Thursday, October 31, 2019

Anima instinct

Paul Thomas Anderson has been using music videos as a sketchpad between features from as far back as Michael Penn’s "Try" in 1997. In recent years, he has stepped up the frequency. Between Junun (2015) and his last film, Phantom Thread (2017), he directed videos for three songs each by Radiohead, Haim and Joanna Newsom: simple ideas, but low-key brilliant, especially the single-take "Right Now".

Now, Anderson, with his friend Thom Yorke, is stretching out. The Radiohead singer has a new solo album, Anima. Three tracks from this have been woven by Anderson into a 15-minute short film, also called Anima (streaming on Netflix). Unlike the videos he has made these last few years, this one is more elaborate. It begins with Yorke on the subway, nodding off. The passengers around him start convulsing in unison, like a dance troupe in a lucid dream. The platform he alights on soon turns into a series of increasingly surreal sets, with Yorke flung about, dodging dancers and singing “I can’t breathe" over electronic thumps (the choreographer is Damien Jalet, who worked on Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, which Yorke had scored).

A clue on how to view Anima can be found in the film’s trailer, which describes it as a “one-reeler"—shorts of around 12 minutes, usually comedies, popular in the silent era. Yorke’s mugging has shades of “little guy" comics like Chaplin and Keaton, something Anderson encouraged (“He’s amazing with his body—very, very physical," Anderson said in an interview. “I just kept saying, ‘More Buster Keaton, more Buster Keaton!’"). There’s a scene out of Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr, with Yorke at a 70-degree angle, braced against a wind. There are also more modern films that seem to flit through Anderson’s mind; the romantic scene in the streets at night echoes the lurching movements of Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche in Leos Carax’s The Lovers On The Bridge.

A final word of praise for the person behind the camera. Cinematographer Darius Khondji’s credits include My Blueberry Nights, Midnight In Paris, Amour, The Lost City Of Z and the video for Madonna’s "Frozen". He’s a master of light—the ray of sun that illuminates Yorke’s face at the end is a typically Khondji frame. And he has never worked with Anderson before this, which raises the immensely exciting possibility of a feature film collaboration between the two.

This piece appeared in Mint Lounge.

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