P.T.A. ♥ S.K.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2007) — 9
Paul Thomas Anderson wears his influences and inspirations on his sleeves. His previous three films have all operated under the heavy shadow of Martin Scorsese (BOOGIE NIGHTS), Robert Altman (MAGNOLIA) or Jonathan Demme (PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE). His latest film, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, though it has other antecedents, seems like Anderson’s attempt to do a remix job on Stanley Kubrick. Ya gotta say this much for PT — he only steals from the best.
And right from the very start. The very first shot of BLOOD plonks us into 2001 territory — a rocky landscape in untouched nature, accompanied by music that so sounds like Gyorgy Ligeti’s famously-strange dissonant modernism (You can hear it as the film’s Web site starts to load) that I was surprised to learn later that it was not Ligeti. Instead, the virtuoso score is all-original work by Jonny Greenwood, who just as often turned out themes in completely different styles like Bernard Hermann with the high-pitched fast strings here, Michael Nyman with the legato weeping-strings passages here and here, and some of Giovanni Fusco’s work for Antonioni here. (The soundtrack is an obvious steal at any price here.) Other sound touches that Stan the Man would have been proud of include the impressionistic use of silence on the soundtrack. The explosion that deafens a character in BLOOD reminded me of the deadness of space in 2001, and its blending into sound as Dave comes back into Being and re-enters creation on the Discovery.
Like in 2001, a lengthy, wordless sequence of maybe 20-25 minutes begins the proceedings, only instead of apes escaping nature through the discovery of tools, we see a man, Daniel Plainview, prospect for oil. He starts out as a tradesman, a genuine wildcatter before he really becomes a “businessman.” In this sequence, the basic threads, setup and motifs are laid out. The trailer at the film’s site gives you more of an impression that Day-Lewis is imitating John Huston in CHINATOWN. But that’s mostly voice — it gives no indication of either pitch or body language,where the primary influence is Jack Nicholson from THE SHINING, particularly when he cracks up near the end, something Noah Cross never does in CHINATOWN. And appropriately, Lewis in the dialog-free beginning also had more of Nicholson and also the feral quality of the 2001 apes. Kubrick always wanted Big, conceptual performances from his actors and Day-Lewis can do that without collapsing into caricature better than anyone today (I weep to think what he could have done under Kubrick’s direction). It’s no surprise to me than Dan Sallitt, with whom I’ve butted heads on “Kubrick acting” before, didn’t care for this movie.
BLOOD is also Kubrickian in narrative structure, space, rhythm and worldview. The “acts” are clearly segmented and delineated with title cards (“1898,” “1911” “1927” and “1931” if memory serves) and the plot is even somewhat telescoped at the end, with single scenes covering years of offscreen story events. The soon-to-be-famous last scene of BLOOD, set in a rec room that evokes the Overlook Hotel in its hyperpolished wood (and a butler who’s a dead ringer for the SHINING bartender/washroom-attendant) but also via a couple of bowling lanes that, when centered in the frame, stretch the central perspective lines off into infinity like the hotel’s never-ending corridors. PTA makes the room call more attention to those qualities by its being only the second (maybe third) scene in the film to show serious opulence.
Then there’s the pacing — whatever else might be said about particularly MAGNOLIA and BOOGIE NIGHTS, they *moved* (Mike semi-dissed them as “all flow, no ebb”¹). But PTA standards, although it is a short-feeling 160 minutes, BLOOD is not action-heavy and is almost as PTA-glacial and single-character-focused as EYES WIDE SHUT and BARRY LYNDON, with a mood of dread hanging over every stylized and heightened scene. As for worldview, I can’t improve on my Kubrick-loving bud Bilge Ebiri’s description of BLOOD as “an epic with a coal-black heart.” Whether we’re talking about characters covered in oil, underlit heavily-shadowed pre-electricity rooms, or domination by a soul stained in sin, BLOOD is dark, dark, dark — on the surface at least (like SK, on both counts), and thereby a notable departure from PTA’s earlier work.
But what’s ultimately most Kubrickian is that the unique way BLOOD gets under your skin — well, my skin anyway. This is a more personal, subjective reaction Kubrick had on me and it isn’t as easily explained as some of the objective style similarities I can point out. It’s like this: you never doubt while watching that you’re seeing something special. And even when you’re thinking about the film later and it isn’t quite coming together on this or that point for you (and I was only an 8 on BLOOD as my friend Shawn and I discussed the movie on the drive back from Georgetown at 3am), you can’t shake either the film or the conviction that you’ve seen a movie that was even better than you thought. This was a reaction Kubrick, unique among my pantheon directors, has on me in a way that even other equally great mannerists like Hitchcock and Dreyer don’t. I haven’t settled on BLOOD’s thematics, exactly (as opposed to generally, which is pretty obvious — the conflict between capitalism and religion, and the effects of greed on both). Not any more than I was settled on thematics after my first viewing of EYES WIDE SHUT (pretty obviously about marriage and sex, and the effects of jealousy on both). But I sure as heck am gonna go back and see what more can be gleaned.
¹ Curiously, in that review of MAGNOLIA, he said “I get a bit giddy imagining what Anderson might accomplish one day if/when he finally calms the fuck down.”
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