Sunday, December 31, 2017

An Air of Quiet Death

When I was 20 and living at the Dustbin in Portland Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) was my favorite movie. But now that I'm so much older my PTA tastes have changed a lot. There Will Be Blood (2007, Anderson) is so much different from Anderson's early work, and so is The Master (2012, Anderson). These two richly characterized period pieces historically entrenched in twentieth century American industrialism remain profoundly dark and perfectly executed, to say nothing of the effects Jonny Greenwood's scores have had enhancing their viewings.


Phantom Thread (2017, Anderson) is a nuanced atypical love story brilliantly adorned in high fashion costumes and emotionally underscored ceaselessly by Jonny Greenwood's classically elegant music.

Daniel Day Lewis as REYNOLDS WOODCOCK is the movie. Phantom Thread feels like the final entry in a trilogy that could encompass There Will Be Blood and The Master, about dark obsession centered around a male central protagonist. And what could be as abysmally dark as oil, Scientology, and love, respectively?

Phantom Thread is a flawed film though, unlike There Will Be Blood and The Master. While Phantom Thread is magnificent in its rapturous May-December propulsion into the development of a romantic fantasy made reality by two relatable archetypal yet highly neurotic adults, there is little more that the film offers.

And while the film's beautifully and effectively realized core is provocative and truthful, the film's third act is uneven and falls miserably short. But hey, doesn't all romantic love? Another big problem with Phantom Thread is its cinematography. While there is no director of photography credited, Paul Thomas Anderson himself serves in this capacity. And the results are ravishing in some shots, but more often amateurish. So many scenes look like a bad student film because of spill. It's like he has something against flags. Or, in other words, it appears that many shots were filmed without using traditional photographic tools to block light by unwanted sources from contaminating the exposure. Maybe Anderson likes this effect? It's bewildering.

I must give praise to the craftsmanship and elegance of this intimate world along with the trio of characters who inhabit it. Phantom Thread possesses an exceptional command of portraying and pathologizing the intricacies of the elusive apparition that is true love.

Evidently Phantom Thread lacks the staggering tragedy that befalls the antiheroes of There Will Be Blood and The Master, yet suffering from poor cinematography and a stupid plot device supporting its third act, maybe said tragedy is exemplified through subtext? PTA being the victim? Now this is what makes for interesting art.

And I will say the vignette with BARBARA ROSE as an emotionally overwhelmed socialite stands out as a high point keeping me on the edge of my seat while generating such a surprisingly unexpected type of empathy, mixed with laughter, shame, identification and sorrow.

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