The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson: A 5‑Part Video Essay on the Auteur of Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, The Master, and More

For at least the past decade and a half, each of Paul Thomas Ander­son­’s movies has arrived in the­aters as a major cin­e­mat­ic event. By pure chance, I got an espe­cial­ly pow­er­ful taste of this a few years ago in Los Ange­les when, after a revival screen­ing of The Shin­ing, we in the audi­ence were told to stay right there in our seats for the rest of the night’s sur­prise dou­ble-fea­ture, the sec­ond half being Ander­son­’s as yet unre­leased and almost com­plete­ly unseen The Mas­ter — pro­ject­ed in 70-mil­lime­ter. Need­less to say, nobody left, so pal­pa­ble was the desire to expe­ri­ence the next phase of the cin­e­mat­ic vision of the auteur who has, to that point, giv­en us Hard EightBoo­gie NightsMag­no­liaPunch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood.

So what makes Ander­son­’s cin­e­mat­ic vision so com­pelling? Video essay­ist Cameron Beyl, cre­ator of The Direc­tors Series (whose explo­rations of Stan­ley Kubrick, David Finch­er, and the Coen broth­ers we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), attempts an answer in this analy­sis of Ander­son­’s films, each of whose chap­ters reflect a chap­ter of the auteur’s jour­ney to his cur­rent promi­nence. The first of them finds him, at sev­en­teen after a child­hood in the San Fer­nan­do Val­ley, shoot­ing a porn-star mock­u­men­tary called The Dirk Dig­gler Sto­ry, ele­ments of which would lat­er shape his 1997 porn-indus­try epic Boo­gie Nights. Hav­ing ditched film school after just two days, the slight­ly old­er Ander­son set out to make Cig­a­rettes & Cof­fee, a short tale of low life told in high style that would expand into his first fea­ture, the mis­treat­ed but redis­cov­ered Hard Eight.

Beyl’s minis­eries of video essays, which runs near­ly three hours in total, con­tin­ues from Ander­son­’s ear­ly Sun­dance suc­cess (a suc­cess that did much to raise the pro­file of the fes­ti­val itself) to his much larg­er-bud­get “Cal­i­for­nia chron­i­cles” Boo­gie Nights and Mag­no­lia, his “con­cept come­dies” Punch-Drunk Love and var­i­ous oth­er shorts made at the time, his “por­traits of pow­er” There Will Be Blood and The Mas­ter, and his ascent to “high­er states” in the Thomas Pyn­chon adap­ta­tion Inher­ent Vice and the doc­u­men­tary Jun­jun.

Beyl describes Ander­son as unde­ni­ably “born to be a film­mak­er,” and so it stands to rea­son that, though his favorite themes includ­ing fam­i­ly, pow­er, and sex­u­al dys­func­tion remain con­stant, each new phase of the direc­tor’s life results in a new phase in his film­mak­ing — or indeed, the oth­er way around. And so every­one who takes film seri­ous­ly eager­ly awaits his next chap­ter.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Two Short Films on Cof­fee and Cig­a­rettes from Jim Jar­musch & Paul Thomas Ander­son

What Makes a Coen Broth­ers Movie a Coen Broth­ers Movie? Find Out in a 4‑Hour Video Essay on Bar­ton Fink, The Big Lebows­ki, Far­go, No Coun­try for Old Men & More

Dis­cov­er the Life & Work of Stan­ley Kubrick in a Sweep­ing Three-Hour Video Essay

How Did David Finch­er Become the Kubrick of Our Time? A New, 3.5 Hour Series of Video Essays Explains

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.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.