While waiting in line to buy my ticket to see “Phantom Thread”, the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, I could not avoid eavesdropping on the conversation of two well-dressed women who were waiting to buy tickets for the same movie. One was very eager to see the movie. The other interestingly was more focused on talking about the Catholic Mass they just came from. The one excited about the film was worried that they would be late for the show since we had about 10 minutes to get tickets before showtime. When someone asked what movie they were going to see, the excited woman said “Phantom Thread, the movie about dresses and a dressmaker!”
I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of the movie mentioned above. I purposely did not read too much about the movie Phantom Thread since I wanted to go in to be surprised and ready for the unexpected. Fans of the director PT Anderson know that his films easily divide audiences. The main reason for these divisions is that his films tend to go into unexpected and sometimes outrageous directions.
While his last movies have been historic drama pieces, they all have gone into storylines and plots that throw viewers off balance, scratching their heads to say “WTF!?” The thrill of his movies is not necessarily the complex stories and meticulous set pieces, its the surprises that he throws at viewers to challenge them on re-thinking what cinema is and isn’t.
Before you read further, I will add a spoiler note in that I will describe some of my favorite “WTF!” moments of PT Anderson’s movies. If you want to stay surprised and enjoy the unexpected, then I advise you stop reading this blog right now! If you already have seen the director’s repertoire, then you will not be surprised. If you are curious, then by all means read on!
My fascination with this director started when I viewed the movie “Boogie Nights.” The audacity to make a 2.5 hour film about the porn industry in the late 70s and early 80s obviously would challenge anyone who entered the theater. For me, the refreshing surprise was that the film wasn’t about the industry, but rather it was a film about lonely individuals looking for family and how family can be define for those whose real families fail to love, support, or care for others. In viewing the film, the unexpected moment comes in a shocking and graphic suicide of character Little Bill, played by William H. Macy.
Little Bill was the cameraman of porn director Jack Horner. Little Bill was the tortured soul in the “family” created by Jack Horner. While being oblivious to the acts he filmed, he couldn’t shake off the same acts that was used by his wife to belittle him. PT Anderson challenged the viewer to react to how Little Bill faced his “family” problem. The director brilliantly followed Little Bill through the house as he reacted to the demons impacting him. While the house party was welcoming the new decade of the 1980s, Little Bill, after performing an act of violence that is implied, goes into a living room while others are partying and laughing at him. Here, he smiles directly at the camera and pulls out a gun and shoots himself where immediately, “80s” flashes on the screen. Due to the graphic nature of the scene, I will not share it in this space, but do a YouTube search on “Boogie Nights Little Bill”, the scene will likely show up. It’s a stunner.
One of my favorite movies to this day is “Punch-Drunk Love”, a strange and sweet love story about a man with anger issues and a plan to fly anywhere in the world courtesy of a pudding promotion. If you never seen this movie, you are likely saying “what?” This movie is full of PT Anderson’s tricks, leading viewers on a strange trip through one man’s quest to find love. One can dissect the opening scene alone for ages to find out its meaning. In this film, the unexpected moment for me was when love is reached for the character Barry. Once it is, the director stages one of the most beautifully filmed first kiss scenes in cinema.
One of favorite movies of all time is “Magnolia”. Much has been written about the movie’s infamous “it’s raining frogs” scene. This alone would create the biggest “WTF!” moment. However for me, PT Anderson’s best unexpected twist is actually constructing a film where plots and characters are all connected by Aimee Mann songs.
I had the terrific opportunity to attend an Aimee Mann concert recently and I was beyond thrilled that she sang three songs from the Magnolia soundtrack. The movie was widely discussed on how audiences felt about two pivotal scenes. First, the raining frogs and second, the characters who sing Ms. Mann’s song “Wise Up”. When I first viewed the movie (I saw it 3 times at the theater), audiences walked out mostly on the Aimee Mann scene. Again, PT Anderson threw an expected twist on the movie experience, once again challenging what we expect when we see a drama. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful depictions of lonely people who are, in fact, not alone.
So, it was no surprise that today’s viewing of “Phantom Thread” did not disappoint…at least for me. I will not give away any scenes other than the movie, like all PT Anderson movies, takes viewers on an interesting ride which if audiences pay attention, will provide a turn that will likely make a few go “WTF!”
Back to my friends who were excited to see the movie. When I was leaving the theater I walked past them. While they were still planted in their seats, I did overhear the one most excited telling her friend, “What was that?” I just laughed when I heard that comment. In my head, I said “A PT Anderson picture.” We were all taken for a ride. Yes, it was about dresses. Yes, it was about a dress maker. And yes, it was about……well, you just have to go see it yourself.