Paul Thomas Anderson has made five movies in an illustrious career in filmmaking that spans over 3 decades. It’s a low number considering how most directors produce movies at a breakneck pace. However just like one of the greatest directors of all-time Stanley Kubrick (The Shining, A Clock Work Orange, Dr. Strangelove) who was notorious for his infrequent productions, once waiting as long as 12 years between Full Metal Jacket and his last film Eyes Wide Shut he shares Kubrick’s meticulous approach to the art form which is what makes his resume so sparse and his productions so slow-paced. It’s also what makes him one of the most brilliant filmmakers actively working. Each one counts, as he finds new ways of innovating cinema, prepping a blank canvas each time to reinvent his style while keeping his past in perspective and layering it into something new and exciting. He is the modern-day definition of a master Auteur.
The first film I ever watched from Anderson was the 2002 quirky romantic love story titled Punch Drunk Love. I admit I was too young when I first saw it to fully appreciate the pure genius and ingenuity of the film but after countless revisits of the film I have learned to recognize it as my favorite of his many masterpieces.
He takes a new approach to romantic, treading new territory. With his main character Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), Anderson seamlessly melds together the realities and hardships of living under a constant microscope of depreciating family members bent on making Barry’s life a living hell, all while claiming to want what’s best for him. Anderson blends this concept into one incorrigible state that mixes love, fantasy and plenty of drama. In the end your affection for Barry Egan is unprovoked. Anderson’s selection of overt goofball Adam Sandler in the lead role was unexpected but turns out to be pure genius as Sandler turns in the performance of his career, in a role that was meant for him.
As with all of Anderson’s films what stands out the most is his visual style. In Punch Drunk Love, Anderson pays strict attention to colors. We see plenty of white mixed with splashes of blue and red that highlight the importance of the unfolding relationship of the couple. This detailed blending of colors makes the cinematic experience feel animated. At one point during the film when Barry Egan is running from scammers who are chasing him as a form of intimidation, he runs through an alley and on the wall behind him his silhouette appears. Something about this shot has always stuck with me. It takes the drama of the moment to unprecedented heights.
In Anderson’s most recent theatrical release 2007’s There Will Be Blood, he opens the film with 20 engrossing minutes of Daniel Plainview’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) ascension into becoming a self-loathing oil man as he chips away at the walls of a mine in search of silver. The scene is mesmerizing despite not even a single word of dialogue being uttered. Only the sounds of Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s eerie and unrelenting soundtrack plays over Plainview’s work. The scene is nothing less than gritty. The dark color schemes lend itself perfectly to the harrowing scene which serves to introduce the story and sets the tone of the film. This opening sequence is a testament to Anderson’s unparalleled vision.
In many ways this film is Anderson’s first horror film despite not fitting the prototypical mold of what the horror genre is. Instead the film relies on psychological tension to instill fear in the audience. Plainview’s desire to mix passion and greed leads to his insatiable thirst for material wealth and oil, stopping at nothing to get what he craves. It’s Anderson’s Citizen Kane.
There Will Be Blood sticks in your psyche like a leach sucking human flesh. One scene in particular sticks out as the absolute epitome of horror that Daniel Plainview is capable of. In the final scene in which Plainview’s antagonist Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) confesses he has run out of money due to poor budgeting Daniel bludgeons the boy to death with a bowling pin. The mis-en-scene has the essence of Kubrick’s The Shining as the bowling alley has a unique scheme of colors that forebodes the conclusion of the film. There Will Be Blood is Anderson’s visual masterpiece.
If There Will Be Blood is Anderson’s most visually masterful film than Boogie Nights is his most ambitious. It’s the story of a porn star named Dirk Diggler’s rise and fall from the industry. The film has one of the most impressive long takes in film history. The long take is a somewhat regular part of many directors repertoire but having the ability to produce a moving long take that lasts nearly 3 minutes and be capable of doing it well is a rarity. Yet in the opening moments of Boogie Nights that’s exactly what Anderson does once again creating movie magic pushing the limits on what a single take can be. It is one of the most mesmerizing opening sequences of any film period. In creating this shot Anderson introduces a series of main characters to the films story line while cleverly laying the groundwork for the rest of the film. Boogie Nights is by far one of the most easily accessible films that Anderson has made to date and perhaps his best overall work.
All of these things I have highlighted illustrate only a taste of what P.T. Anderson is. He is a living legend. A director whose films are likely to be analyzed far into the future. He is the definition of filmmaking at it’s best.
In 2013 Anderson’s highly anticipated sixth film ‘The Master’ starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman is due to come out. It’s been six years since his last film. You can guarantee that this film will be just as inventive as the previous five.