Tracking Through Paul Thomas Anderson’s Career

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Somewhere between blatant homage and honest character introspection exists Paul Thomas Anderson’s visual style. Seemingly from the moment he appeared on the major Hollywood scene with Boogie Nights, he’s been called something of a “rip-off” of other filmmakers, namely Kurbrick, Scorsese, and Altman. Perhaps more challenging is that Anderson does little to deny the influence of great American filmmakers on his own work and, while some may write him off as pastiche, he’s managed to carve out a style all his own. To my mind, what makes Anderson as interesting as those filmmakers is the depth of the subject matter he takes on. While story might be a vessel for getting at greater cinematic ideas, there’s also a commitment to classic, human drama that I don’t find as prevalent in some of Anderson influences.

This wonderful 9-minute video breaks down some of Anderson’s most impressive unbroken tracking shots. The voiceover gives you a nice overview of what Anderson was attempting with the movement while the diagram shows the actual path of the camera moving with the actors. This is comprehensive look at this oft-revered but rarely analyzed contemporary director. Kudos to the creator. Enjoy.

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3 Responses to Tracking Through Paul Thomas Anderson’s Career

  1. DrFrood says:

    PT’s also got a huge mentor-worship thing going for Terry Malick…Controversial, but there’s a growing noise suggests he might even have surpassed him…Not convinced by that, myself – I think they’re equally worthy of praise. Then again I think I’d rather watch an Anderson film.

    But anyhoo – Les Mis, really? Best film nominations generally? By which I mean Django and Silver Linings. Yes Jennifer Lawrence is simply fabulous, and Silver Linings is supposed to be a superior form of romcom (or so it’s sold), but Django is supposed to continue the tired cartoonish uberviolence schtick of Basterds.

    Can’t help but suspect Tarantino’s latest got the nom because of his name – the subject matter might be Oscar-baiting, but Tarantino’s approach doesn’t seem terribly, uh, Academy friendly.

    I hope Argo gets the award. But movie musicals have a great tradition of winning awards despite most of the cast traditionally struggling to carry a tune.

    • Zac Petrillo says:

      True. I completely forgot about Malick. In some ways, though, I think that might be something born out of the “shoot a ton of film and find it in the edit” quality that they share. However, I do often see more of a page one direction in Anderson’s films than Malick’s. In other words, I tend to have a pretty decent grasp on what he’s going for or at least that there is always something he IS going for.

      As for Les Miz: yeah, I’m not sure I get the praise at all. In most cases, I can get to a place of understanding (Blind Side for instance). Les Miz seems to me a mess of a movie that would get more intelligible but no less bloated if I knew the play. I guess you’re right, these films have a way of getting praise just for existing at all. I think the idea that they’ve somehow achieved something great by having the actors sing on set is a little bogus, but what do I know?

      • DrFrood says:

        Yeah I get the impression from interviews with people who’ve worked with either of them that they seem to be constantly filming, endlessly redoing scenes, retaking shots.

        Whatever they’re doing it works. (even if just by accident!)

        As for the Oscars, it’s all political (so I’m told). I can’t gripe – I don’t care whether the Academy rewards a film or not – I’ll watch a film or not depending on whether por not I want to see it.

        In fact typically I avoid films that win best film or are sold on the basis of a best actor win because they tend to be tainted by the fact the likes of The Reader, Shakespeare in Love, Braveheart are previous winners for best actor/actress/film.

        And it took them far too long to recognise Gary Oldman. And then gave the award to The Artist, which far as I can see received awards purely on the basis of being monochrome and silent. Whereas Oldman’s performance in Tinker, Tailor is extraordinary.

        Question of taste admittedly, but I think you’re right when you suggest that some films/performances get nods for the sake of it.

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