Monday, October 8, 2012

The Auteurs Anderson

Wrote this for Man's World. Couldn't find a link online, but here's the piece as it was carried. 

They both made directorial debuts in 1996. Since then, both have been called ‘America’s best filmmaker’ at one time or another. And as fate would have it, they’re both named Anderson. The first, Paul Thomas Anderson, struggled with studio interference on his first film Hard Eight, but bounced back with an incredible sequence: Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. Wes Anderson, by contrast, emerged fully formed with Bottle Rocket, and was anointed ‘the next Scorsese’ by Scorsese himself. He’s followed that with one intricate, idiosyncratic gem after another.

Scorsese is actually one of the few things these two have in common. His stylistic influence can be seen in PT’s bravura long-takes (the opening of Boogie Nights recalls the Copacabana Steadicam shot in Goodfellas), as well as Wes’s scored montages. Apart from this, and their shared habit of casting a certain set of actors in several of their movies, the two inhabit different cinematic worlds. PT is like Robert Altman, Wes is more Hal Ashby. PT’s characters are usually in the process of discovering themselves, while Wes’s are preoccupied with mending, escaping or replacing their dysfunctional families. Wes’s movies are set in an off-kilter universe all of his own; PT’s are located within the cracks of a recognisable world.

Both directors have a film out this year. Wes’s Moonrise Kingdom premiered at Cannes, while PT’s The Master will release abroad in October. While both films should make their way to our shores eventually, you can use the time before that to catch up with – or revisit – their earlier work on DVD. Here’s my pick of the Andersons.

Wes Anderson: The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr Fox

Though some argue that the 1998 film Rushmore is Anderson’s best till date, a strong case can also be made for The Royal Tenenbaums (Disney, Rs 399). Released in 2001, it tells the story of the Tenenbaum clan – distracted patriarch Royal, his ex-wife and their three children, child prodigies once but now adrift in life. While Salinger’s Glass family is a probable inspiration, the film is bursting with little details that are pure Anderson: Dalmatian mice, a falcon called Mordecai, matching red tracksuits worn by Ben Stiller and his two sons. Gene Hackman heads a superb cast that includes Luke and Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston and Gwyneth Paltrow, and the soundtrack is both eclectic and apt.

Fantastic Mr Fox (Excel Movies, Rs 399), made eight years later, achieves something even rarer – the transfer of directorial handprint from live action to animation. For though the story is based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book, Fantastic Mr Fox looks, feels and sounds like a Wes Anderson film. It’s all there: the atypical family dynamic, a son looking for his father’s approval, the little cinematic nods (Citizen Kane, Day for Night). Even the choice of animation technique – the fastidious, elegant process of stop motion – seems appropriate.

PT Anderson: Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood

Boogie Nights (Eagle Home Entertainment, Rs 99) released in 1997 and immediately marked Anderson out as an ambitious, fluid filmmaker. The film was set in the Los Angeles porn industry of the ‘70s. Burt Reynolds’ director chances upon the prodigiously endowed Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and offers him the lead role in his film, as well as a glimpse of the high life. At first, the film bounces along like a cork on the water, buoyant and sunny. Then, as the decade draws to a close, it changes face and becomes darker (the actual porn industry also suffered a downturn in the ‘80s, with the advent of video and the threat of AIDS). Boogie Nights is dotted with sensational set-pieces: the long opening shot introducing the principal players; the swimming pool sequence that echoes Mikhail Kalatozov’s I Am Cuba; the stand-off at the mansion, with a dead-eyed Wahlberg as scary as the raving Alfred Molina.

If 2007's No Country for Old Men and Michael Clayton were portraits of modern-day America’s spiritual crisis, There Will Be Blood (Disney, Rs 299), released the same year, was a key to the miasma. It’s the story of an early 20th century oil prospector, played with menacing authority by Daniel-Day Lewis, and his battle with a young priest for the soul of a small town. The movie is gritty and stark; you can almost taste the dust and the oil through Robert Elswitt’s visuals, and hear the madness in Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s score. Anderson said that he watched The Treasure of Sierra Madre repeatedly while making There Will Be Blood, and it’s clear how much John Huston’s movie about frontier lives ruined by greed has influenced this one. One also gets the sense of a naturally flashy filmmaker cutting away the fat and getting down to the basics. No Country may have nabbed the Oscar with its more abstract apocalyptic visions, but There Will Be Blood was the real deal. 

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