Before we get to the interview itself, let’s just make it clear that Paul Thomas Anderson in the best filmmaker of his generation.
There are many things to consider when assessing a director’s body of work, by which you can compare him/her to their peers. For me the thing that makes PTA stand out from the crowd is the skewed view of the world he brings both visually and emotionally. In the upcoming interview (I promise it’s coming in a few more paragraphs) PTA states that in adapting the work of Thomas Pynchon (for latest release Inherent Vice), he recognised that it’s as if Pynchon knows more about the world than the rest of us; that he sees things from a higher plain. For me, that’s how I’ve always seen Anderson’s work, and that’s what makes his movies both compulsive and joyfully inaccessible.
Like interviewer Marc Maron, I have never been able to watch a PTA film just once. They all demand a good three or four viewings to connect and really hit home properly. But this is no bad thing. The work is so complex and artistically layered that it evolves in your mind as you move from one watch to the next, and the key thing is that it makes you feel.
Most films I rate highly are ones I have hugely enjoyed. I have felt good, or sad, or terrified as the film demanded me feel, and in the best cases the stories have stayed with me for days afterwards; their key beats and messages resonating long after the credits have rolled.
The next level of greatness comes in the form of films that feel like an experience. Any Coen brothers film falls into this category. These works are brilliant in that you feel you’ve taken a journey with the film, often charting territory unfamiliar to you, perhaps even surreal, but you went along for the ride and it was glorious.
But Paul Thomas Anderson films make you feel things you would never expect to feel watching a movie. They do all the things mentioned above, but they also make you look deep inside yourself, forcing your vulnerabilities out and allowing you to question the largest things about your life, and life in general. It seems strange that they should have such a power, especially given that the themes (life, relationships, mortality, ambition) are universally used across the medium by filmmakers seemingly equally gifted. The only explanation is that Anderson sees the world from a higher perspective. He is able to tap into things that matter most, and then show them to us in a way we’ve never quite realised, thereby creating new comprehension; in the same way a brilliant scientist might use layman’s terms to help us understand string theory.
Given this unbelievable talent/skill/perception it would be easy to imagine Paul Thomas Anderson to be some kind of unapproachable master. And yet the following 2 hour interview shows him to be anything but. He is amiable, modest to a fault, and most importantly just a regular guy who loves films. If anything that just elevates him even further.
Sorry for all the preamble, but it needs saying. So now brew yourself a fresh pot, shut off your phone and give yourself two hours to take in one of the best interviews you’re ever likely to hear.