intellectual who founds a faith-based organization. Religion gets the Anderson treatment, and my guess is we can expect more characters who aren’t exactly average, every-day guys... like Maestro P.T. Anderson himself.


Robert Hamer said...

Ah, I knew that you would eventually touch on my favorite working director. Can't wait for his next film.

ThaDropDownBear said...

Hes my favourite too, well...after Tarantino but he's more of a divine directing entity at this point. Honestly he's incredible. His worst film was Punch Drunk Love. And I STILL loved that movie XD


I've loved all of his movies. Every damn one.

although it breaks my heart that Julianne Moore is not listed under "favorite actor" and I don't see what he sees in Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Oh well...


and interesting piece by the way. "amplified Altman" indeed. And i love the differentiation of how they're outsiders. smart stuff.

I think i need to see Sydney (Hard Eight) again because it's the only film of his that I don't have vivid memory recall of.

Kyle said...

Hard Eight is definitely his slightest effort, but still very just doesn't touch the majesty of the work to come after.

Danny King said...

He's such a brilliant director. All of his films are so strange and unique, but they never fail to fascinate. He hasn't made one film that I wouldn't rush to watch again.