It was a long process coming to terms with how much I loved There Will Be Blood. My brother thinks it is the worst film he’s ever seen (which – even if you don’t like it – is surely bollocks) but then he doesn’t see the homoeroticism in Top Gun so take that how you will. Even from the first time I saw the film, I left the screening unable to make a cogent thought in my head and it was two days before I even figured out whether I had any opinion on it at all! I concluded that I loved it. As the years went by and I watched it on DVD again and again and again, my opinion only improved and eventually, a couple of years ago, I came to the conclusion that it was the best movie I had ever seen; finally knocking Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly off the lofty top spot (but whatever – fuck him)!
After an agonising wait, during which I finally caught up with Anderson’s debut Hard Eight, we got The Master in 2012. An entirely different beast and easily Anderson’s least accessible film – both emotionally and geographically for me because I had to get a ferry to get to the nearest cinema that would show it. My first viewing of it was marred by the fact that I was busting for a piss throughout but it couldn’t be denied that this was also a very distant, arcane, much colder piece than we had had before from Anderson. Still watched ten times, though.
Now in 2015, after another big delay because whatever muppet does distribution in NZ, apparently couldn’t sell a movie with Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Reece Witherspoon and Owen Wilson in it for some fucking stupid reason or another, we get Inherent Vice. Longest movie at the film festival (it seems that filmmakers are reflecting audiences problems with long movies, whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to debate). This certainly felt like the longest, although that may have been the chairs we were sitting on more than anything else.
What a headfuck, though. The plot is the epitome of labyrinthine. I could have a stab at describing the plot to Love Exposure but this is beyond my ken. Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is looking for the millionaire real estate tycoon boyfriend of his ex, Shasta Fay Hepworth, the millionaire boyfriend having been done over by his wife and her boyfriend. Shasta Fay then goes missing herself which may be something to do with the Golden Fang which may be a chinese drug cartel, may be a yacht or may be a secret cabal of dentists and in amongst this, there are Aryan bikers, a saxophonist who is supposed to be dead and something to do with the Black Panthers.
It exhausted me. That said, because I have so much invested in wanting to like Paul Thomas Anderson’s work, I will go back to it. The critic Mark Kermode said it may be better served by viewing on DVD and repeat viewings will work something loose. That I agree with so when the DVD gets released, I’ll snap it up. It may have been like the afore-reviewed Phoenix where I wasn’t quite in the right mood and I hadn’t done the thing that Anderson and the critics had said to which was to let it wash over me. I’d tried to follow it to the letter.
Also, there are a lot of things to like about it. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in the main role, even when you can’t understand a word he’s saying. In fact, the whole cast is great: Anderson is a great director of actors and is one of those directors who gets very subtly different performances from his cast that other directors might not get. I suspect that what Anderson does is similar to Nicolas Winding Refn (a vastly underrated actors’ director) whereby rather than telling the actor what he wants from them, he asks them what they would like to do with the part and in doing so, gets performances that fit into the universe of his films. Or, at least, he creates an atmosphere on set that facilitates the actors and certainly if stories of the “chaos” on set are anything to go by, he has done that.
The film is funny too. Often serious directors have a shite sense of humour or are too self-serious to even go near sillier material. Anderson does not have the ego anymore to be that far up his own arse. Trouser dropping and slapstick are here in joyous abundance which counterbalances the darker end-of-the-hippy-dream Nixonian stuff which I didn’t even notice (in a good way). Anderson has toned down his tightly wound directorial excesses from Boogie Nights and Magnolia (Punch-Drunk Love was probably the start of the change and There Will Be Blood was an almost total u-turn). Now, he cites John Huston as a big influence and having caught up with a lot of Huston’s work in the last couple of years, that’s making a lot of sense. There’s something about the numerous scenes which take place between simple reverse-shot-reverse medium close-ups with unadorned backgrounds (like with a lot of The Master) and a more languorous approach to his pacing that speaks to a more classical filmmaker. He’s now maybe more interested in telling a story in a nuts and bolts way than shoving a lot of directing down audiences’ throats and Huston was certainly the former of those two types. Not that I’m saying I didn’t like the earlier stuff, in fact at the moment, I think I still rate it higher than the post-There-Will-Be-Blood stuff, at least, until such time as Master and Vice properly click with me.
In summation, I am torn and only repeat viewings will solve it. I think at the moment, the issue is probably more me as a fan wanting that high of seeing There Will Be Blood for the first time, because that was such a big deal for me and I should stop wanting every movie to be the same. Also, I do feel that Anderson is still thinking two-steps ahead of everyone else anyway but I don’t want to be that guy who says; “when are you gonna do the earlier stuff again?”
Because, if you’re a fan, you try go wherever your favourite person goes and support them in doing so… but it might just be too fucking long.
UPDATE: I have bought it on DVD and since watched it again and it is all of the above… including being too fucking long!