Essays · Movies

A Video Essay Guide to Paul Thomas Anderson

From Boogie Nights to Phantom Thread, here are five video essays about Paul Thomas Anderson you should watch.
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By  · Published on June 14th, 2018

Who doesn’t love Paul Thomas Anderson? At 47-years-old, the director affectionately referred to as PTA has earned himself a reputation as one of, if not the, greatest filmmakers of his generation.

Between Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, the cinematic worlds of PTA are rich and fun to explore. Here are five fantastic video essays that do just that.

The Career of Paul Thomas Anderson in Five Shots

First up is a look at the work of PTA by video essay virtuoso Kevin B. Lee. In this video for Sight & Sound, Lee takes a look at the use of the Steadicam in PTA’s first five films: Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood.

The video explores the various ways PTA uses the Steadicam to tell audiences something about a cast of characters, like in the opening shot of Boogie Nights. Or, in the case of Punch-Drunk Love, something about an individual character, like Barry Egan (Adam Sandler). Anyone familiar with PTA’s work knows that Martin Scorsese is a major influence; both men enjoy the use of steadicams and long shots. In this essay, Lee offers some insight into, yes, how PTA has been influenced by Scorsese, but also where the two differ.

The Influences of Phantom Thread

Speaking of influences, Nelson Carvajal explores the films that may have influenced PTA’s latest film, Phantom Thread. Included in Carvajal’s video are side-by-side comparisons of Phantom Thread and three other films: Rebecca, Rear Window, and The Passionate Friends.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth breakdown on why Carvajal explores these four films, check out this piece by FSR’s Madison Brek.

PTA Loves Frames

I wrote about this great video essay made by Philip Brubaker for Fandor earlier this year. In it, Brubaker explores one of PTA’s signature stylistic choices: the frame within a frame.

One such example is a scene from Punch Drunk Love, during which Barry finds himself in a tight corridor on an uncomfortable phone call. Feeling awkward, Barry begins to back away from the camera, growing smaller and smaller in the frame. As he backs away, the camera moves in, making it seem as though his movements are leading him nowhere. He is trapped by the frame.

Family in There Will Be Blood

A year ago, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis of the New York Times named There Will Be Blood the greatest film of the 21st century so far.

“I never tire of thinking about There Will Be Blood,” Scott wrote. “But every time I watch it, I find it outruns all my thoughts. Not many films do that.”

Here, Darren Foley argues that, in a film jam-packed with provoking ideas, family is the one most central to There Will Be Blood. 

A Look at Freddie in The Master

“I’ve always been so disappointed in the reception The Master, which to me fits right in with the rest of his filmography and stands out as one of his greater achievements,” says Daniel Netzel in this video essay.

If you’re a fellow devotee of The Bill Simmons Podcast, then you will know that PTA said, on a recent episode, he agrees and hopes that the film will eventually become more appreciated in a second life.

In this essay, Netzel makes the case for The Master, and its main character, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). It’s essays like this one that may make PTA’s hope come true.


If you’re a student/admirer of film language/visual literacy (I don’t know why you’d have made it to the bottom of this article if you weren’t!), check out this essay exploring the concept of visual literacy within PTA’s work:

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.