The Hidden Secrets in “Daydreaming,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s New Radiohead Music Video

Paul Thomas Ander­son, as his fans will tell you, makes the kind of large-scale cin­e­ma nobody else does any­more: intense of emo­tion, involved of sto­ry, col­or­ful­ly pop­u­lat­ed, wide of aspect ratio (and even, in the case of The Mas­ter, shot on 70-mil­lime­ter film), no super­heroes asked, none giv­en. Hav­ing dis­played unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to his visions from the very begin­ning, it makes sense that, on his lat­est music video, he would work with Radio­head, a band no less com­mit­ted to their own. Radio­head fans know the ambi­tious­ness of a Radio­head song or album when they hear it, but what makes the video Ander­son direct­ed for “Day­dream­ing,” their sin­gle released this past May, Ander­son­ian?

“Like many great works of art, Radio­head­’s lat­est music video makes you strug­gle for its inner mean­ing,” says Rishi Kane­r­ia in his explana­to­ry video “Radio­head: the Secrets of ‘Day­dream­ing.’ ” His nar­ra­tion describes the video’s osten­si­bly sim­ple form: “an old­er, tired-look­ing Thom Yorke” — Radio­head­’s singer and co-founder — “open­ing door after door, and like a ghost, walk­ing through the back­ground of seem­ing­ly ran­dom peo­ple’s lives,” all “a metaphor for the choic­es Thom has had to make in his life, of the doors he’s stepped through, while nev­er quite know­ing what’s on the oth­er side. Because he can nev­er go back, we see him con­stant­ly push­ing for­ward, con­tin­u­al­ly search­ing for mean­ing and an ulti­mate rest­ing place. ”

Kane­r­ia keys in on details that only those with a thor­ough knowl­edge of the life and work of Yorke and his band could notice. In real life, Yorke had just split up with his part­ner of 23 years; in the video, he walks through 23 doors. In the video, he wears an out­fit designed by Rick Owens; in real life, his part­ner was named Rachel Owens. (Well, Rachel Owen, but close enough.) The var­i­ous rooms through which York pass­es con­tain women, usu­al­ly moth­ers, even in a hos­pi­tal ward. Can we con­sid­er that a ref­er­ence to his recu­per­a­tion from a “severe car crash in 1987, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing there’s a wheel on the wall”?

When Yorke’s char­ac­ter final­ly finds solace beside a fire in a cave, he speaks a back­wards phrase to the cam­era which, reversed, sounds like, “Half of my life, half of my love.” 23 years, of course, con­sti­tutes just about half of the 47-year-old Yorke’s life — and, Kane­r­ia notes, the num­ber of years since the band began record­ing. The video also per­forms oth­er exege­ses numer­i­cal, lyri­cal, and visu­al, and zodi­a­cal, every­where find­ing ref­er­ences to Rachel as well as to Radio­head — song titles, album art, even the set­tings of past music videos — to the point that we see “how Thom’s per­son­al life with Rachel is inescapably sat­u­rat­ed and sur­round­ed by all things Radio­head.”

Nobody ever called bal­anc­ing the demands of domes­tic life and those of per­haps the biggest rock band in the world easy. Still, few recent works of art have illus­trat­ed this kind of strug­gle as vivid­ly as the “Day­dream­ing” video, and Ander­son, not just one of the most famous and respect­ed film­mak­ers alive but a hus­band and a father to four chil­dren, sure­ly knows some­thing about it as well. So often com­pared to his cin­e­ma-redefin­ing pre­de­ces­sors from Robert Alt­man to Stan­ley Kubrick, he must also know as well as Yorke does what it means to have your work sub­ject­ed to such close scruti­ny — and to want to cre­ate work that will repay that scruti­ny.

The Ander­son-Radio­head con­nec­tion goes as least as far back as 2007’s There Will Be Blood, scored by the band’s gui­tarist Jon­ny Green­wood. Ander­son com­mis­sioned Green­wood’s musi­cal ser­vices again for his next two pic­tures, The Mas­ter, and Inher­ent Vice, and last year made a doc­u­men­tary called Jun­jun about Green­wood’s solo album of the same name. No mat­ter how much of Kane­r­i­a’s pre­sent­ed rev­e­la­tion you believe, “Day­dream­ing” sits as suit­ably with the rest of Ander­son­’s fil­mog­ra­phy as it does in its treat­ment of an old theme: you can’t enjoy every kind of sat­is­fac­tion — but from the life­long bat­tle to do so, most­ly against one­self, emerges art.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Delight in Prince’s Extra­or­di­nar­i­ly Poignant Cov­er of Radiohead’s “Creep” & His Com­plete 2008 Coachel­la Set

How Paul Thomas Ander­son Dropped Out of NYU Film School in 2 Days; Stud­ied Lit­er­a­ture with David Fos­ter Wal­lace

Radiohead’s “Creep” Per­formed in a Vin­tage Jazz-Age Style

Michel Gondry’s Finest Music Videos for Björk, Radio­head & More: The Last of the Music Video Gods

Radio­head-Approved, Fan-Made Film of the Band at Rose­land for 2011′s The King of Limbs Tour

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke Gives Teenage Girls Endear­ing Advice About Boys (And Much More)

Radio­head: Mak­ing Videos With­out Cam­eras (or Lights)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Simon Parent says:

    The album you men­tion at the end of your arti­cle is not called “Jun­jun”, it’s Junun. Plus, it’s not a Jon­ny Green­wood solo album. Jon­ny par­tic­i­pat­ed on the album which was com­posed by Israeli musi­cian Shye Ben Tzur. The album is offi­cial­ly cred­it­ed to “Shye Ben Tzur, Jon­ny Green­wood & the Rajasthan Express”.

  • Alekz says:

    yeah, radio­head makes peo­ple kill them­selves. i know because i did it too

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