Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Paul Thomas Anderson Blogathon: Edward Copeland on There Will Be Blood

***For the past two weeks I have been conducting an absolute Paul Thomas Anderson lovefest here at Moon in the Gutter. There is no denying though that P.T.A. does have his critics, so I am glad we have had a submission that reflects this. As much as I disagree with his thoughts on There Will be Blood, I have the utmost respect for Edward Copeland and his always interesting blog, Eddie on Film. This fiery anti-Anderson piece originally appeared at Edward's blog back in '08 and he has kindly given me permission to reprint it here.***

Up Through the Ground Came a Bubblin' Crud
Edward Copeland

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American lives. I was thinking about coining the phrase, "There are no third acts in Paul Thomas Anderson films," except that in the case of There Might Be Blood, there isn't much of a first or second act either.

I think my father, who saw the film with me, summed it up best. "At first, I thought it was going to be about an oil war, then I thought it was going to be him versus the preacher, but eventually I realized it wasn't going to be about anything."

To paraphrase Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," Anderson has a head full of ideas that may be drivin' him insane.

This isn't to say that There Will Be Blood lacks any positive qualities, because the cinematography by Robert Elswit is phenomenal. However, the film really is a thudding bore, so much so that parts of the annoying score by Jonny Greenwood seems to actually drone like an amplified tuning fork and bears an uncanny resemblance to that sound that used to accompany the old THX "The Audience Is Listening" promos played in movie theaters.

For most of the film, Daniel Day-Lewis' performance held my attention, despite the film's ponderous pacing and lack of focus. In fact, I was at first puzzled by the people who complained that Day-Lewis was over the top. I wished I'd never read whoever said Day-Lewis was aping John Huston, because every time he spoke that image did come to mind. Unfortunately, Day-Lewis' performance goes off the rails as the film drags on and he suddenly starts devouring the scenery as if he needed it for nourishment.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when he goes wrong: The scene where he's dining with his son and a group of rival oil executives are seated at a nearby table. For some reason, Day-Lewis begins talking out loud so they can hear while a cloth napkin covers his face.

I can only assume that by this point Day-Lewis was as bored with the movie as I was. The ham gets the better of him from that point on so by the time we get to the scenes of him as an aging recluse in a large Kane-esque mansion in 1927, he's stooping and shuffling around as if he's a cousin to Marion Cotillard's Edith Piaf, dancing across the two-lane bowling alley he's built in his home. Of course, as soon as we see the bowling alley, you have to know what's coming. It's not placed there by accident, so as Day-Lewis meanders around the bowling lane, you know that balls will be employed and pins will be used for other purposes.

So much is wrongheaded about There Will Be Blood, that I hardly know where to start. Do I complain about how the portion of the film involving Paul Dano's character covers 16 years, yet the actor looks no different in age in the 1911 scenes than he does in the 1927 ones? Do I ask why Daniel Plainview makes such unnecessary complications for himself? Do I ask what is the true deal about Paul and Eli Sunday? Are they twins? The same person with multiple personalities? It hardly matters anyway.

At one point, Plainview says that he doesn't like to explain himself and that seems to apply to Paul Thomas Anderson's film as well. Now many great films have been made that toiled in the soil of the ambiguous, but they aren't all as goddamn boring as There Will Be Blood. Do I debate whether the film is asking whether it's Daniel or preacher Eli Sunday who is truly the false prophet? Perhaps Anderson is the false prophet at work here and his proponents, many of whom I know well, like and admire, are the ones being hoodwinked.

One thing I never quite understand is the insistence some of his fans have about calling him P.T. Anderson. The credit on There Will Be Blood clearly says it was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Is it possible some of his fans could be more pretentious than the filmmaker himself? During one outburst, Eli Sunday yells at his father that God doesn't love stupid people. I don't know if any part of that is true, but my guess is that if there is a God, he doesn't love stupid movies.

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