Stuff that inspires me: #1 Paul Thomas Anderson


Everything is open to interpretation. That’s the beauty of things. There’s no right way or wrong way; we take what we can from what we experience. This series of posts is about the stuff that inspires me. I’m not trying to convince you – I’m just brain-dumping some fanboy love on to the page. Not everyone will agree. That’s ok.

For me, Paul Thomas Anderson is a writer/director who is absolutely dedicated to film-making as art. That doesn’t mean that he makes pretentious, inaccessible films (well, not to me) but, in a world in which movies have too often become disposable, brainless and fit for the lowest common denominator, Anderson produces work that strives for greatness. I love the scale of his ambition and that he paints on huge canvasses – although he handles big set pieces and under-stated gestures with the same skill.

Yes, he’s flawed… of course he is. Of Anderson’s most recent film, The Master (2012), Roger Ebert said, “In its imperfections… we may see its reach exceeding its grasp. Which is not a dishonourable thing.” I think I liked The Master more than Roger did, however I do agree that it’s ‘reach exceeded it’s grasp’. That’s undoubtedly a fault – but it’s actually something I also love. I always want a film-maker (or any artist) to risk failure, to strive to produce something brilliant and better and better and better than to settle for mediocre or safe… or worse.

Part of this is the way that his stories don’t only live through characters or styling or location but through the framework he uses to tell them. In Punch Drunk Love (2002), he told a story about the craziness of being love by making a film that was itself insane and disorientating in every way. There Will Be Blood (2007) is a movie about greed and power, based around the volatility of California’s oil wells at the start of the 20th Century, which rumbled along with a frightening build-up of tension and energy before gushing to a raw, unpredictable finale.

I think that actors like working with him because of these things but also because he clearly treats all of his characters with care and tenderness. This doesn’t only shine through in those that we can more easily root for, such as the naïve, eager-to-please Eddie Adams in Boogie Nights (1997) but also in characters like Daniel Plainview, the tyrannical, power-thirsty oilman in There Will Be Blood. Each is crafted, looked after as they grow and sent out in to the world with love.

That’s how he managed to pull Tom Cruise’s career-best role out the bag in Magnolia (1999) – which is a great, great film. He gave us the unexpectedly brilliant performance that it now seems Adam Sandler was always destined to deliver in Punch Drunk Love, and he brought us back a great Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights.

Anderson is a painter, poet and storyteller. His work is brave and ambitious, it’s epic and intimate, he makes me question things I thought I already knew and he makes me want to do better, better, better myself. When I walk out the cinema having watched a Paul Thomas Anderson film, I feel as if there really is a genuine opportunity to do what Neil Gaiman told us to always do: Make. Great. Art.


23 thoughts on “Stuff that inspires me: #1 Paul Thomas Anderson

  1. Tyson Carter

    Nice post buddy! I’m not well versed on his work, but I do love Magnolia & Punch Drunk Love. If you ever do a horror related one or De Niro I’ll be sure to agree or argue with you 🙂

  2. ckckred

    Nice article. Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my favorite directors of all time. What I love about his work is his hypnotic style and tone. Magnolia is my favorite by him and it’s a brilliant study of interlocking relationships. I think for his best, that might be between Magnolia and There Will Be Blood.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Thanks a lot! TWBB is a brilliant film – I don’t think anyone else could have made it, or even conceived of it in that way. And Daniel Day Lewis is just awesome in it. I’d definitely recommend that you search out PTA’s other films.

  3. ioniamartin

    I just read this passage that made me think of you and something we were discussing a few days ago. I had been reading “The heart and craft of writing compelling description” by Sharon Lippincott, and in one of the passages she says “I am a purposely slow reader. I savor words and phrases as a gourmet savors flavors. When I read an innovative description I savor its richness, reading it aloud to practice the sound and feel of it, letting it sink deeply into my mind.”
    I am always excited to read your posts, as you seem to do the same thing–take that time to really enjoy your entertainment, feel something for it and in return share your passion with the rest of us. Thank you.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Oh I really love that passage. I guess that is what I do – except it’s not a conscious thing. But yeah, making sure I absorb everything is really important to me… especially for something great, it feels worthwhile to take more time over it. And I do think that some people miss out by moving too quickly. Although, like I said on your post, I do also sometimes wish I could read just a bit more quickly! But thanks again for being so lovely and supportive.

  4. thecorngoblin

    I’ve only seen there will be blood and the master. I hate the master, but my love for there will be blood outsets my hate for the master. That movie rocks.

  5. Fogs' Movie Reviews

    Nice tribute, Mark. The man is indeed an artist. One of the best in the business today!

    I’m not sure that the Master’s reach exceeded its grasp as much as it didnt give one iota of a crap about commercial/entertainment value, and the themes and messages within aren’t easily accessible. I still have work to do understanding that movie. 😯

    But I think thats more on me than on it…

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Yeah, I’ve only seen The Master once… definitely need to see it again. I think it may be weakest of his films… but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie… just had a lot to live up to. Great performances from Phoenix and Seymour-Hoffman.

  6. The Vern

    Very nice post sir. I do agree that he does get really good performances from his actors. Who would have thought that Adam Sandler would receive any award recognition other then a Razzie. I only wish I could have seen more of Anderson’s films on the big screen.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Thanks – much appreciated. And yeah, the Sandler performance is the most surprising – but pretty much all of his films have 2-3 great performances. Check out your local listings in case they ever re-screen a movie somewhere… definitely worth it.

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Yeah, I need to see The Master again. I loved most of it but it felt as if it lost it’s way about two thirds of the way through… my least favourite of PTA’s films so far.

      And thanks! I’m sure there’ll be more film posts to come…

  7. sanclementejedi

    Nice Article Mark, for some reason I had not made the connection that these were all PTA films. I watched The Master over a month ago and I am still trying to wrap my head around it.

  8. Pingback: Oblivion, the Lammy Awards and a little Filth | filmhipster

    1. beautifulorange Post author

      Thanks! I’d definitely encourage you to seek out his other films… like I say, even if they’re flawed, they’re still pretty amazing. Magnolia is probably my favourite.

  9. Pingback: Stuff that inspires me: #4 Beasts of the Southern Wild | beautifulorange

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