Thursday, November 08, 2007


So much has already been written about Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood and it hasn't even opened theatrically yet! From the 17 minutes previewed mid-September at Telluride (which Karina recounted in loving detail at Spoutblog) to the critical rush after its advance screening at Austin's Fantastic Film Fest (diligently gathered by Dave Hudson at The Greencine Daily), to the more recent advance screening at San Francisco's Castro Theatre to benefit the John Burton Foundation (on whose board Paul Thomas Anderson serves), the film is being extolled as the next Giant or Citizen Kane. Mileage varies of course—especially with the cost of oil these days—and what fascinates me more than the film itself is the film's advance reception.

By internet buzz alone the benefit screening of There Will Be Blood packed the Castro Theatre. You have to understand, this is a big theatre. And many established film festivals who use the Castro as their venue and hire the hardworking services of local publicists rarely fill the seats up so easily, so I was quite impressed. In fact, the San Francisco publicists for There Will Be Blood didn't even know this event was happening until they found out about it online and rushed down to at least strike a presence. I'm familiar with Anderson well enough—I got turned on by the suggestive prosthetics in Boogie Nights; I puzzled over the frog rain in Magnolia—but, I never quite grasped until this screening that apparently Anderson is the beloved voice of his generation. Now I could ask, "Why?" but that would merely reveal my age. So, instead, I'll just be content with the confirmation that online word-of-mouth is the powerful tool I've long believed it is and that this is some kickass interaction between Anderson and his fanbase.

As for the film, I can't say much more than has already been shouted from the rooftops. It's a stately, elegant piece of work, intriguingly adapted by Anderson from Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, muscularly lensed by Robert Elswit, and passionately performed by the film's testosteroned ensemble (with Daniel Day-Lewis sure to secure nominations for his ruthless portrayal of Daniel Plainview). Anderson's film, however, is much too long and unnecessarily obscure at key points (I thought the doublecasting of Paul Dano as both brothers Paul and Eli Sunday was misguided); but, I was wholly impressed with Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood's remarkably innovative score, which Peter Martin at Twitch says "serves as a dissonant counterpoint to the proceedings, lending a distinct, unsettling edge to many scenes. It's completely in harmony with the non-romantic aspects of the tale." Variety's Todd McCarthy adds: "[T]he sweeping, surging, constantly surprising score … could be described as avant-garde symphonic. It develops over long, sustained periods, not always in precise emotional alignment with what's taking place onscreen, but generally deepening and making more mysterious the film's moods and meanings. It's a daring, adventurous, exploratory piece of work, one that on its own signals the picture's seriousness." Foregrounding the desolation of scrub brush desert with a jarring electric whine registered heat and danger in one of the most imaginative and evocative ways possible. Greenwood should dust off his mantle and get ready for his Oscar.

Back in July 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story on the curtain dropping on state Senate President John Burton's long and distinguished public service career but added with amusement that Burton was embarking on a new role in life: the Hollywood actor. Anderson had offered him the role of a grouchy, loudmouthed politician in There Will Be Blood. Introducing the film to his Castro audience (describing the theater as "the best theatre in America, right?"), Anderson wryly admitted that the $10 we each paid for tickets to benefit the John Burton Foundation was partly "guilt money" because he had to cut Burton's scenes from the movie.

"I cannot tell you," Anderson effused, "what it means to be here to see all these people out on a Monday night to see our film that we're so proud of. This is how it should be done, in a theater like this on film, it's just a thrill!"

Cross-published on Twitch.


Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing this!

Interesting side note - I've been trying to track down the novel which, apparently, has been out of print for a few years and isn't being re-published until Christmas, no doubt to coincide with the film's release.

Brian Darr said...

While from this vantage point I love the idea of Johnny Greenwood getting an Oscar for his completely acoustic score (that "electric whine" effect having been produced by a string section), I have to remain skeptical that he'll pull it off. I've grown ever more cynical to the idea that the Academy Awards are a true meritocracy, and I worry that the composers doing the nominating might not want to help reward a newcomer to their craft with the industry's biggest prize for his first narrative film score, no matter how accomplished or striking it sounds. I won't be surprised if the score doesn't even nab a nomination, though if it does it will do a lot to start changing my mind about the relevancy of the Academy's music branch.

The nomination is probably the bigger hurdle than the win, but if Greenwood's score clears the former and sets sights on the latter, it sure would help if the film were to get a Best Picture nomination. In recent years there have been a good number of composers winning Best Score Oscars on their first try as nominees, but nearly all of them were to some degree "piggybacking" on a Best Picture winner or nominee. The exception being Rachel Portman when she won for Emma in 1996.

It's also worth noting that none of these first-time nominees won for their first film score. The last people to pull that feat off were David Byrne and Cong Su in 1987 for the Last Emporer, and even they were co-nominees with the more experienced film composer Ryuchi Sakamoto.
/Oscar buff mode.

Michael Guillen said...

Clearly, so much of what I write here on The Evening Class is based upon wishful thinking. Like so many other dreams, it's possibly contingent on the potato I ate for dinner. Now that the buzz of the event has calmed down and Greenwood's gone home with his stringed whine, I can admit to myself (as has been confirmed by others) that the Castro was not "packed"; the balcony was nearly empty. And the publicists did know about the event but were tethered by PTA's own wishes.

Your comments and savvy on how the Oscar thing works is a welcome check, Brian, to my reckless prognostications. I blame it on the popcorn fumes.

milenkos said...

PTA was here in SF at the Castro? I shall kick myself in the head for missing it.