Paul Thomas Anderson
June 26, 2015
I have a feeling some hate PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON (born 1970), as their predecessors hated Stanley Kubrick, for his ambition. Anderson is of course highly praised, but he also inspires bloodlust: he sets out to be different, and some critics can’t forgive him for it, where they will sing the homely praises of decent artists doing déjà vu work in acceptable forms. Critics who have never outgrown Pauline Kael’s orgasm aesthetics tend somehow to feel that to be drawn-out or difficult, let alone brazenly visionary, is to sin against movies.
Anderson has said he learned how to direct movies from watching them, and from listening to the commentary tracks on DVDs; indeed, his first three films manifest both movie fever and a compulsion to push familiar scenarios into hard, dark corners. But from Punch-Drunk Love forward, Anderson’s rhythms and logics emanate straight from his characters’ situations, dynamics, and mental states, with a minimum of mediation via plotting, expository dialogue, or telegraphic editing. While Boogie Nights — a movie spawned by Nashville, Raging Bull, and Pulp Fiction that outruns them all — remains Anderson’s great claim on orgasm (or any other) aesthetics, and There Will Be Blood gives Daniel Day-Lewis a screen worthy of his depth and size, the director’s truest testaments to date are also his most bizarre: The Master, a mystic iceberg tantalizingly hidden beneath currents of actorly communion and unfixed meaning; and Punch-Drunk Love, 94 minutes of sustained magic, mounting tension, and spiraling disbelief wound around the maypole of an Adam Sandler performance you never imagined he could give — until Anderson, confound his ambition, got it.
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