Monday, September 13, 2010

Paul Thomas Anderson Blogathon: Jeffrey Goodman on Hard Eight

***Director Jeffrey Goodman is among my favorite young filmmakers in America right now, so it's a real pleasure to offer up this piece he wrote on Hard Eight for our Paul Thomas Anderson Blogathon. Jeffrey's extraordinary debut film, The Last Lullaby, is one of the best neo-noirs of the past decade and I urge anyone here who hasn't already seen it to track it down immediately. I have had the pleasure to interview Jeffrey here before and I can now call him a friend, so it's a real treat to have him offer this up for us here. Jeffrey is currently planning his follow-up to The Last Lullaby, Peril, and he has his own blog everyone should check out, which is located here.***

Jeffrey Goodman

Let me start by saying, I’m not one of these guys that knows Anderson’s cinema all that well. I haven’t even seen all his films. But I’ve always been intrigued by him, his knowledge of cinema, and the legion of die-hard fans he’s been able to rack up along the way.
While watching Hard Eight for the first time, I was struck by a few different things. First off, the way that Anderson’s managed to build a cinema family around himself. He’s used several actors numerous times, even been the one to establish them. John C Reilly, Philip Baker Hall, Melora Walters, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman all show up here, and numerous other times in his subsequent films. He’s also already using here in his debut, cameraman Robert Elswit, who has since worked with him on all his features and Jon Brion who has scored all his work with the exception of There Will Be Blood.
I had always heard that Anderson really loved Scorsese and Altman. And while there are certainly hints of both (think Goodfellas and California Split), I see more of Tarantino’s influence here than anyone else. And of course this makes great sense given the context. We’re in 1996, two years after Pulp Fiction had exploded on the scene, and Tarantino had become a veritable cinema rock star.
Anderson chooses to cast Samuel L Jackson, who I think turns in one of his most
memorable performances. He also chooses to start the movie in a diner, which is of
course quite reminiscent of both Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. He also seems to share QT’s love for words (mannered but sharp and effective) and his mixture of humor and violence. See Jackson’s final scene to get a real feel for this. Anderson might be post-modern. There’s undeniably a self-consciousness to some of his work, particularly his use of the steadicam and how he likes to have the camera push in on his actors in a way that’s somewhat unmotivated by the action. But he’s not as blatant with his pop-culture references as Tarantino nor the slew of other people in his generation that jumped at making a “crime film” after Pulp Fiction.
I would also offer that Anderson proves from the beginning to have a real skill and feel for actors. The performances are very strong across the board, and I would give special mention to Hall and Jackson.
My only real complaint about the film is the ending. I just felt a little let down by it. It didn’t pop or register for me in the same way as most of the rest of the film. But as a first-time filmmaker myself, it’s striking to watch Hard Eight and Anderson’s confidence right out of the gate. This film doesn’t seem like a debut. It seems like someone who already has a complete understanding of film language and is using it however the hell he wants.


Scorpius Maximus Indicus said...

Brilliant post. For me There Will Be Blood, combined the best of both worlds- Hollywood's larger than life epic drama with the Euro style sensibility of realism, narrating a story more through visuals. The opening scene was a visual triumph. And loved the clash of ideologies between Daniel and Sunday. But to me Billy Sunday appeared the more dangerous of the two. Daniel was money minded, but he was more of a person, seeking to make his own benefit and move on, Sunday on the other hand was that fanatical religious preacher, who commanded you, scared you about eternal damnation. And to me it is the religious kind who scare me more, as they have this tendency to dictate how your life should be led.

-- Ratnakar

Scorpius Maximus Indicus said...

This is one of those PTA movies i have yet to see. Somehow i have a fondness for a director's first movie or the movie that actually started to define his style. One reason why i rate Mean Streets as my favorite Scorsese movie, is coz that is where i first saw the genesis of his trademark techniques. Looks like this is the movie, where PTA began to develop the styles that would be his trademark all along.


Jeffrey Goodman said...

Ratnakar, thanks so much for the wonderful comments. I too share your interest in directors' early works for the very reason you mention. I like to see how they started and then how they evolve. HARD EIGHT is definitely an interesting look if you want to see early traces of the Paul Thomas Anderson style. I hope you'll check it out.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks for the comments. I reposted your THERE WILL BE BLOOD comment with that post. I hope that is okay...

Thanks also Jeffrey for commenting and for the great contribution!