One Good Thing: Paul Thomas Anderson’s Messy Glorious Music Videos

Honestly, many of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films – including his Oscar-nominated comedy Licorice Pizza – fancy extended music videos. Sometimes they are basically: Magnoliareleased in 1999, Anderson’s attempt to adapt his friend Aimee Mann’s music into a movie† (The results suggest it was a good idea.)

Licorice PizzaThe needle drops, woven into the intoxicatingly emotional landscape of a 1970s Valley summer, feel like pleasant little heartbeats every time. While composing the weird tinkling soundtrack for Punch-drunk love (2002), Jon Brion mixed original music with a song from the 80’s movie by Robert Altman popeye, with wonderful effect. And of course, Boogie nights (1997) plays like one long party, so loaded with bangers that they had to release the soundtrack in two parts.

Perhaps this explains why Anderson’s music videos, in turn, resemble movies. In some cases they are actually short films: there is Valentine (2017), a fly-on-the-wall studio documentary featuring LA-based pop-rock band Haim, and animation (2019), a collaboration with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who plays as dystopian sci-fi with a hopeful side. But even the more traditional films — of which he’s directed dozens since the 1990s with artists like (ex-girlfriend) Fiona Apple, Joanna Newsom, Radiohead, Haim, Aimee Mann, and Michael Penn — feel like mini-movies with his unmistakable fingerprints.

What are those fingerprints? Anderson’s movies always feel a little grubby, a little strange, with main characters often looking a little out of place in their world – a perfect match for musicians.

In The teacher (2012), loner Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is whimsically inappropriate and unpredictable, a man about to explode or shrivel at any unexpected moment. Two years later in inherent vice, Phoenix is ​​now a tense homicide detective who is a day late and a dollar short as life races past him. Boogie nightsDirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) is really just a kid looking for a family to belong to; he finds it in a glamorous but ragtag band of porn actors. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), the prospector in downtown There will be blood (2007), is a man of the times, at the same time modern and somewhat medieval in his outlook.

The list could go on and on, so it’s super fun to see those appear in his music videos as well. Take this, my personal favorite, for Fiona Apple’s 1998 cover of “Across the Universe”:

Apple sits quietly and earnestly singing in the middle of a dinner and is absolutely thrown away by a horde of men in suits. The result is a hazy dreamscape, and we wonder what exactly this lovely young woman is doing in the midst of absolute chaos. She is in another world. (And nothing will change it.)

Same vibe in this Aimee Mann video, for “Save Me”:

Mann sits amid scenes from Magnolia, which seemingly describes the emotional plea of ​​the lone cast of characters – “Why don’t you save me?” – but also her own, as one of those in the “ranks of the freaks / who suspect / they could never love anyone.” After all, she’s a ghost here. They don’t even know she’s there.

Or this video for Joanna Newsom’s song “Divers”, in which she looms over the landscape like a goddess or a giant, alone amid harmonious nature, a strange and terrifying presence that sings of a lost love:

“You don’t know my name,” she concludes. “But I know yours.”

At times, Anderson portrays his characters’ incoherence, their uncanny alienation, by following them as they forcefully stride through scenes of utter chaos. Long tracking shots are one of its cinematic features; they are all over Licorice Pizzaof course, but perhaps most famous is the three-minute continuous shot that opens Boogie nights

He just shows it off, but he likes to do it. Here he follows Joanna Newsom – this time without a steadicam – through the hectic streets of Greenwich Village as she sings “Sapokanikan”:

Or, in this very famous music video, he recoils in one continuous shot from Boogie nights composer Michael Penn, who sings “Try” while powering the longest corridor in America (at a quarter of a mile). Watch Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cameos:

In recent years, Anderson has regularly collaborated with Haim, and in those videos you can see all of his fingerprints again; the videos are messy and beautiful, and the camera is a character as much as the musicians. Perhaps the cutest of these is the video for their 2019 single “Summer Girl,” in which the sisters walk through Los Angeles, slowly removing layers of sweatshirts and shirts as they enter the hottest season:

The group started shooting the “Summer Girl” video with Anderson in fact before the song was completed, and he eventually contributed some unused film lines (when a writing credit declined).

Most recently, his video for “Lost Track” (released March 1) features Danielle Haim looking like a disgruntled teen feeling miserable at a horrible party where she’s the odd man out. “I’m trying to feel good / With all these people / I’m trying but I’m just numb / This time”, she sings for the camera as a bunch of women in retro dresses buzz around her having a great time:

Haim’s collaboration with Anderson is so deep that the youngest Haim, Alana, is the star of Licorice Pizza, in a groundbreaking performance that garnered universal acclaim. She plays another young woman who feels out of place everywhere, from the world of adults she doesn’t want to join her own family (played wonderfully by her own real-life sisters and parents). In the film, you feel the trust between artist and director, the kind of thing that comes from years of collaboration.

That’s what always made Anderson’s movies so satisfying to watch. He’s a director who likes to push people’s bruises and stab them in the side, but never in a painful way. You get the feeling that he loves his characters.

It’s no different in his music videos: whether he slowly zooms in on Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood play guitar in a dusky parkor turn Fiona Apple to avant-garde contrapuntal goddessor Danielle Haim going through a car washyou can feel the fascination with faces and the tension between joy and the feeling that life just gets through really weird. View them all in orderand you might be wondering if he’s a music video director in the first place after all.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s music videos are available for: watch on youtube† For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the A good case archives.

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