Thinking About Paul Thomas Anderson

New book links Punch-Drunk Love, There Will be Blood and The Master

Sep. 2, 2016
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Paul Thomas Anderson was routinely classed with the generation of post-Steven Soderbergh indie filmmakers that emerged in the ‘90s. But as George Toles writes in Paul Thomas Anderson, the director’s “stronger, more important affiliations are with artists of an earlier period.” As Toles goes to show, Anderson is closer to Ingmar Bergman than Quentin Tarantino.

The author chose to closely examine three of Anderson’s seven films, explaining that Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and The Master are “strikingly linked” by “unusual preoccupations.” He could as easily have maintained that at least six of the seven films shared similar preoccupations (Inherent Vice, based on Thomas Pynchon, might be the odd one out) but probably opted to focus at length on only three for practical reasons. His book is part of the Contemporary Film Directors series, published by University of Illinois Press, whose volumes are uniformly compact in length.

But despite the constrictions of page count, Toles can’t help but look more widely at Anderson’s work. He makes a strong connection between the director’s debut, Hard Eight (1997), and The Master (2012), for the “exploration of an intense, ambiguous relationship between a guardian who seems to know all, appearing out of nowhere, and a younger man without roots or purpose.” Surrogate or unconventional families recur through many of Anderson’s films as individuals struggle against the profound loneliness of contemporary American life. With Paul Thomas Anderson, Toles raises many insightful points about one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers to emerge from the ‘90s indie boom.

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