FLASH FRIDAY: Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER
A Paul Thomas Anderson film only comes along once or twice a decade, so the recent teasers that have been released for his new film - a veiled Scientology parable titled THE MASTER, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams - have been inspiring adulation amongst both Anderson's devotees (The Milkshake Drinkers?) and film fans alike, but what about yesterday's official trailer premiere? Sheer awe. When Philip Seymour Hoffman joined me in my InDepth InterView column in 2010 (available here), we spoke quite a bit about his previous work with Anderson on MAGNOLIA - which he called "an opera" - and BOOGIE NIGHTS, which is unquestionably a magnum opus, as well; to say nothing of Hoffman's memorable turns in the respectively arresting and enchanting Anderson entities HARD EIGHT and PUNCH DRUNK LOVE - and the first news of this new religion-based project had just surfaced at that time, so this week's long-awaited release of the official theatrical trailer of THE MASTER - reportedly edited by PTA himself - is a promise of a new Anderson/Hoffman cinematic collaboration finally, at long last, fulfilled in full - and much, much more, as well.
"Perhaps he's past help - or insane," Mary Sue Dodd (Amy Adams) calmly cautions to her husband, enigmatic and charismatic religious leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) about Lancaster's most significant and notable convert, the troubled and tortured Freddie Sutton (Joaquin Phoenix). The rest? Well, it's difficult to know for sure at this point - THE MASTER doesn't even start preview screenings for a few months. It's very rare in the information age to come upon a property veiled in as much shade, shadow and secrecy as Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER, compelling one to venture: what's the big secret? Yes, we know that Tom Cruise - a star of Anderson's MAGNOLIA - and Scientology authorities have viewed the film and disapprove of its themes, but so what? How thinly-veiled of an account actually is this L. Rob Hubbard-creates-Scientology-ish tale, all-too emblematic of the oldest of ye olde American traditions: hucksterdom. Earnestness standing in for actuality; blind belief replacing hard facts and figures; inflated emotion and conflated feelings dictating all - the lines between religion, business and entertainment are always blurred as a master manipulator casts his magic spell over a willing pawn or group of pawns. He makes his case to a crowd - whether it be to one lone soul or a congregation of thousands - and whips them up into a frenzy. Then, and only then, he has them in the palm of his hand. It's a special skill and only some are blessed with the Harold Hill gene, but it seems quite clear to see from these all-too-brief glimpses of Lancaster Dodd as embodied by Philip Seymour Hoffman that he is indeed such a son of a so-and-so - and, in this case, his son and wife seem to be on to him. Since time immemorial, at least in the United States - land of the free, home of the brave - the con man has always had his chance to spin the wheel of fate and make a grand gamble or three in his life - and, hey, it's only illegal if you are caught, after all (or so such types tend to think) - and many seek religion only after they fail (and fail and fail). It seems the smartest and sharpest and sneakiest of hucksters know to never give up their bluff, though - and that's how they keep winning. So, how do you attempt to do that? Well, if one were to create a new religion and find a way to make money off of that faith community, would it not be one of the most lucrative and long-lasting cons achievable? Such are the ideas and intimations of merely a few of the pertinent and present themes and ideas proffered in this virtually anomalous look at the forthcoming film - equally achingly nostalgic and eerily tense and terse, but not without a whit of whimsy and moments of enchanting, emotional rapture.
More to the point, L. Ron Hubbard himself was once quoted as stating, "You don't get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion." And so it goes in THE MASTER; or, so it seems.
Some mise en scene reminiscent of Bergman in the dinner table conversation (FANNY & ALEXANDER is one of PTA's favorite films, after all); a wink and nod to Jonathan Demme's MELVIN & HOWARD (ditto; the motorcyles); a hearty helping or two of Stanley Kubrick (those boat shots!); mixed together with the requisite stylistic flourishes (a 1950s photography studio) and Robert Altman-inspired ensemble work (just look at that 1950s party scene) to balance out the more outlandish dashes of all-out visual genius (the plains; the ocean; the forest; the vistas) - this trailer has it all. THE MASTER could very well turn out to be Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece and one of the year's finest films if the originality, daringness and sophistication of these two teasers and first official trailer are any indication whatsoever of the quality of the film we can look forward to enjoying come November - and that's a scheme worth investing in.
See for yourself and view the trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's THE MASTER below.
Now, here is the first teaser trailer for THE MASTER, released a few weeks ago, featuring Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Sutton.
Following that, sample the second teaser trailer, which emphasizes Philip Seymour Hoffman's central performance as Lancaster Dodd.
Now, particularly since Paul Thomas Anderson is famous for cutting his own trailers, perhaps it would be instructive to take a look back at some of the previous official trailers for his feature films as a means to discover how he chose to ceremoniously premiere the worlds of those properties as we look ahead to the release of THE MASTER in cinemas later this year.
First up, here is the breathless and heady BOOGIE NIGHTS trailer, complete with all the funky frivolity and debauchery that made the film a modern-day movie classic in its own time.
Next, see Anderson's meta-movie-musical centering on the events around one street in California on one particularly long, lonely, dreary and weird day - MAGNOLIA.
See how Anderson followed that masterful achievement up, with the unassuming and altogether bizarrely affecting romantic comedy PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Bonus points for utilizing Shelley Duvall's "He Needs Me" from Anderson mentor Robert Altman's misunderstood 1980s movie musical POPEYE.
Anderson's most recent film foray was the emotionally epic and tremendously thought-provoking THERE WILL BE BLOOD, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar for his titanic portrayal of oilman Daniel Plainview.
Lastly, here is the trailer for PTA's first feature film, HARD EIGHT, which was originally named SYDNEY but later retitled by the studio after it was shot, completely against Anderson's wishes (for more on that, check out the shockingly candid commentary on the DVD).
As a super-special bonus, check out Paul Thomas Anderson's first major film project - which later became the basis for his first feature film, SYDNEY/HARD EIGHT - the diner-set, Mamet-esque, two-character study, CIGARETTES & COFFEE.
One final bonus: PTA's unforgettable music video for Fiona Apple's inspired cover of "Across The Universe", a song originally recorded and popularized by The Beatles.
So, do you think that THE MASTER will manage to meet The Lofty expectations that have been set for a new Paul Thomas Anderson feature, coming after such unique and consistently revealing cinematic landmarks as BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA and THERE WILL BE BLOOD? Will it even be possible to compare THE MASTER to the rest of those - has Anderson, like his mentors Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick before him, entered a new era in his filmmaking career altogether? Furthermore, will the full final film of THE MASTER fulfill the enormous promise of these three oddly insinuating trailers and deliver the emotional wallop that Anderson is so revered and celebrated for being able to deliver time and time again - often in very unassuming and unexpected ways at the most unusual moments (remember the frogs in MAGNOLIA)? With a cast like this and a subject as rich and applicable to contemporary society as this one unquestionably is, THE MASTER could very well end up being one of the most heralded and highly-touted films of this exceedingly exciting upcoming Oscar season. If only for that reason alone, join me in a hearty "Hallelujah!"
From This Author Pat Cerasaro