Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paul Thomas Anderson Tribute Month: My P.T.A. Mix-Tape (The Opening Shots of Hard Eight)

John has got some serious worry. Way past the end of his rope, he sits outside a coffee shop on the outskirts of Reno thinking about the money he just lost, the cup of coffee he can't buy and his recently deceased mother that he can't afford to bury. Depressed and disillusioned, John remembers his mom and prays that some miracle will come that can help him gather the six thousand dollars he needs for her funeral. That miracle arrives in the form of an aging and mysterious man named Sydney, who approaches John outside the diner with an offer to buy him a cup of coffee and give him a cigarette. This seemingly inconsequential meeting will change both of their lives forever.

While nowhere near as famous, or as technically accomplished, as the opening shots for films like Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, the simple and brief opening to Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight is both eloquent and poetic. It is also, in hindsight, a thematically perfect introduction to his canon considering how often his films concern the fractured but important relationships that occur between sometimes surrogate fathers and sons.

Looking back on the opening moments of Hard Eight, which are nearly completely silent save for Sydney's offer to John at the tail-end of it, one can already detect just how different Anderson was compared to the many American filmmakers that came out in the wake of Quentin Tarantino. The tracking shot that opens Hard Eight has a stillness that is much more in line with works from the early seventies like Five Easy Pieces than the overtly showy work that was populating theaters post-Pulp Fiction in the mid-nineties. It is fitting that when Anderson did decide to open up Boogie Nights with an audacious and technically dazzling one-shot take that he never let his technique overwhelm the emotion, something most of his peers struggled with.

Like all of Anderson's works, I find Hard Eight to be an extremely moving and wonderfully realized work. The well-documented trouble that Anderson had with the studio concerning the final-cut of Hard Eight, along with lying in the imposing shadow of works like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, has made his first feature one of the nineties key overlooked classics. These opening shots remain a real personal favorite and I find them extremely haunting.


J.D. said...

Well said! Right from the get-go, this opening shot announced PTA as a filmmaker to watch out for and he really did a beautiful job of introducing these two characters and the relationship between them.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks JD,
I really appreciate that and totally agree with your thoughts on it.