The Circle is Complete

So, in high school I had this friend named Don. Movies were his life- he cut class to make sure he could see Braveheart before the Academy Awards. A small group of people were in awe of Don because he could play the 6 degrees game with any two people in movies. Not just actors, but directors, writers, composers, producers, cinematographers, editors. Everyone tried to match Don, but nobody could keep up- until I tried. I was able to nail every pair he could. I think my best link was Burt Reynolds and Lauren Hutton in Malone. It was the first time I realized that movies were a big part of my life. I started watching movies that I knew were supposed to be good, Touch of Evil being the first, but I didn’t get much out of it other than a good story.

Then in 1998 I saw Boogie Nights. I thought a movie about the porn industry starring Marky Mark would be pretty cheeky, so I was looking forward to it. Instead of laughing at a bunch of silliness, I was rapt. I was sitting there the whole time like Dirk Diggler in Rahad Jackson’s house- realization and understanding washing over me, only no one was throwing firecrackers around. I didn’t just see the story, but the cinematography, acting, editing, directing, writing. From the opening tracking shot to Dirk’s “I’m a star” monologue, the plot points, parallel cuts, montages, music selection all started to make sense. I saw purpose in the way it was made.

Not only do I credit Paul Thomas Anderson with helping me appreciate movies on a higher level, but dude’s also my favorite filmmaker, so I was really looking forward to There Will Be Blood. I waited until the DVD came out (I’ll save the theater rant for another day), so I had to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge a lot of reviews and opinions not to spoil it. But now I’ve seen it. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed in a movie. As expected, the direction, acting, cinematography, music, and art direction were outstanding. I was happy as a chip in dip until the credits rolled. Then crushing, black distaste. I spent two-and-a-half hours watching an egomaniacal bastard accumulate wealth and power. That was the story. My problem was that there was no basis to interpret Daniel Plainview. There wasn’t any way for me to understand what’s driving him or why he seems to hate everyone. Was Plainview’s passive aggressive concern for little Mary Sunday being beaten for not saying her prayers a glimpse into some deep pit inside him where he has concern for his fellow man? Maybe, but there was no other evidence to back that up. That little subplot seemed totally out of place- I don’t recall seeing a lot of compassion anywhere else. It was like Citizen Kane without Rosebud. I just wanted something to use to interpret the character. I had no way to connect with Daniel Plainview, so I just kind of asked myself, “Well, what was the point of that?”

I credit Paul Thomas Anderson with my most cathartic movie experience as well as my most disappointing. I think I’ll go watch Punch-Drunk Love and restore my faith in the guy.

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