“Greatest Pants Movie Of Our Time”

The feedback from last night’s Chicago screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master says four things: (1) it’s a serious and formidable 70mm banquet of a movie, (2) it’s definitely a head-scratcher, (3) you probably need to see it twice in order to figure it out, and (4) it’s probably not worth flying to another West Coast city (i.e., an option that I learned about yesterday) to catch The Master before the Toronto Film Festival. I’m very much looking forward to it, but I can wait.

It would appear (emphasis on that word) at this juncture that The Master‘s Oscar potential is more in the realm of Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a.k.a. “Philly”), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams) and Best Cinematography (Mihai Malaimare Jr.) rather than Best Picture or Best Director.

I’m sorry but it sounds (emphasis on that word) like your typical 62 year-old white-guy Academy member is going to go “huh?” or, at best, “Hmmm.”

To go by tweets from last night’s Chicago screening of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master, everyone was deeply impressed by the 70mm cinematography but almost no one could explain what it means or amounts to. Tweeter after tweeter wrote (and I’m paraphrasing) “I think I have to sleep on it” or “Uhhm, I need to see it again” or “this is precisely the kind of movie that defies instant analysis” and so on.

A tweeter named B.G. Loony, a.k.a. “TheMentalDefect,” wrote, “If you need me, I’ll be at sea mulling over The Master for the rest of the year.”

It’s obviously significant that Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, a major critic, tweeted a joke instead of an attempted summary of some kind. He called The Master “the greatest pants movie of our time,” adding that “you really need 70mm to appreciate all the trouser textures and high waists.” In film critic-ese, a comment like that translates as “what the fuck was that about?” He added that “it was definitely a movie” — another comment that says “I can’t make heads or tails out of this thing.”

Tim Horsburgh wrote that “if you know what is going on the head of any of the characters in The Master, then you are a better Thetan than I.”

A guy called DrNeptune declared that The Master is “one awesome, crazy mess of a movie.”

Screen Daily‘s Patrick McGavin attended and has written a mini-review for Movieline. What does it say that McGavin’s first three graphs are neutrally descriptive and that the first enthusiastic opinion he shares is about the cinematography?

“Running 137 minutes (without final credits), The Master traffics in the director’s trademark themes. The first third of the story appears highly indebted to Orson Welles‘s great and potent 1946 noir The Lady From Shanghai. It’s another of Anderson’s brittle and audacious portraits of wounded masculinity and sexual panic.

“Set in 1950, the story details the complicated emotional interaction of Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), a hollow-eyed World War II veteran who casually insinuates himself into the inner-workings of Lancaster (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a huckster proselytizing for a new self-help religion that has been likened to Scientology.

“Like Mark Wahlberg‘s debased porn actor in Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Freddie constructs an elaborate alternative family from Lancaster’s entourage that results in much unintended conflict when some members of the insular and tight-knit group –especially Amy Adams, who plays Lancaster’s wife — consider him too willful, naive and insufficiently faithful to be a worthy apostle.

“Visually, the movie is a marvel of precise and lyrical imagery. One sustained single-take tracking shot follows a young woman as she models a fur jacket. In another vivid, sexually hallucinatory moment, Freddie imagines all the women surrounding Lancaster during a musical number naked. The 70mm image, with its saturated colors and solidity, casts its own spell. In the first of several tense encounters between the two men that functions as Lancaster’s inquisition of the tremulous Freddie, Anderson unflinchingly keeps the camera tight on their faces. The scene plays out in one long, unbroken take, and the effect is hypnotic.

“As with There Will Be Blood, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood provides a percussive score that’s even more astringent.

“The second half is less audacious and more problematic. The crowd’s reaction was excited though also muted, possibly as a result of fatigue since the closing credits didn’t roll until just before 1 a.m.. Given its complex — and dark — subject matter, The Master is likely to be championed by critics and specialized audiences and largely ignored by the larger public. But last night in Chicago, it ruled.”

  • Sasha Stone

    All will depend on how major critics respond.

    But probably: cinematography, costume, art direction, actor, supp.

    It sounds like a movie Acad. members won’t be able to latch on to (if even obtuse film writers can’t). But if it gets “it’s the best movie of all time” stuff like Tree of Life got, it’s possible.

    Goes without saying: no one gives a fuck if it’s “an Academy movie” or not. It should be judged separately from that. IMO.

  • cyanic

    Thus far not a single mention of Laura Dern. Obvious now an extended cameo. Anderson’s Oscar is in Screenplay as consolation.

  • Tim

    I can confirm Dern is indeed an extended cameo.

    I don’t think it will get Picture, but Director is certainly not out of the question.

    Definitely Phoenix, Hoffman and Cinematography though.

  • The Dude

    “It would appear (emphasis on that word) at this juncture that The Master’s Oscar potential is more in the realm of Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Supporting Actor (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a.k.a. “Philly”), Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams) and Best Cinematography (Mihai Malaimare Jr.) rather than Best Picture or Best Director.

    I’m sorry but it sounds (emphasis on that word) like your typical 62 year-old white-guy Academy member is going to go “huh?” or, at best, “Hmmm.””

    Keep in mind that The Tree of Life got Best Picture and Best Director nominations last year. The reaction after the first screening of that one wasn’t exactly “Oh yeah, I understood that thoroughly; the narrative was really focused and straight-forward.” I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that The Master could score BP and BD nominations as well.

  • Krillian

    Give em a few days to digest and then decide it’s a real MASTERpiece~!

  • ArranNZ

    I was there. Count me in the “I’m not even sure what I thought of it yet” camp. I have no idea if it’s even going to take off with critics.

    Though I’m sure as hell still thinking about it a lot, which is usually a good sign. I really think it will take another viewing to properly absorb.

  • Dabney Coleman

    Saw it last night. Most everyone I saw it with agreed that the first half is really engrossing. The last third begins to become unfocused. But in some ways that is part of the story PTA may be trying to tell.

    Visually it’s one of the best looking films I have ever seen. Long takes and dream like close ups dominate the early parts of the film. Go out of your way to see it in 70mm if you can. The print was flawless last night.

    The key scenes are between Hoffman and Phoenix. Whenever other characters interject the film looses steam. There are scenes that echo moments from Boogie Nights. Especially near the end of the film.

  • Cadavra

    And costumes. Gets the period just right.

  • Kyle_D

    I posted an earlier version of my reaction in the first thread, but I’ll repost a revised version here:

    While there is a lot to process, I’m comfortable calling the film a disappointment. To its credit, tearing down Scientology seems to be the least of the film’s ambitions or concerns, and certain things about it kept me up long after the screening. It’s marinating. I can’t shake it or write it off, which is something. Hoffman’s character is less a stand-in for L. Ron than he is for the whole mechanism of the contradictory repressive super-ego; Phoenix is id; Adams is ego. Problem is that while the whole movie attempts to explore the tension between these elements of the psyche, it just never dramatizes it in a compelling way. Individual scenes work, but the whole is less than satisfying, and the apparent symbolic nature of the characters render them flat and somewhat soulless – this is the first PTA movie I’ve seen where I felt only faint empathy for anyone on screen. After awhile, it’s all just boozy meandering gonzo-dada slipstream rigamarole. 70mm is nice, with one scene blatantly riffing on the mirage imagery from Lawrence of Arabia, but the “wow” effect tapers off after 10 minutes or so. For the record, I rank PTA as one of my favorite filmmakers, and particularly consider There Will Be Blood one of the top 2 or 3 films of the last 20 years or so.

    As a post-script, I’ll add that I am in full agreement Iggy’s pants comment. I was sitting in the third row, I occasionally found myself marveling at the stitching in the clothes.

  • Mark

    I’ve needed time to sleep on all PTA flicks including Boogie Nights. Immediately after, I couldn’t have made an educated guess whether Wahlbeg had just torpedoed or launched his career.

    We might not even have a full grasp on The Master until it hits HBO, when it truly faces the test of OK, I can roll with this movie any time any where.

  • Tim

    Yeah, I see your points Kyle, but I really don’t think you can make such definitive statements about it being a disappointment this early.

    Let it percolate for a few days at least. My feelings toward it are pretty fluid. It’s already a cliche at this point, but I need to see it again.

  • Kyle_D

    I want to be clear that I’m only speaking for myself when I call it a disappointment. I’m pretty confident in my reading of the film, and I don’t think a second viewing is going to change my mind. Frankly, I found the first viewing (and particularly Phoenix’s performance) unpleasant and petulant enough that I’m not all that eager to go back to it.

    It’s the type of misfire only a supreme talent could conjure, but a misfire nonetheless. For me. I am looking forward to the Toronto reactions.

  • lazarus

    Robert Elswitt didn’t shoot this?? Interesting.

    If I’m not mistaken, his replacement Malaimare is the same DP on Coppola’s Youth Without Youth and Tetro, which both looked great.

  • cigsandredvines

    It’s sort of surprising to see a self professed “cinema catholic” seemingly writing the film off because it’s not a surefire straight-down-the-middle Oscar film. Realize that Oscar prognosticating is a big part of the job too but would’ve thought hearing those reactions should’ve made you MORE anxious to take a look at it.

    Because, as Sasha says, who really gives a shit about the Oscars in the long run? They’re wrong most of the time anyway. The first time I saw “There Will Be Blood” I didn’t walk out knowing it was the best film of the last decade, it took a few more viewings for that to sink in. My first impression was that I knew I had seen something powerful without knowing quite what I’d seen. Same is true here only moreso.

    I’d much rather see PTA making films that aren’t all agreed upon by everyone. Those are the short-term conversations anyway. The more interesting films will rise to the top and stand the test of time. Not the films that everybody can agree on the moment the lights come up. No?

  • tyjagi

    Personally, I still belive it will get into Picture and Director as a dark horse ‘Tree of Life’ or ‘Black Swan’ slot.

    The strongest contenders for Picture, I think, right at the moment of 8/17.

    1. Lincoln
    2. The Master
    3. Les Miserables
    4. Hyde Park
    5. Argo
    6. Anna Karenina
    7. Zero Dark Thirty
    8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
    9. Life of Pi

  • Jeffrey Wells

    Wells to cigsandredvines: I’m not trying to devalue The Master by stating that it doesn’t seem to be “an Academy movie.” I’m just saying that and letting the chips fall. My personal enjoyment factor is what it is, and it DAMN SURE has nothing to do with the presumed likes or dislikes of a typical 62 year-old white male who belongs to the Academy. I just don’t want to spend $500 or $600 bucks to fly to this un-named city and stay in a hotel and all the rest of it so I can see The Master….it just doesn’t seem vital enough, now that I know it’s a “problem movie” to some extent. There’s a thing out there called the Best Picture race, and it seems, to go by Chicago reactions, that The Master might be too obtuse to be in it…that’s all. No implied condemnation or tut-tutting of any kind.

  • buck.swope

    tyjagi, assuming you’ve seen the Master and Beasts, that would mean TWO of your NINE best picture nominees at this point have even been seen in public.

    this is why these discussions bore me. why is everyone so fascinated to predict an Oscar race for movies that haven’t even been released. i’m guessing it would be comical to go back and look at some of these lists being made in august/september of the last couple of years.

    to Tim’s point, i could not have been more excited to see TWBB and when it was over I was sort of like, “What did i just see?”. a week later it sunk in and blew me away. that’s what the best movies do. percolate. make you think about them even when you are convinced you didn’t like it. Inception and Irreversible are similar movies to TWBB, where you aren’t even sure you like them at first because they are SO different than the crap you usually get fed. our culture demands snap judgments so I get everyone wants to opine on the box office/awards prospects but none of that should really matter to a film “catholic”.

    by the way, PTA > Malick

    and yes, i am bitter i missed out on tickets to the Music Box last night.

  • LFF

    you know those PTA/Kubrick comparisons that started floating around after TWBB? Is the mixed initial critical reaction to every film you make part of that also? :)

    Maybe we can stop pitting filmmakers against each other and just let PTA be PTA…

    Ah who am I kidding, that’ll never happen

  • buck.swope

    agreed LFF. i threw that in there as a joke (although PTA is by far my favorite director). i want to hear about the movie, not if it’s going to win Best Costume in 6 months.

  • tyjagi

    To those regarding oscar picks, can’t really explain why I do it. Just something I used to do with my dad back when I was younger. I just like making lists, etc, plus use it as a schedule to what I still need to see.

    Same goes with predicting the Super Bowl in April before the season starts. Just a way to set expectations.

    It doesn’t matter what the Academy likes or whatever, my opinion is the only one that matters. Would I like PTA my favorite filmmaker to win an award, of course, but it still doesn’t change the way I feel about his work.

  • Mr. F.

    Interestingly, “Capone” on the AICN crew saw it and thought it was pretty straight-forward (and not really about Scientology).

  • Ghost of Kazan

    “I’m not trying to devalue The Master by stating that it doesn’t seem to be ‘an Academy movie.’ I’m just saying that and letting the chips fall.”

    “Gurus don’t predict and they know it. They define the conversation and ignite fervor by way of “predicting,” so to speak.”
    – Jeffrey Wells, January 26, 2011

  • lazarus

    Exactly, Ghost. If you’re talking this early about how critics and Academy members will have issues, then you’re part of the problem. The whole Gurus shit needs to be brought down to its knees, one person at a time, and speaking their language just enables their existence.

    Think positive.

  • darsmitjug

    “Jay Z wrote “Empire State of Mind”…right? But everyone associates it with Alicia Keys.”

    Maybe if you’re talking about “Empire State (Part II),” which was Keys. But Keys only sang the chorus of “Empire State of Mind” — it was Jay-Z who wrote it (as you note), but rapped the verses. It also appeared on his album, not the other way around.

    Not that big a deal, but if you’re going to call San Jose “the 1968 Burt Bachararch-Hal David pop tune”… you should at least refer in kind to Empire State, since it’s Jay-Z’s lyrics.

    how to lose weight fast