i know this will come as a shock to everyone who reads this blog and/or listens to my podcast, but every now and then i see a movie and just have no idea what to say about it. sometimes, that is because it is so bad and there is nothing to say except ' wow, that was bad' and sometimes it is because the movie is so good as was the case with the incredible, Dancer In the Dark from lars von tier many years back, and now with p.t. anderson's most recent offering, There Will Be Blood.
i saw the film the day it opened here in montreal (january 11th) and i wanted to come right home and write about it. however, as i walked home and into my apartment i didn't know what to say. actually, let me take that back. it wasn't that i didn't know what to say or that i didn't have anything to say, but more that i just couldn't put it in any kind of coherent form.
the mish-mash of thought and ideas rolling through my head about this film had me thinking there was something wrong. like i was missing something that would put all the ducks in a row so-to-speak. but i started writing anyway, and as i laid my thoughts out on the 'page' i relalized that it was all those various ideas and that made it all coherent in a way.
this thing is an epic. covering some 30 years at the turn of the century, the film follows daniel plainview (daniel-day lewis) as he goes from struggling silver prospector to filthy rich oil tycoon. however, as epic as it is, there is a real intimacy to the story and the characters, and i couldn't help but think of Citizen Kane with its focus on one man's rise and fall and the people and things around him that get sacrificed in his wake. however, unlike kane, plainview doesn't have a rosebud to connect him to a more innocent time.
there is also this very classic form to the film. filmed with the grand landscapes and open spaces, it had me thinking of all those big sweeping films from the 40s and 50s. however, p.t. is doing so much more then that. the opening 10-15 minutes are without dialogue and it is amazing. these scenes take us through plainview's initial hard work and struggles mining for silver, then oil and the danger that goes along with it. this opening had me completely engaged and amazed, i mean the cajones it takes as a filmmaker to open your film that way are mighty big. dirk diggler big you might say.
i talked a little while back about filmmakers taking risks and bucking convention when discussing the other masterpiece of the year, the coen brothers' No Country For Old Men. about how they went against what the audience is used to, or expecting, in some key elements of their filmmaking and storytelling. p.t. does that as well, but for me it was subtler then in the coen's film. it does come back to the intimacy of the story though and how, on such a grand scale there were moments that were so simple and avoided the melodrama that is typical of what i would have expected - the example that comes to mind is a scene in which plainview decides that he must send his son away and leaves him on a train and just walks away. you know that it would have been so easy to crank up the violins and drain the emotion from this scene. but,anderson doesn't go for that.
speaking of violins, look at the way he uses music, sound and the lack of it in the movie: although the opening is without dialogue, the first sound you hear as the movie begins is a long droning note, ala the monolith sound from 2001: A Space Odyssey. also, the film's score is a combination of the modern sonic brilliance from composer johnny greenwood (from Radiohead), classical music from Johannes Brahms and i think some other stuff as well.
in this discussion i have referenced Citizen Kane, film classics form the studio era, a kubrick film and modern musical sounds and plays on convention. sound like too much? for some filmmakers it would be, but p.t. anderson is the wunderkind of his generation and he does it all with a sure hand and vision that filmmakers of all ages can only wish to possess. also, while one of the only ways i could wrap my head around this movie was by talking about it in the context of other cinema, There Will Be Blood is in no way a simple retread or homage. this film is very much an original and a true vision from maybe the best filmmaker working today.