Phantom Thread: P.T. Anderson Is Destined to Make Great Films
We often hear that all filmmakers have a style. However, that's not entirely true. As an aficionado of cinema, someone that is into more than just watching a film, that's quite unfortunate. It is the truth that we have many less good filmmakers than bad filmmakers. As for the bad ones, it's not that their style is the culprit, it's because bad filmmakers don't have style at all. Though, let's not forget, for there are a few filmmakers whose style constantly changes, however, the body of work still remain somewhat interesting.
When we speak of style in a film, we mainly speak of the filmmaker. But one might ask, what about an editor. An editor, whose presence is indeed essential, is an interpreter of sorts, whose responsibility is to stitch the scenes together the way the director desires. Style doesn't come to factor here in the editing room, but from the day the idea of the very film is born within the filmmaker.
To be able to dissect the style of a filmmaker is first via the camera movement. To every viewer, though, film-viewing can be a different process and style consists of sound; cinematography; attitude; editing; mise-en-scene and dialogue.
When it comes to Paul Thomas Anderson all the aspects of style are present in his films. It's the camera movement that should catch one's eye first. Anderson has unique long tracking shots and scenes with characters in front of a set camera without an absolute movement of any kind whatsoever as if the viewer is watching a stage play, or, often the camera spins in his films as if the viewer is looking around.
Then there's also bright colors in Anderson's films bringing out the key elements such as the yellow flames in his masterpiece, There Will Be Blood, against the color of the sky; smoke and of the earth. If one has noticed closely, the fire from There Will Be Blood is being witnessed from the point of view of Anderson's central character, Plainview, limned by Daniel Day-Lewis. The camera has only been set so the chaos unfolds. The most interesting aspect of this particular shot, though, is how Anderson, metaphorically, has made the rage and anger of the central character stand out just by using color. The rage and anger being the fire and the color of Plainview's attire, the smoke.
In his most recent film, Phantom Thread, Anderson's style has been enhanced, perhaps it's because he's growing up, more wiser as an artist and that's a norm when it comes to filmmakers like Anderson as whenever he makes a new film he challenges not only himself, but his actors and the audience. Anderson is a fully confident type of a filmmaker. He did once say, "I have a feeling, one of those gut feelings, that I'll make pretty good movies the rest of my life."
Whether that's been said as a jest or not, Anderson without a doubt has become one of the most prominent auteurs. His technique, more enhanced, with his thoughts, especially how he concocts certain scenes to communicate with the audience. In The Master, Phoenix's character's hands and face are pressed on the window glass or the shot of Alma in Phantom Thread on the couch with the finished wedding dress standing next to her, being watched by Woodcock, who is moving to her, as the camera zooms, with the wedding dress finally and slowly exiting from the frame, signifying the importance of Woodcock's realization after his recovery from the poisoned filled tea that without Alma he may have never survived the sickness.
Anderson deals with complicated characters differently; he almost never starts a film with the conflict. We follow the characters just as he does as a screenwriter, then we see where they lead us. One of the most crucial aspects of Anderson's films is the character in conflict, but how the character gets tangled within the conflict, a note that should be taken from Anderson's style.
In Hard Eight, John, limned by Reilly is a purposeless, poor young man, whom with the help of Sydney played by Hall gets introduced first to food, because he is hungry, then some money; job and even a girl. Adams in Boogie Nights meets people like Horner and Waves, where sex; money and fame leads him to problems. Every Anderson film follows these simple rules setting the stage for the chaos to explode in the third act.
Most of Anderson's characters, though are innocent types; straightforward and successful in whatever profession they are in like Egan in Punch-Drunk Love and Woodcock and Alma in Phantom Thread.
Humans, as we know, suffer from physical pain; poverty; war the list goes on and it's the nature of the situation—circumstances that tangles the man with the end results being, sometimes, absolute destruction. But Anderson's a charming filmmaker, a good storyteller, for while life can be harsh, raw and cold, cinema can't be as much as cinema can be anything, therefore there's a resolution, a way out of the chaos, and Anderson's characters move on just as sometimes we do, too, in real life.
The term, Phantom, perhaps is the representation of Woodcock's mother's ghostly presence, someone that Woodcock admired and loved, someone he relied on. And the term, Thread, is metaphorically expressing the fragility of Woodcock as a man, no matter how successful in his profession, but is empty of everything internally, haunted by grief, so therefore he's eager for someone to fill that emptiness until he meets Alma, whose habits Woodcock ends up despising, but knows that he finds solace when she is present.
Anderson's endings of his films mostly consist of optimism. Phantom Thread may only represent the weaknesses of two-people, barely hanging on to their relationship, a thin, ghostly rope that's keeping them together. Like the ending of The Master, where Freddie moves on, leaving Lancaster Dodd and the Cause for good, Woodcock and Alma, too, move on together, but they are happy just as Freddie is, but at least happy with situations only they are capable of creating for themselves to remain, what, satisfied, which is again in the nature of every one of us.
Anderson is destined to make great films, for he's careful with his work. He respects his profession and his audience. His films will be deeper in meanings and bolder and darker, for he's confident enough to proffer such a work. There's more to learn from him and also to be challenged.