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Thread: An Interesting Experiment

  1. #1
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    An Interesting Experiment

    Paul Thomas Anderson’s experimental romance is difficult and prickly, an aggressively insular work that makes very few concessions to its audience. It’s also the work of a supremely gifted director and his excellent actors in search of a movie. Where “Magnolia” found Anderson blissfully embracing his large ensemble of misfits (the same type of people he humiliated in “Boogie Nights”), here he doesn’t quite know what to make of the two characters (played by Adam Sandler and Emily Watson) he chooses to center on. They seem exaggerated and disconnected with the rest of the world and their reactions to their surroundings and each other are clearly unusual (their lovemaking, for example, involves violent imagery as endearments)—they seem almost like comic book characters. (It seems intentional. The similarities to Superman are great: Sandler’s character’s name has the same number of letters—Barry Egan/Clark Kent—and is seen only in the same blue suit with, as the film progresses, red ties; and his love interest’s alliterative name—Lena Leonard—resembles Lois Lane.) Sandler is superb because the director doesn’t try to reinvent his recognizable characteristics, just place his barely concealed rage in a different context than the usual slapstick. But that context itself is troubling: the rage here stems from lifelong abuse at the hands of his seven sisters and a phone-sex worker who tries to extort money, and aside from Watson’s luminous redemptive powers (and even she’s somewhat unstable) the film has nothing but contempt for women. Anderson’s clearly out to upset the apple cart, bringing a percussive discomfit to a love story awash in pastels (the magnificent steadicam cinematography and drum-heavy score are by Anderson’s brilliant collaborators Robert Elswit and Jon Brion respectively) and, while it’s well-worth seeing, it’s arty, an American-made foreign film filled with long, uncomfortable takes, very heavy pauses and the distinct feeling of being underwritten. It has a very peculiar rhythm and takes an inordinate amount of time to get started—if you’re not with it by the second reel you stand a good chance of not getting with it at all.

  2. #2
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    Very insightful analysis, bix. You should be paid for your thoughts..
    *raises wine glass*
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Bix,
    You said it better than I could say it myself (and I've tried, several times).

    I hadn't thought about the Superman angle. Very interesting...he was wearing a blue suit throughout the movie, wasn't he? There is certainly alot going on in this film, that's for sure.

  4. #4

    Anderson MUST be respected...

    A friend slipped me this URL and I must admit the previous threads were a treat to read...yet, we must respect Anderson for his innovative tactics...

    #1 - Boogie Nights...it could have just as easily been called a 'Martin Scorcese' film and no one would have differentiated between the two styles....do not get me wrong - a phenomenal film, but it was the very end where Anderson's true guise was revealed as he displayed his writing skills whereby he accomplished the impossible and managed to make these despicable and self depricating characters sympathetic to us...

    #2- Magnolia...sure, you have to devote an entire evening to the film, but if onw needs a reason - Tom Cruise's character's Mantra alone is worth the three hours...he manages to take all these characters estranged by their families, embarking on a metaphysical journey and completely immerses the viewer into different stories all related by one theme...post your thought of the theme...I have an idea, but I know for a fact it is open to interpretation

    #3 - Punch Drunk Love - perhaps his most ambitious film because of what he aspires in conveying...sure it is a weird and juxtaposed film - but who cares? Do you attend cinema for the conventionalist crass sometimes created? Or does one attend cinema for what new ideas can be brought forward? Anderson does this...he takes a sap like Sandler and metamorphisizes him into an atypical and rambunxious anally depressed human...yet with the perfect girl - he blossoms and faces his fears...by far not his best film. but he has done these three (excluding Sydney) and he is 3/3 in my book...

    A truly auspicious Director with guts to go against the Hollywood formula and deliver something fresh...if one is in disaccord with this film, they should reconsider what they expect out of a movie...

    Giancarlo De Lisi
    Giancarlo De Lisi

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    Re: Anderson MUST be respected...

    "post your thought of the theme"

    It's been a while since I've seen "Magonlia" and that was the only time (I've been considering purchasing it for some time but never get around to it) but it strikes me that its theme (or at least one of them) was the (strained) relationship between fathers and children. My understanding is that he had an excellent relationship with his own father (the guy who did the voice-overs for ABC programs in the 70s--"The Lovvve Boat...") but here it's about the strength within the children to make peace with their dads. Some succeed on their own (Tom Cruise, Jeremy Blackman, who played the little whiz kid), some need the power of newfound love (Melora Walters).

    But the film's about so much more because--and I've said this elsewhere--P.T. Anderson is the Thomas Pynchon of film: he seems to know everything about everything. There are so many religious and Masonic as well as pop culture references (Jason Robards seems modeled after Earl Nightengale, considered the greatest motivational speaker of all time and the founder of Nightengale/Conant, the premier self-help company in the country; and Philip Baker Hall resembles an older Jack Barry, a popular game show host in the 50s who was involved in the quiz show scandal) that it boggles the mind.

    And "Boogie Nights" was nothing if not, first and foremost, a great idea for a movie. Its execution, though brilliant, could have been an afterthought and it still would have been a compelling film.

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    "Magnolia" - This film was very similar in style to some of Altman's movies, and to me, Altman's much better at this type of film. "Short Cuts", "Nashville", and "McCabe & Ms. Miller" are deeper and more meaningful films than "Magnolia". In "Magnolia", the moral seems to be that parents need to treat their kids better, because otherwise the kids end up as fucked-up adults. Great, it takes 3 hours to say that?

    And the raining frogs thing: In the book of Exodus in the Old Testament, God sends a swarm of frogs upon the Egyptians because they won't release the Israelites from slavery as Moses has kindly asked them to do. So what's the parallel in this movie? Children are the slaves of the parents and the parents must release them? Something like that? To me, there's no discernable connection, it's just a scene used as a stunt. Full of Sound and Fury, signifying Nothing.

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    The resemblance to Altman's "Short Cuts" is indeed apt but I'm afraid I'm going to have to politely disagee with you on Altman's superiority over Anderson. Altman has degenerated from a maverick into little more than a dirty old man; he seems to make films that have little more ambition that getting his female stars to shed their clothes for little or no reason. (Julianne Moore owes Anderson a debt of gratitude for not having to perform any of her scenes in "Magnolia" with her skirt off and let's not even talk about Helen Hunt.)

    There are some fine early Altman works that assure his place in film history ("M*A*S*H", "Nashville" "The Long Goodbye" and "California Split") but those were in the distant past. "Pret-A-Porter", "Dr. T & The Women" and "Short Cuts" are the Altman of today and his overwhelming contempt for women is some of the most distressing I've seen. (And this is coming from a guy who thought "Punch-Drunk Love" was plenty filled with contempt toward women--at least, however, it didn't exploit them.)

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    Altman indeed overrated these days

    I'd have to agree that Altman is seriously getting a sweet deal being able to continue to make movies these days. Too many of the old greats do this very same thing, resting on their laurels secure in the fact that someone will bankroll their next box office flop. It's depressing, but, hey, that's why Woody doesn't pick up his Oscars, right? Let's hope one day some of the wunderkind of old will return to the screen with something other than a shadow of their former selves to offer!

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    Originally posted by bix171
    "Pret-A-Porter", "Dr. T & The Women" and "Short Cuts" are the Altman of today
    What about Gosford Park? I quite liked it.

    I think it would be too early to rate PT Anderson against Altman on such a scale.
    Last edited by Ansonm; 11-08-2002 at 12:39 AM.
    I'll figure this out later.

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    Re: An Interesting Experiment

    Originally posted by bix171
    Sandler is superb because the director doesn’t try to reinvent his recognizable characteristics, just place his barely concealed rage in a different context than the usual slapstick. But that context itself is troubling: the rage here stems from lifelong abuse at the hands of his seven sisters and a phone-sex worker who tries to extort money, and aside from Watson’s luminous redemptive powers (and even she’s somewhat unstable) the film has nothing but contempt for women.
    -----------------------------
    I only just saw Punch-drunk Love ... a little slow on the uptake. Sometimes it takes a while for American movies to come out here.

    I didn't see a misogynistic slant in the film. His nemesis (to continue the comic book comparison) isn't a woman, it's the very "male pig" phone-sex line owner. He's the one who most explicitly articulates all the things that are suffocating Barry and he's the one Barry needs to confront if he wants to break free. And although his sisters are of course constantly undermining him, the saddest betrayal comes at the hands of his dentist brother-in-law, doesn't it?
    It's true that Barry was most comfortable at work with his (exclusively male) employees and was a total wreck whenever his (castrating) sisters were around. But he's generally socially inept, right, not just with women. He's not hanging out after work with other guys. He isn't hanging out with anyone.
    I think this isolation was emphasized to establish the contrast between the emptiness of his pre-Lena life (see here that pathetic phone call during which he encourages one of his clients to call him at home if he needed to ... because otherwise, who's going to call him?) and the overwhelmingly positive impact her presence has on him. That seems to be her role in the film, having a presence in his life (more than being, say, a coherent character in her own right).
    In fact, that was one of the coolest "romantic comedy" twists for me here. Instead of that whole, you know, two-lovers-running-at-each-other-in-a-field idea, it's about one character. It's a very individualistic and kind of Freudian effect. It's Barry and then the rest of the world. At the same time, it manages to be very sweet and, yeah, romantic. I really liked that contradiction.
    I loved this movie. I would never have gone to see it if Peter hadn't recommended it to me, because the trailer (here at least) was terrible (and I do go by trailers sometimes) and because, although I think he's funny, Adam Sandler usually can't act his way out of a paper bag. He certainly did this time. Thanks, Peter!

    - Marina

  11. #11
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    Marina, I think your comments are apt and well-put but I still feel the female represents the embodiment of Barry's fears and I don't see the Philip Seymour Hoffman character as symbolic per se. I found the climactic confrontation between Sandler and Hoffman to be less of a bang and more of a whimper. There's a lot of yelling and a buildup towards violence but it all peters out (both back down) and Barry storms out of the furniture store. It may seem that a breakthrough was achieved but nothing has really happend.

    You're right--the saddest betrayal is his brother-in-law's big mouth but his rage--which Anderson, while not endorsing, certainly is sympathetic towards--isn't directed at his brother-in-law, it's directed at his sisters, either by smashing their sliding-door windows or threatening them over the telephone from Hawaii. And in fact, you could argue that the thugs he beats up late in the film are surrogates that absorb the punishment theoretically intended for Hoffman. I wouldn't suggest the thugs are surrogate women but the last one, the one Sandler spares, is reduced to a whimpering impotency; they certainly aren't the blustering macho men that Hoffman pretends to be and who Sandler can't bring himself to take out. That struck me as kind of Freudian in itself.

    To me, the breakthroughs are with Lena both in the middle of the picture, as he establishes a firm bond with her, and at the end, when he begs her forgiveness for abandoning her at the hospital. He has to learn to connect, or at least to fufill his goal of connecting, and divorce himself from his violent tendancies. But Lena, while surely more skilled at relationships, is still as alienated from the rest of the world as he is. I think, in this case, it's two against the world--she may be a catalyst but she's as alone as he. The romance is symbiotic, not individual. He doesn't find her, they find each other.

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