Lauded by the American Film Institute as “one of American film’s modern masters”, Paul Thomas Anderson (1970–) staked his claim amongst contemporary cinema’s most agitating and exciting auteurs with his Academy Award-nominated indie drama, Boogie Nights.
Raised a Roman Catholic, Anderson’s body of work, comprised of disparate but fascinatingly interconnecting characters and profoundly networked narratives, continues to examine the dysfunction of families and relationships, isolation, regret, and the role of destiny and chance. After initially making movies on a Betamax video camera at age 12, he had written and directed his first film, a 32-minute mockumentary inspired by an article on porn star John Holmes, by the time he was 17. The Dirk Diggler Story, which would later serve as the inspiration and “blueprint” for Boogie Nights, came from his provocation that pornography “could” and “should” be a genre of legitimate filmmaking. Walking out on his formal film education, calling its canonical curriculum boring, like “homework or a chore”, Anderson watched films, listened to audio commentaries and wrote his own screenplays, garnering technical experience through piecemeal work as a production assistant on television movies, music videos and game shows in Los Angeles and New York.
This season charts Anderson’s rise as one of the greatest American directors to emerge over the last 25 years, and attests to both his profound immersion in the cinema of such significant mentors and influences as Robert Altman (for whom he acted as “stand-by director”), Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme and the singularity of his own vision of the messy intersections of modern life.
7:00PM HARD EIGHT
Paul Thomas Anderson (1996) 101 mins MA
Screening in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Anderson’s beautifully controlled debut feature, originally titled “Sydney”, inaugurated a series of collaborations that would come to shape his career. Grouping the prodigious talents of John C. Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson and Philip Seymour Hoffman into a study of night crawling, this expansion of the director’s short Cigarettes & Coffee (1993) tracks the shifts of power and affection between a mentor and his mentee across the Nevada casino circuit. Anderson’s audacious yet assured direction dazzles in neon-noir.
‘Hard Eight and the Isolated Actor’ by Paul Jeffery.
8:50PM BOOGIE NIGHTS
Paul Thomas Anderson (1997) 155 mins R
Anderson’s breakthrough film is an episodic and often disarmingly sweet-natured tale of intersecting lives in the late 1970s Los Angeles porn industry. Heavily influenced by an array of filmmakers including Scorsese and Altman, Anderson’s second feature is an exuberant, intermittently critical and brilliantly rendered vision of modern life in the San Fernando Valley (where the director was raised). Full of eye-popping images, sparkling natural and neon light, it is another networked portrait of “family” life.
The extraordinary ensemble cast includes Mark Wahlberg (as Dirk Diggler), Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
‘Boogie Nights’ by Geoff Mayer.
7:00PM PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE
Paul Thomas Anderson (2002) 95 mins M
After a brief foray into writing for Saturday Night Live, Anderson paired up with Adam Sandler to create a surprising, even gentle film. Sandler’s portrayal of intense loneliness, framed by the weight of his fits of anger, reveals a far more nuanced performance than the broad comedy the actor is widely known for. An unusual romantic comedy, Anderson pits the quest for romance against a constant threat of nervous breakdown, inverting generic expectations in favour of empathy over narrative gratification.
With Emily Watson, Luis Guzmán and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
‘Punch Drunk Love’ by Wheeler Winston Dixon.
8:45PM THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Paul Thomas Anderson (2007) 158 mins M
Comparable to Citizen Kane in that it depicts nothing less than the making of America, Anderson’s profoundly ambitious film is also a “parable about capitalism, piracy and initiative” (David Thomson). Inspired by, but in no way an adaptation of, Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, the film revolves round Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance, thrown into sharp relief with Paul Dano’s role as the antagonist. Exaggerated, hyperbolic, anti-naturalistic, this is oil-black comedy masquerading as epic drama. Arguably Anderson’s greatest film, for many critics it presented proof that “thrillingly, dangerously new” invention was still possible in the cinema. Atmospheric score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.
35mm print courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive, Australia.
‘There Will Be Blood’ by John Fidler.
Paul Thomas Anderson (1999) 188 mins MA
A renowned cast assembles in an interconnected story filled with damaged, desperate characters dealing with loss and searching for redemption. Two men dying of cancer, a former child quiz champion, a misogynist motivational speaker, a trophy wife, a child prodigy, a bumbling policeman, and a compassionate nurse – whether by coincidence or destiny their paths cross. Despite hyperbolic flourishes and a biblical plague, Anderson concentrates on the minute details that make us human and the small actions that can have far-reaching consequences.
Audaciously deploying Aimee Mann’s evocative “score”, it stars Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the great Philip Baker Hall.
Mattress Man Commercial Paul Thomas Anderson (2003) 1 min, a parodic escapade, and Blossoms and Blood Paul Thomas Anderson (2003) 12 mins, a collection of alternate and deleted takes from Punch-Drunk Love.
‘Magnolia: A Savage Attack on Masculinity and Whiteness’ by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster.