WATCH: A Montage of the Sensuous Close-Ups in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’

WATCH: A Montage of the Sensuous Close-Ups in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’

The first time I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, and the second, the sexuality which gives the film its essential underpinning didn’t make much of an impression on me. I was aware that vaguely lewd things were going on onscreen, and I suppose I should have been more interested in–if that’s the right way to phrase it–Roller Girl’s proud nudity, in Amber Waves’s sad sexuality, in Dirk’s Diggler, but really, I wasn’t. In all honesty, the appearance of the film was more interesting to me–its flash, its swagger, its Scorsese-esque movement–than its insight into the porn world, or its sexual excesses. That may have been the point, but it’s a little hard to say, in Anderson’s case, because so often his films revel in the depths to which they penetrate, and sexual over-indulgence is certainly one color in his palette, as Press Play has indicated previously. Nevertheless, given that, the close-up shot is an effective tool for Anderson–perhaps just as effective as the long shot. What’s interesting is what Anderson does with the technique: rather than using it for suspense, or to drive narrative, he’s trying to force us to look at something, really look at it, and perhaps get lost in its strangeness for a while. The object could be a camera lens, a cup of coffee being poured, a zipper: regardless, Anderson drives us inward. And we find, as this excellent, if spontaneously executed, montage by Justin Barham shows, that the journey can be very exciting indeed.  

Watch: A Video Essay on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Provocative Use of the Long Shot

Watch: A Video Essay on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Provocative Use of the Long Shot

The characters in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson share many similarities.
They come from dysfunctional families, they are desperately seeking
acceptance, they let their emotions get the best of them, and the list
goes on. But a similarity that seems to especially stand out is a sense
of isolation. Anderson’s characters are adrift, looking for someone or
something to connect with in their lonely worlds. This idea is
expressed visually through the use of long/extreme long shots. We are
often presented with characters lost within the frame, and therefore
have trouble connecting with said characters–we become isolated
ourselves. Here is a look at Anderson’s use of the long/extreme long shot
throughout his first six feature films.

MUSIC: "Alethia" by Jonny Greenwood


Hard Eight (1996)
Boogie Nights (1997)


Punch-Drunk Love

There Will be Blood

The Master

Jacob T. Swinney is an industrious film editor and filmmaker, as well as a recent graduate of Salisbury University.

Watch: A Video Essay About Stanley Kubrick’s Influence on Wes Anderson and Others (NSFW, Maybe)

Watch: A Video Essay About Stanley Kubrick’s Influence on Wes Anderson and Others (NSFW, Maybe)

Press Play veteran Nelson Carvajal offers, with this video essay, a look at the ways Stanley Kubrick has visually influenced many directors, including Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, and others. As Carvajal superimposes one scene on top of another, you may spot connections you hadn’t made before–or perhaps some you had made without quite realizing it yet. To add to the fun, Carvajal has presented some of the clips in mirror fashion, like a kaleidoscope–all too appropriate, because, after all, the modern work reflects and builds upon its predecessors as much as it creates a world of its own. Right?

Watch: The Inherent Vice in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Films: A Video Essay

Watch: The Inherent Vice in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Films: A Video Essay

his career, Paul Thomas Anderson has focused on human vulnerability. Films from
Punch Drunk Love to Magnolia to The Master to Inherent Vice to There Will Be Blood portray love as equal parts tender and strange. The
protagonists of Anderson’s films struggle with a range of
vices, from drug and sexual addiction, to anxiety and depression, to megalomania,
to gambling, to rage, to straight-up greed.

uses vice as a way to explore different dimensions of human sadness. Each hero
is promised some kinds of greatness—Barry Egan wants to achieve success by collecting
frequent flyer miles from pudding box tops in Punch Drunk Love. Dirk Diggler hopes to keep up his fame and
recognition by virtue of his enormous package in Boogie Nights. Troubled Freddie Quell hopes to find both freedom
and family when he meets his mentor, the cult leader Lancaster Dodd, in The Master.

I was
first introduced to the world of P.T., as I affectionately called him, when I
watched Boogie Nights in a dingy
college dorm room, my sophomore year. There was a painting of an ocean on the
wall and a bottle of melatonin on the dresser, a tiny hand-me-down television
we borrowed from a friend that still played VHS tapes. At the time I spent full
days writing poems and songs and learning to be an artist and a writer. I was
smart, but I often didn’t live up to my potential and I wasn’t a particularly
good student. I have many good memories, but I have a lot of sad ones too. I
struggled throughout college with an eating disorder, I often had a strained
relationship with my parents, I rushed headfirst into a relationship that
taught me everything there is to appreciate about young love, and everything
there is to be wary of too.

In my
last year of college I’d walk past the elementary school at about noon every
day, on my way home from getting out of morning classes, and I’d see a sea of
children playing just over the horizon. My painful memories from college seem
blurry and imprecise, but images like these remain clear. At the time I didn’t
know it, but moments like these were slowly carving out my heart into the shape
it was meant to be.

P.T. Anderson strikes such an emotional cord in me because I discovered him at
a time when I was first learning to push back against cynicism. The truth may burn in a P.T. Anderson film, but even when it
does, we learn not to regret the scar. The
worlds that he explores are darkly sensual, hardboiled and masculine, but
softness and light always seem to linger somewhere in the periphery: sunlight
arching over an oil rig, a harmonium found next to a warehouse. We focus on tear-filled
faces throughout Magnolia, but the
final shot was still a close-up of a crying woman’s smile.–Arielle Bernstein

Arielle Bernstein is
a writer living in Washington, DC. She teaches writing at American
University and also freelances. Her work has been published in
Millions, The Rumpus, St. Petersburg Review and The Ilanot Review. She
has been listed four times as a finalist in
Glimmer Train short story
. She is currently writing her first book.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and
content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films
usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as
the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW which
boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A
Prehistoric Value System." You can follow Nelson on Twitter here.

VIDEO ESSAY: Steadicam Progress – the Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots

VIDEO ESSAY: Steadicam Progress – the Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots

With The Master winning the Best Cinematography award from the National Society of Film Critics over the weekend, here's a look at the evolution of Paul Thomas Anderson's approach to his films' camerawork over his first five features. The video above and essay posted below originally appeared in Sight & Sound.

One thing I wish I had explored in some way was the contribution of Anderson's longtime cinematographer Robert Elswit, who shot Anderson's first five features. The video makes the implicit auteurist assumption that the visions being expressed through the camerawork are that of the director, with the cinematographer acting as a technical facilitator. This of course is a gross oversimplifcation of the collaborative dynamic between director and cinematographer that perhaps gives too much credit to one party.

My dissatisfaction with this reductive approach informs the topic of my subsequent video essay for Sight & Sound, an exploration of the creative contribution of special effects team Rhythm & Hues, as a postulation of the artistic visions brought about by technical craftsmanship.


Thinking on what sets The Master apart from Paul Thomas Anderson’s earlier films, what strikes me most vividly is a marked difference in camera movement and staging. I wouldn’t be surprised if a proper cinemetric analysis found that up to half of the film’s running time consists of close-ups with little to no camera movement.

This is a far cry from the run-and-gun days of Boogie Nights and Magnolia with their stunning array of sweeping Steadicam shots, push-ins and whip pans. But upon surveying his career film by film, one can trace an evolution in his technique. This video essay examines one signature tracking shot from each of Anderson’s five previous features, showing how each epitomises his cinematography at each point, from the flashiness of his earlier films to a more subtle approach that favours composition over movement.

While The Master offers a couple of swirling tracking shots in a department store, and later a pair of straight-line lateral tracking shots to match the onanistic thrill of motorcycle joyriding, the film settles more often into shot/reverse shot dialogues in cozy interior sets. It seems that Anderson’s camera strategy here has less in common with ScorseseAltman or even Kubrick (with all of whom he’s frequently compared) than with Jonathan Demme. Indeed, in the DVD commentary of Boogie Nights, Anderson expresses a profound emulation of Demme, though Demme himself couldn’t recognise a shot from Boogie Nights that Anderson claimed to have blatantly derived from him.

Here the connection is apparent as never before, in a film that seems less concerned with riding the kinetic thrill of a camera set in motion than in tapping the psychic voltage of physiognomies seen up close. In his most psychologically intimate film to date, Anderson largely foregoes his signature camera movements in order to tunnel into the human mind.

Kevin Lee is a film critic, filmmaker, and leading proponent of video form film criticism, having produced over 100 short video essays on cinema and television over the past five years. He is a video essayist and founding editor of Fandor, and editor of Indiewire’s Press Play blog, labelled by Roger Ebert as “the best source of video essays online.” He tweets at @alsolikelife.

The Venice International Film Festival reviews are in. Viva Italia!

The Venice International Film Festival reviews are in. Viva Italia!


EDITOR'S NOTE: Writer Tommaso Tocci is covering the Venice International Film Festival for Press Play this year and so we have created this landing page which collects all of those links together. Here they are.




Long awaited at the Lido, after a prolonged game of cat-and-mouse between the Festival and Harvey Weinstein’s marketing machine, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master has finally been shown.

This is an elusive film, destined to stand out due to its surrounding circumstances. First, the anticipation, five years after 2007's There Will Be Blood; then the will-they-or-won’t-they dance with the Festival before it was announced (separate from other announcements) in the Competition line-up. In the meantime, The Master started popping up at surprise screenings in the United States before turning up in its full 70mm glory—an atypical approach, as was that of Samsara—at the actual Festival.

Expectations were sky-high, like nothing else around here in the past few years. And yet the film itself doesn’t, on its surface, justify that kind of momentum, because it tells the story of a man who is unable to find a sense of purpose. A WWII veteran clumsily forced back into society, Freddie Quell struggles to keep a job, drinks heavy cocktails (which include solvents, pills, and any kind of alcohol he can find), and is prone to angry outbursts. The Navy is not entirely to blame, though, since flashbacks show him in a similar predicament while on duty on the Pacific front. In fact, Joaquin Phoenix’s body and Anderson’s composition make it clear that Freddie and the space he inhabits will always be painfully at odds.

His meeting with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, a self-professed uber-thinker with a group of followers and a desire to find solutions to the world’s problems, quickly ignites another one of the director's trademark relationships involving fatherhood issues, conflicting trajectories, and opposing Weltanschauung. Only this time the dynamic appears to be more subtle. It’s quite obvious why Freddie would jump at the opportunity to follow such a master; Dodd’s grand delusions and clarity of intentions provide Freddie with the purpose he has been desperately seeking. More intriguing is Dodd’s fascination with the man who has entered his life: at first it’s mutual intoxication, as the two swap promises in exchange for the ‘good stuff’ that Freddie’s talent can provide. But Freddie is also an ever-regenerating blank slate onto which Dodd can project his quest, a renewable source of infatuation. A scene showing the two men hugging, shot from the side, demonstrates their dynamic perfectly: as Hoffman’s rotund form lunges into the space of the Other, Phoenix’s torso creates an emptiness to accommodate him.

The subtle dynamic between the two central characters informs the style and the pace of the whole film, making it hard to grasp. The core tension is generated by verbal repeition, as in the "applications" and exercises Dodd subjects his “guinea pig and protegé” to. Anderson replicates this with his use of depth in his shots, locating Phoenix behind elements in the foreground, placing him at odds with gorgeous backgrounds—courtesy of the film’s 70mm crispness and Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography—and generally stripping The Master of structural drive, an element which was crucial to There Will Be Blood. A fitting change, considering that Freddie Quell is the polar opposite of Daniel Plainview. The former is desperate to find a place, even though he doesn’t know how. The latter will stop at nothing to make his place, knowing all too well where to drill and what to hit. Plainview exuded directness, from the center of Anderson’s symmetry. Quell pathologically refuses progress (yet, sooner or later, everybody has to “pick a spot”…) and seems always well-positioned to disrupt those symmetries, starting with the twisted mess that Phoenix turned his face into for the role. Despite the enormous performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and despite the fact that the story is essentially about two men, Anderson cannot help focusing the film on its central character. There Will Be Blood was a radical departure in Anderson’s career; The Master displays similar scope and weight but has a more ambiguous texture.

Tommaso Tocci is an Italian film critic, copywriter and translator. Follow him on Twitter.

VIDEO ESSAY: There Will Be Blood and Symmetry

VIDEO ESSAY: There Will Be Blood and Symmetry

Paul Thomas Anderson’s youthful panache and exploratory bent has yielded a small but forceful filmography. Even his two shortest efforts, Hard Eight and Punch-Drunk Love, are imbued with a relentless, epic spirit. Anderson has always embraced the electric potential in themes such as faith, incest, scamming, family dynamics, and the American West.

If Magnolia was a work that could only be made by a cocky, precocious rogue, then There Will Be Blood was evidence of mature polish. Magnolia’s creative ecstasy was replaced by tight formal elegance in Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood, and they’re all variations on the common themes of fatherhood, power, and spirituality. However, There Will Be Blood’s scope was so enormous that it required a type of maturity that Anderson had yet to demonstrate. He succeeded by employing large-scale symmetry capable of sustaining his dangerous ambition. The film didn’t collapse under its own gravitas because of a careful system of visual and thematic rhymes. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis delivered a performance of Streetcar-Brando level virtuosity, but accolades are due equally to Anderson, who constructed a final vision of the character from subtle visual cues that lead Plainview from rise to ruin.

Matt Zurcher is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University studying film and musicology. He is an arts critic for CMU’s newspaper and blogs at

VIDEO ESSAY: 2001/The Dawn of Blood

VIDEO ESSAY: 2001/The Dawn of Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who wears his cinematic influences on his sleeve. From sprawling dramas that echo Robert Altman’s work (Short Cuts, Nashville) to the signature camera movements found in Martin Scorsese movies (most notably Scorsese’s Copacabana Nightclub tracking shot in Goodfellas, which Anderson employs during a television studio walkthrough in Magnolia), the filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson is the direct result of passionate cinephilia merged with mastery in filmmaking. And Anderson’s last film There Will Be Bloodis the kind of staggering, challenging and singular piece of cinema that launches a director into the stratosphere, to be hailed as an “auteur.”

In Blood, it’s the influential work of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that permeates the body of the film. To say that There Will Be Bloodis only about the dawn of twentieth century capitalism is about as valid as describing 2001: A Space Odyssey as merely an astronaut’s adventure tale. Consider: Anderson’s masterpiece opens with a wordless, quietly haunting sequence, which in many ways mirrors “The Dawn of Man” section in 2001. Next, both films heavily rely on unnerving, sweeping pieces of music to drive key scenes; in 2001, György Ligeti’s “Requiem” brings malice to the mysterious black monolith, while Jonny Greenwood’s disconcerting Blood score suggests a volatile turn of the century American frontier. Finally, if one considers the framing of certain shots—apes around a black monolith, workers around an oil derrick—and the implications they carry, it’s obvious that Anderson is channeling Kubrick’s powerful visualization on the primordial nature of humanity, amidst the frail, dangerous act of discovery.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOW which boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System."