Like Jean Renoir and Max Ophüls, most of Paul Thomas Anderson's films are characterized by a constantly moving camera. Like François Truffaut and Martin Scorsese, his films are the work of a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film and film technique, who is able to make tried and true techniques as fresh and as vibrant as when D.W. Griffith first started to discover them. Like Robert Altman, Anderson thrives on working with large ensembles of actors. Like Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton, his films often depict the suburban U.S. as a place of alienation, and his characters are often alienated people who must in some way or another learn to assimilate themselves into some kind of family environment.
All of this comparison to past directors might make one assume that P.T. Anderson is unoriginal. That could not be further from the truth. He is one of those great joys for film-goers: a master director who seems to have come out of nowhere. Like Spielberg in the 1970s and Spike Lee in the 1980s, Anderson went from being a grip to auteur in seemingly no time.
Another factor may be that if directors like Burton and Lee were born in the twilight of the baby boomer years (the late 1950s), Anderson was born in 1970. He was one of the first of the "video store" generation of film-makers. His father was the first man on his block to own a V.C.R., and from a very early age Anderson had an infinite number of titles available to him. While film-makers like Spielberg cut their teeth making high-8 films, Anderson cut his teeth shooting films on video and editing them from V.C.R. to V.C.R.
Part of Anderson's artistic D.N.A. comes from his father, who hosted a late night horror show in Cleveland. His father knew a number of oddball celebrities such as Robert Ridgely, an actor who often appeared in Mel Brooks' films and would later play "The Colonel" in Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997). Anderson was also very much shaped by growing up in "The Valley", specifically the suburban San Fernando Valley of greater Los Angeles. The Valley may have been immortalized in the 1980s for its mall-hopping "Valley Girls", but for Anderson it was a slightly seedy part of suburban America. You were close to Hollywood, yet you weren't there. Would-bes and burn-outs populated the area. Anderson's experiences growing up in "The Valley" have no doubt shaped his artistic self, especially since three of his four theatrical features are set in the Valley.
Anderson got into film-making at a young age. His most significant amateur film was The Dirk Diggler Story (1988), a sort of mock-documentary a la This Is Spinal Tap (1984), about a once-great pornography star named Dirk Diggler. After enrolling in N.Y.U.'s film program for two days, Anderson got his tuition back and made his own short film, Cigarettes & Coffee (1993). He also worked as a production assistant on numerous commercials and music videos before he got the chance to make his first feature, something he liked to call Hard Eight (1996), but would later become known to the public as "Hard Eight". The film was developed and financed through The Sundance Lab, not unlike Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992). Anderson cast three actors whom he would continue working with in the future: Altman veteran Philip Baker Hall, the husky and lovable John C. Reilly and, in a small part, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who so far has been featured in all four of Anderson's films. The film deals with a guardian angel type (played by Hall) who takes down-on-his-luck Reilly under his wing. The deliberately paced film featured a number of Anderson trademarks: wonderful use of source light, long takes and top-notch acting. Yet the film was reedited (and retitled) by Rysher Entertainment against Anderson's wishes. It was admired by critics, but didn't catch on at the box office. Still, it was enough for Anderson to eventually get his next movie financed. "Boogie Nights" was, in a sense, a remake of "The Dirk Diggler Story", but Anderson threw away the satirical approach and instead painted a broad canvas about a makeshift family of pornographers. The film was often joyous in its look at the 1970s and the days when pornography was still shot on film, still shown in theatres, and its actors could at least delude themselves into believing that they were movie stars. Yet "Boogie Nights" did not flinch at the dark side, showing a murder and suicide, literally in one (almost) uninterrupted shot, and also showing the lives of these people deteriorate, while also showing how their lives recovered.
Anderson not only worked with Hall, Reilly and Hoffman again, he also worked with Julianne Moore, Melora Walters, William H. Macy and Luis Guzmán. Collectively, Anderson had something that was rare in U.S. cinema: a stock company of top-notch actors. Aside from the above mentioned, Anderson also drew terrific performances from Burt Reynolds and Mark Wahlberg, two actors whose careers were not exactly going full-blast at the time of "Boogie Nights", but who found themselves to be that much more employable afterwards.
The success of "Boogie Nights" gave Anderson the chance to really go for broke in Magnolia (1999), a massive mosaic that could dwarf Altman's Nashville (1975) in its number of characters, ranging from a dying family patriarch to a young boy being exploited on a quiz show, and how their lives begin to spin out of control on one really rainy day. Many were perplexed by the divine intervention at the end (I will not reveal it for those of you who haven't seen it), while others were put off by the gloom and number of stories being intertwined. Yet just as many people were fascinated at how a director not yet thirty years old could make a film so complex and so powerful.
Anderson has certainly proven himself to be a director of formidable skill and power, but has not yet reached a particularly wide audience. Still, he proved that he could win mainstream approval with Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Unlike his other films, this was not an ensemble piece, but a starring vehicle for Adam Sandler. Many people were a bit taken aback by the idea of the director of "Magnolia" directing a film with the star of Billy Madison (1995), even if Sandler's co-star was the always great Emily Watson. Yet it proved to be a bizarre, quirky and very well made film that tapped into Sandler's anger and vulnerability in a way that his prepubescent comedies failed to. Anderson was also awarded a "Best Director" award at Cannes, while the film went on to do fair business at the box office.
Anderson will almost surely create more great works in the future. Whether he will cross over to a Spielberg-sized audience or whether he will be fated to be a well-regarded "national treasure" like Scorsese (not a bad fate if you ask me) remains to be seen.
[Camel cigarettes] All smoking characters in Anderson's movies smoke Camel cigarettes - Philip Baker Hall smokes Camel Filters in Hard Eight (1996), William H. Macy smokes Camel Lights in Magnolia (1999).
Frequently uses the Iris In/Out film technique. This technique has one part of the scene encircled, while the rest is black. Also used during the silent film era as a way of opening and closing shots.
Frequently uses long takes (without any cuts) in his films
His films are often set in the San Fernando Valley, California
[Recurring names] Paul Thomas Anderson has used Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jon Brion in four films; Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Melora Walters and Luis Guzmán in three films; Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay and Michael Penn in two films.
Father, Ernie Anderson, was a local celebrity in Cleveland, where he hosted horror shows using the name "Ghoulardi".
Son of Ernie Anderson.
Dropped out of NYU's film program after two days. Subsequently got his tuition payment back and used the money to make Cigarettes & Coffee (1993).
He shaves his head before SOME productions. He did not shave his head before the production of Magnolia (1999), as evidenced in the documentary on the DVD.
His favorite all-time film is Network (1976)
For the brief time he was at NYU film school he handed in some of Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet's work as his own. When he got it back with a "C" grade he decided to leave.
He is a good friend of Quentin Tarantino.
Is a big fan of Adam Sandler and his movies.
He has three children with his partner Maya Rudolph: daughter Pearl Minnie Anderson (b. October 15, 2005), daughter Lucille Anderson (b. November 6, 2009), and son Jack Anderson (b. July 3, 2011).
Attended Emerson College in Boston, Mass.
Directed 7 actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Day-Lewis won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in There Will Be Blood (2007).
Is a big fan of Major League Baseball. His favorite teams are his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers and his late father's favorite team, the Boston Red Sox.
Paul and Maya Rudolph are expecting their fourth child [February 17, 2013].
I have a feeling, one of those gut feelings, that I'll make pretty good movies the rest of my life. And maybe I'll make some clunkers, maybe I'll make some winners, but I guess the way that I really feel is that Magnolia (1999) is, for better or worse, the best movie I'll ever make.
My dad was one of the first guys on the block to have a VCR. So along with all the videotapes that I would rummage through, I would find porno movies. Not that it twisted me into some maniac or anything. I was watching porno from age 10 to 17. I had an interest in it.
I had older brothers and sisters who were doing drugs and playing rock music and doing all those insane things. I was watching.
You can really see a strong and distinctive line between '70s and '80s porn, not just in the quality but in the spirit behind it.
Today's movie villains often remind us of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart and that's as cool as it gets. There's something comforting if they're hip and cool. They're not entirely real, or not entirely threatening, so it might be a little easier to swallow if they remind us of traditional movie villains.
I watch [Steven Spielberg] movies, and know: Those are fairy tales. I understand what he does. And I make a film on cancer and frogs - however I want that many spectators nevertheless! I find that is a good goal, and I consider it a weakness of mine that I haven't reached it yet.
All I wanna try and do is sing "Melancholy Baby", y'know, but then it starts to come out like "The Star Spangled Banner" half the time.
[on the meaning of Magnolia (1999)'s ending] Oh, how I hate it, when directors are supposed to explain their films. I only say this much: If I had had more cash, I would have let it rain cats and dogs.
[on the popular belief that Daniel Day-Lewis is indifferent or not completely committed to remaining an actor] That is an amazing misconception. Daniel loves acting so much that it becomes a quest for perfection. People don't know how Daniel can do this job the way that he does it, and my feeling is, I just can't understand how anyone could do it any other way.
[on researching for There Will Be Blood (2007)] After a few trips to Bakersfield, where they have museums devoted to the early oilmen, I started to get a sense of the film. The museums are largely trailers with a lot of oil equipment lying around the yard. Back in the day, enough people had cameras and they took a lot of pictures. Oil fields were an interesting thing to photograph, and that research made it easy to put the pieces of their times together.
All of life's questions and answers are in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). It's about greed and ambition and paranoia and looking at the worst parts of yourself. When I was writing There Will Be Blood (2007), I would put "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" on before I went to bed at night, just to fall asleep to it.
I remember the bad outfits my parents dressed me up in and my Beatles haircut but I never watched "The Brady Bunch" (1969). The Partridges? I hated their music.
No matter how many times you do it, you don't get used to the sadness - for me at least - of coming to the end of a film.
[on Stanley Kubrick] We're all children of Kubrick, aren't we? Is there anything you can do that he hasn't done?
On Stanley Kubrick: It's so hard to do anything that doesn't owe some kind of debt to what Stanley Kubrick did with music in movies. Inevitably, you're going to end up doing something that he's probably already done before. It always seem like we're falling behind whatever he came up with. Singin' in the Rain (1952) in A Clockwork Orange (1971) - that was the first time I became so aware of music in movies. So no matter how hard you try to do something new, you're always following behind.
I really subscribe to that old adage that you should never let the audience get ahead of you for a second. So if the film's abrasive and wrongfoots people then, y'know, that's great. But I hope it involves an audience. If not, that's my fuck-up.
Well I'd really love to work with Robert De Niro, because he's still the most talented actor out there. Maybe he makes some bad choices, which can be frustrating. On the one hand, you want to say, 'What the fuck's going on?' On the other, you can't get mad at him for wanting to work, because most actors would be murderers if they weren't working.
[on Robert Altman] I knew him pretty well, off and on for about 10 years, but I had gotten to know him particularly well in the last three or four years. I got to watch Bob navigate that film, and I watched how good he was at evading questions, in the best way. He was really good at not committing himself too early to something. He didn't impose his will early. He loved to work with people. He loved to see what they came up with. He would give things time to settle, to rise or to fall, and watching him do that was a great lesson in patience. Because at the end of the day, he invited everybody in to work on this film, but he ended up getting exactly what he wanted, and everyone else felt that they had been part of it, because they had. They really made the film with Bob. How he did that was a lesson to me.
Screenwriting is like ironing. You move forward a little bit and go back and smooth things out.
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