A couple weeks ago I spoke in depth about my cinematic evolution. I found it very interesting to really look back and pick out the films that have profoundly affected the way I watch film. Well, last night Punch Drunk Love, by Paul Thomas Anderson, made it blatantly clear how much I’ve grown as a film watcher and filmmaker. I watched Punch Drunk Love for the first time 5 or 6 years ago. I thought the film was okay. It was obviously well made, but nothing special. I never really invested in what was happening or Adam Sandler’s character. I thought, “Who’s that socially awkward? Come on.” The beginning felt slow and boring. The relationship felt weird. The whole film felt… weird, and that one viewing affected the way I thought about the film for the next 5 to 6 years. In my mind, Punch Drunk Love was just kind of, “meh.” Umm… what the hell was I thinking?
This week I “discovered” Fiona Apple. I’ve always known of her, but I’ve obviously never listened to her music because I always assumed she was very mellow (kind of like Jewel or something). She’s not. She’s very jazzy and incredible (the below “Across the Universe” video isn’t an example of that). As the week progressed I discovered she dated Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia) for extended period of time and he directed some music videos for her. First of all… Umm, wow? That has to be one of the most talented couples ever. Second of all, the videos he directed are brilliant. I love “Paper Bag.” Every cut is absolutely perfect and that whip pan as the camera runs in on Fiona is awesome, but the video for “Across the Universe” is even better. The entire video is in slow motion and her lip syncing still matches up. This means he had to teach her lip the words way faster than normal, but the perfect speed so that when the video is slowed down it will still sync up. That feat a lone is incredible, but then when you take into account everything happening around her and that spin… brilliant.
If you know me, you know I become completely obsessed with things and those obsessions lead me to new obsessions. Naturally this weeks obsession with Fiona Apple is leading to a new Paul Thomas Anderson obsession. After watching “Paper Bag” and “Across the Universe” I was reminded how brilliant he is (sometimes you forget obvious things like this). I decided I have to rewatch all his films as soon as possible. Last night I started with Punch Drunk Love because it’s on Netlix Instant and it was midnight. I didn’t feel like being up until 3:30 watching Magnolia. Punch Drunk Love completely blew me away. I thought, “Who’s that awkward?” Apparently I forgot I’m awkward and feel an intense anxiety when I’m in new places and around people I don’t know. This time I connected with Sandler’s character so strongly my heart felt like it was being tied in knots. Anderson uses so many techniques to perfectly capture this anxiety in the film. Like the amazing, chaotic score, the frenetic camera work, the fear inducing smash cuts, the use of color and lighting, and Sandler’s intense bursts of violence. I know exactly how that feels. When you hold everything in, sometimes you need to burst and destroy a bathroom. Luckily I have basketball to get all of that out of my system. Everything Anderson does in the film makes us feel how Adam Sandler’s character feels and I honestly think it’s genius.
We watched a clip from Punch Drunk Love in my Advanced Cinema Production: Fiction class my junior year at Ithaca College. It was the scene where Sandler calls a phone sex company. The cameras pans as it follows him all over the room. There a couple moments where Sandler stops moving and Anderson recomposes him. After the clip our professor thought the camera work was kind of self indulgent. At the time I kind of felt the same way. Changing the composition during a still moment seemed unmotivated, but watching this one scene takes it out of the context of the everything happening around the scene and Sandler’s character. Sandler’s character is so nervous and anxious his mind is all over the place, even during those couple of moments where his body isn’t. By recomposing Sandler, Anderson continues to place us in his mind. These camera movements are actually incredibly motivated and I love them. These are techniques I was completely incapable of understanding 5 years ago, but now I understand how they allow the audience to do more than simply connect with Sandler’s character. They literally place us in his shoes, and when he finally meets some one he can connect with on an intimate level we understand how you can care for someone so deeply, and how one person can make you stronger than you ever imagined. When the people trying to steal money from him hurt the one he loves I was so angry. He when he retaliates I was speechless. That scene is now one of my all time favorite moments in cinema, and the perfect evidence of my own cinematic evolution.