The Death of Gods

The loss of a certain kind of innocence… That’s always sort of fertile ground for a story.

— Paul Thomas Anderson

She hates when I do this and so do I, but things get twisted around in here. To say anything is to pretend like this sulking has some legitimate source; to say nothing is to continue sulking. She has asked if I’m O.K., which the answer is yeah, but the interrogative offspring are “what is O.K?” and “wait, am I even feeling anything right now?” which despite their facileness take up rather too much headspace and leave me quiet and only barely nodding. What has happened is simple and unimportant: I have seen a movie, one I expected to like, but one which, when it came right down to it, I didn’t, in fact, like. This event’s monumental lack of significance is a part of the problem. “Stop caring about it, right now.” To say this is to care, and round and round it goes.

I thought I would like Inherent Vice because I’ve always liked Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies. Or, I have since a high school media studies professor accidentally described Magnolia with a whole bunch of superlatives I’ve forgotten but which provided ample encouragement to pirate and watch,1 this high school teacher thus being in the awkward position of having told a sixteen year-old boy to watch a movie in which a sweaty Tom Cruise yells “TAME THE CUNT!” on more than one occasion. I have nothing but thanks for this recommendation. My reasons for this appreciation are either complex or else not very coherent: I tend to give a different answer every time I’m asked. Once, I said it eroded my preconceptions about Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly, and William H. Macy,2 and so therefore about actors in general, opening me up to a world of possibilities beyond my petty celebrity grievances. Another time I said I didn’t realize it wasn’t a standard two hours in length until a few minutes after it finished, at which point I realized bedtime had long since gone by. Some poor soul got an earful of me describing how it’s singularly effective at painting a broken and pained world and yet it still maintains—well perhaps not a happy ending, but some sort of hope. Someone else pretended to listen while I went on and on about whip-pans. One, some, or all of these explanations is or are probably true, but what’s most important in this context is that, whatever the reason(s), Magnolia made me feel something very particular, something that spurred me to watch the remainder of what was then Anderson’s filmography.3

I started with Boogie Nights, with the volume low, so as to keep conversations regarding Mark Wahlberg’s enormous penis from drifting into the kitchen. Then I knew even less about film than I know now, plus more or less nothing about life, but thankfully and in the most complimentary way possible, Boogie Nights doesn’t require much more than that: it works just perfectly fine without a whole lot of intellectualizing. Yes, its camera movement and elaborately choreographed long takes are probably what give it a sense of kineticism, but it’s not at all necessary to know that. The movie dances whether you know how or not. And Anderson’s humanism might be even more potent in Boogie Nights than in Magnolia by way of its setting. There are no all-cast singalongs, sure, but to put in as much effort as Anderson does to portray the adult film industry as a family like any other, with relationships no less deserving of attention and respect than those in more socially respected vocations: this would say a lot even if the effort weren’t effective (and, for me at least, it is).

The general method of this portrayal is similar to that of redeeming a broken world in Magnolia. Anderson, for all his stylization, more or less refuses to show us the world as anything other than what it is: inconsistent, self-contradictory, transensical—which should, one would assume, result in a ridiculous mishmash of thematic crosstalk. How can a movie like Magnolia, in which infidelity looms large, in which angry men sit in a room to learn how to “Seduce and Destroy” women, in which suicide is attempted three times, in which not one but two old men are dying of cancer, one of whom molested his daughter, who is herself addicted to cocaine, how can a movie like this resolve on a musical number, a speech, and a hopeful smile to the camera? How could the ending be happy? The specifics are probably myriad and lengthy,4 and I doubt most would care to read about them, but in general I’d say this happens in the same way that a movie containing multiple ridiculously staged porn scenes, a greasy John C. Reilly bragging about how much he can bench, Don Cheadle in a cowboy getup, and a ten inch prosthetic Wahlberg penis can effectively communicate the horrors of addiction, the fear of obsolescence, and the gnawing sense of I Should Be Something Great. Somehow—again, the specifics are beyond me, probably boring, and not the point—Anderson arranges these disparate elements so that they don’t interfere with each other, or at least so that the interference is constructive. Rather than cancelling each other out, mixing darkness with hope and farce with sincerity spotlights the moral through-line of the piece which both extremes bounce around—in Magnolia hope, and in Boogie Nights dignity.

Which contrast gets across a fuller range of human experience—hope and dignity are all the more important and noticeable when set beside their alternatives—but also incorporates the reality-foundation-level truth that not only don’t hopeful events and pessimistic events helpfully sort themselves into neat groups for easier generic or thematic classification, hopeful and pessimistic events are often one and the same. Actual hope is most apparent during difficulty, and actual despair is most painful when one is aware of the insufficiency of their hope. Similarly, there can be a certain dignity to farce, and there is something rather farcical about considering oneself dignified.5 Or so I told a Christian Studies teacher from my high school shortly after seeing it, in a transparent attempt to exert my independence from her stifling moralism. “Yeah, I loved that movie,” she said.

Punch-Drunk Love was one of those movies whose covers I remembered vividly from some vague time in my childhood, but whose content I knew nothing about. American Beauty, The Silence of the Lambs, and Howard Stern’s Private Parts are similar. All of these movies required some mental adjustment on watching, so as to wrench them from the memory bank reserved for teenage trips to Great Canadian Video Network®. Punch-Drunk Love was more difficult, though, because for whatever reason I had always been under the impression that it was a Bad Movie. I’ve tried and failed to determine exactly why this is. It could be a family member told me so, and I intuitively trusted them, as happened with The Royal Tenenbaums. Or maybe the court of public opinion had already silently swung its gavel and made the kind of universally accepted, never questioned proclamation formerly reserved for religious authorities and now reserved for Blade Runner, the original Star Wars trilogy (before digital retouching), anything by Stanley Kubrick, The Goonies, the first Die Hard, or Firefly.6 Or maybe I was just confusing it with Spanglish. Whatever the reason, the half-shadowed left-side profile of Adam Sandler’s head bore nothing but ill portents for me.

Which is a shame, because Punch-Drunk Love is far better than it has any right to be. It doesn’t undermine Sandler’s persona as an awkward manchild with a spastic temper. Sandler’s Barry Egan is exactly that, plus he’s lonely. What it does is put this persona in a story where it works for something other than shock-laughs and feco-urinary obsessions. Yes: his outbursts, both physical and verbal, are funny and surprising, and yes: his quasi-baby-talk is endearing, but they add up to much more than a Mr. Deeds-esque wacko who really shakes things up with his antics. Barry Egan is more than that because he’s sad, and realistically so. When he attempts to demonstrate to a client the unbreakable handle on his company’s new plunger and it explodes, it’s still a joke, but it’s a joke made to an audience that knows Barry is self-conscious about himself and his business—his sisters are actively berating him during his sales “chat,” and he later tries to justify his business to a phone sex operator, repeating “it’s good, I think, for a start.” Ditto when he asks his doctor friend for psychological help. The doctor’s response, “Barry I’m a dentist,” sparks a laugh, but Barry stammering “I don’t like myself sometimes” colours it appropriately: the man is funny to watch, but he does actually need help, which he is tragically dysfunctional at getting himself.

That this help manifests as a pretty woman is probably the biggest fault Punch-Drunk Love has, at least insofar as it reinforces the self-centred thought process that makes romantic partners out to be less persons than potions—a way to magically fix oneself (in 90 minutes or less). One needn’t look far to find any number of romantic films in which someone, man or woman, has either a character flaw or their overall station in life improve simply by virtue of having someone else, nearly always of the opposite sex and gender, who is willing to kiss them just before the credits roll. But I would argue that Punch-Drunk Love deals with this problem effectively enough, when taken on its own terms, that the overwhelming systemic problem of romantic representation almost doesn’t even matter.

Barry’s feelings of loneliness and isolation and the fact that his family doesn’t understand him could set him up as an easy stand-in for young, single men, and thus his redemptive and ultimately successful romantic arc could easily be a shallow placation, urging any young man who identifies with Barry not to worry, that eventually some free spirit will magically enter his life, do all the work of cultivating interesting experiences out of life for him, and then probably sleep with him too, because the narrative demands it. But identifying with Barry is hard, because both he and his world are so strange. The movie opens with Barry witnessing a car spontaneously flip over while driving down a perfectly normal road, and a van dropping a beat up harmonium at the end of his parking lot. Even elements that could be relatable—overbearing family, Barry’s anger—are either taken to extremes or simply taken in very unintuitive directions, such that identification, like much of the movie, just feels kind of off.7 Meanwhile Emily Watson’s Lena, and the shell-extraction she enacts in Barry, could easily be a vehicle for all sorts of very weird expectations of romantic partners—they will complete you, enhance you, pleasure you, save you, the subject of all these verbs notably being the other person. But while Lena might seem like a maverick relative to Barry, she isn’t really this type.8 She is admittedly not given a lot of depth in terms of specific information, but she is portrayed at least as a fairly reasonable person with an actual life of her own, and while she’s generally quite accepting of Barry’s issues, she does tell him off when he leaves her at the hospital.9 Most important, though, is that though Lena gives Barry a reason to change, it is still ultimately he who does the changing, and he does this through conscious and intentional effort. He goes to Hawaii. He confronts the Mattress Man. He goes to the effort of actually doing the things that need to be done for his relationship. Lena, the other person, for all her magic, is not responsible for getting our protagonist’s shit together, which as far as it can be applied to our own relationships, seems a very healthy way to be.

None of these variations are obvious in their subversion, and in fact many would fit into more mainstream or palatable romantic comedies without seeming out of place. But they were all important for me, because I otherwise would be all too willing to imagine myself in Barry’s place, just as I imagined myself in Andrew Largeman’s place when watching Garden State—a wise, lonely soul with real problems and deep-seated ennui that other people just didn’t get—and Tom’s when watching 500 Days of Summer—a reasonable man confronted with women whose shallow and narratively unjustified sense of self-empowerment makes them capricious with my feelings. This is to say that Punch-Drunk Love could have made me a lesser person. I, like Barry, found and find my world overwhelming, other people overbearing, my own emotions darker and more mangled than I’m comfortable with. And I too find it hard to grow into healthy maturity or to find help doing so except in nervous and awkward fits and starts and while stifling the urge to punch something. In that most self-interested sense, Punch-Drunk Love gets me. But thankfully, it isn’t nearly as interested in making vindicative and self-serving narratives as I am, and so while it does get me exactly as I am, it still asks for something more.

My contention is that There Will Be Blood is a staggeringly good movie, and a case in point as to why ranking Anderson’s films, or any films for that matter, is an ultimately meaningless gesture. The good is easy to enumerate: the scenery, the score, the performances, the period-accuracy—a list of technically superb attributes specific to There Will Be Blood quickly starts to look like a general list of “All the things that are in movies.” It’s still probably a good idea, nonspecificity be damned, to keep in mind the obvious. Both Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano put in delirious, unhinged performances. Robert Elswit’s cinematography is stark, dry, uninviting, and gorgeous. Jonny Greenwood’s score is unnerving, in turns tense and foreboding and then all unkempt rage. On their own, any one of these would be a decent reason to watch, but what’s most impressive for me is what they coalesce into, which is the overall feel or vibe or tone of the film.10 Different viewers will have different responses. I found There Will Be Blood to be a slow, caustic, inevitable burn, like mixing the feeling of watching something precious and fragile fall to the ground—the sense that it takes so long being more curse than blessing since you already know there’s nothing to be done but watch, so the added time is really just more time to cringe—with the feeling of just having realized you let a match burn too long without blowing it out, and knowing that your fingers hurt and in a moment your nervous system is going to tell you how much. If this bears little or no resemblance to your experience, or even if you haven’t seen There Will Be Blood, no matter, because I can almost guarantee you that whatever your experience was, it was dramatically different than that of any earlier Anderson film.

From Hard Eight through Punch-Drunk Love there is a liveliness,11 an expressionistic edge,12 and a certain ragged quality.13 All of these are at least potentially great, and none of them would I have suggested leaving behind, and yet that’s more or less what happened with There Will Be Blood. Far from being an ensemble piece, it focuses exclusively on one man. The story arc isn’t divergent; that one man is ambitious at the outset and we follow the linear results of that. Pop music gives way to an orchestra. Long takes remain, but are shot with much less camera movement. Generally: there is a certain formalism and deliberateness that pervades There Will Be Blood, which I love both because it makes for a great movie, and also because it stands as evidence that, if he can make this sort of a shift, Anderson might literally be capable of doing anything he wants.

The vast difference in tone between pre-Blood and post-Blood Anderson has been a sticking point in attempts to hierarchize his filmography. For reasons mostly of personal history and partly of more sophisticated critical analysis, I gravitate to Magnolia as a personal favourite. A friend prefers There Will Be Blood. Our debates on the subject have never really resolved anything, at least in terms of determining a definitive ranking. But they have helped clarify exactly how much and how little the ranking process means. Which is as much as to say that they’ve clarified that the process means basically nothing. If I say that I love Magnolia’s narrative sprawl and its interconnectivity and its optimism, it would make very little sense for my friend to say that no, There Will Be Blood is a better movie because he prefers its focus and its indictment of capitalistic or religious excess. Whether one prefers expanse or focus, ensembles or character pieces, melodrama or a more subdued approach—the simple fact that one has a preference for one or the other says approximately nothing about the movies themselves. What you really end up rating is yourself, which this approach isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s good to keep in mind its limitations.

Because of course what’s really going on is that different movies attempt different things, and they go about them differently. So the question of which method of dramatization is better is as senseless as asking “which is better, shaken or stirred?” without clarifying what it is we’re talking about. If we’re talking about mixing paints, those high-frequency paint shakers will probably do a better job than you’d ever do with stirring. With martinis, people’s advice will go either way depending on how much they want to try to look like James Bond.14 And as for babies, a good rule of thumb is anything but shaking. The value of a film’s methodology only makes sense when considered in terms of the film’s overall goal, and these overall goals must be considered in terms of how well they are accomplished. Any attempt to pit movies against each other ignores this complexity and instead assumes that all movies use the same methods and have the same goal, namely using whatever methods I like in order to please me. Which beyond just being demonstrably inaccurate also has the weird effect of establishing an expectation that a filmmaker should follow one’s own idiosyncrasies rather than what would actually serve the story at hand. There is certainly a conversation to be had about the relative merits of different artistic goals, but what is definitive is that a truly talented filmmaker will use whatever method will best achieve whichever goal is chosen. Of course, the filmmakers one rung above truly talented will do this, and still manage to make something that’s incontrovertibly theirs.

At the time, that was the extent of Anderson’s filmography.15 There were rumours, though, that he was working on a film that would star Philip Seymour Hoffman as a man very similar to L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology, near deity to his followers, charlatan extraordinaire to everyone else. Very little other information was available, but the combination of a revered director and a revered actor assured most who cared to pay attention that the end result was going to be fantastic. The inclusion of Scientology promised the sort of excoriating hit piece that serves to whip up the already-convinced into something of a hype frenzy. This is more or less what happened, as I, my friends, and a great number of online commenters concocted a movie very much like There Will Be Blood, in which a morally bankrupt cult leader sacrifices the happiness of everyone around him for the sake of his own power and wealth, eventually reaching a point of no return in the same vein as Daniel Plainview’s infamous “I’m finished.” Being at that time and to this day very interested in having my own thoughtless hatred venerated, this prospect made me very excited indeed.

What I got, though, was nothing like this. For starters, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Lancaster Dodd, is hardly even The Master’s main character. That position is arguably filled by Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell, an aimless drifter fresh out of the army who gets brought into Dodd’s belief system, The Cause, after being found stowed away on his boat. Moreover, the parallels between The Cause and our own Scientology are vague at best—likely not even apparent as any more than a general tonal similarity except to those who know Hubbard’s life story well. And while Dodd does force his followers into strange practices and illegal activities, there are few hints of anything even in the same ballpark as the various and well documented human rights abuses present in Scientology.

My initial response was frustration. I felt that Anderson had missed a narrative avenue that was as obvious as it would have been riveting,16 instead opting for a meandering plot and characters with indiscernible motivations. Whatever could be said of the formal differences amongst each of Anderson’s earlier films, they all contained momentum, a very present sense at each moment that something was going to come of this, that characters wanted and/or needed something, that something specific was going to happen. A young angry man will make amends with his father as his father dies. A young angry man will rise and fall in the adult film industry of the late seventies and early eighties. A young angry man will meet a young pretty woman and fall in love with her. A young angry man will establish an oil empire and lose his soul. Something. But in The Master, our young angry man bums around for a while after the Second World War, finds a cult, and then it’s very hard to describe what happens next. He gets involved, goes through some of their rites, hurts a few people, the religion is challenged, and then he goes to England and has sex with a woman, telling her “you’re the bravest girl I’ve ever met.” Even the arc of breaking out of a corrupt belief system is muddled, with no clear evidence that Freddie consciously decides to leave The Cause. It remains entirely possible that Freddie, who drifted into The Cause, is just drifting right back out, because drifting is just what he does.

Then I watched it again, knowing what it was going to be, and I found it no different and completely changed. Absent any ludicrous expectation that this one relatively obscure art film was going to tear down Scientology and free countless trapped minds, I could appreciate it for what it had always been: a story about people who started a religion. It doesn’t condemn them all because it’s not designed to condemn. It’s designed to explore, to illustrate, to visceralize, a particular post-war feeling of rootlessness and need for structure, the general idea that master/servant dyads have always and probably will always exist in a constant state of flux, the fears and neuroses and dreams that drive men and women to be masters or servants or anything in between. For The Master to have a more obvious narrative arc, whether redemptive or tragic, it would have to make a judgment about the relative merit of each character’s response to their time in history, which judgment is not the intent of the movie; it’s about the times themselves, and the people who lived there, who, for all their brokenness, are just people.

At the apex of all the above history, I walked into the opening night screening of Inherent Vice, excited beyond all reason. Some prerelease chatter had described the movie as difficult to follow, but I had come to terms with The Master, and so I wasn’t worried. I wouldn’t have called myself a Pynchon fan, but Anderson had already adapted a book I would never read with There Will Be Blood, and to fantastic effect.17 I was ready for anything.

This was partly true: I was fully ready to dislike Inherent Vice. What I wasn’t ready for was two hours and twenty-nine minutes of things that I had no feelings about whatsoever, positive or negative. Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc Sportello was neither funny nor boring to me, neither the straight man nor the wacky stoner. It’s not that he has no attributes—they just didn’t seem to matter enough for my brain to even register them beyond the obvious. He was a man who seemed to do a lot of drugs, which inebriants may or may not have had much effect on his thinking, which thinking is muddled either because Doc is insane, or because of the pot, or else because the world is actually as conspiratorial as he believes. I couldn’t tell if it mattered which was the actual case, or whether this was one of those ca. Inception times when we get to say “it doesn’t matter what’s real” and feel very good about ourselves, or whether it mattered whether actuality mattered or not in this case. My thoughts raced on such things for the entire movie, desperate for something, anything to hold onto, even as an example of why the movie wasn’t working. My inability to even process what was happening was almost literary: there’s something very surreal about being that lost while seeing characters onscreen discuss the merits of what they call the “pussy eater’s special.” I noticed my friend’s dad, who had for some reason wanted to come with us, had fallen asleep. He stayed that way for the rest of the movie. My girlfriend had no response except to get visibly uncomfortable when Katherine Waterston was violently spanked while nude in a one-shot that lasted about five minutes. My friend sighed several times. This from a filmmaker who had until this point given me nothing but wonder.

None of this should have surprised me. I had read Gravity’s Rainbow, one of Pynchon’s more famous books, and it felt exactly the same way: like nothingness blended. Seven hundred and sixty pages of zero emotional response other than occasionally being confused. In this sense, Anderson nailed the adaptation. Pynchon fans would no doubt find this description funny, and it may well be, but I’ve yet to hear any convincing argument as to why I should feel anything other than completely dispirited by the whole experience. Even the supposed jokes, which can land even amidst an otherwise scattered story, struck me as nothing more than endlessly positioning something low-brow next to something high-brow: poop jokes next to intricate descriptions of early twentieth century show business; sociopolitical commentary on the transition from the sixties to the seventies next to a man bopping his head.

She doesn’t want to hear me say all that, though. No one does. People see movies and don’t like them all the time. They don’t usually ask for a few thousand words on the subject. Even I see movies I don’t like all the time. I watched Le Retour à la Raison, Ballet Mécanique, and Battleship Potempkin in one weekend, for Pete’s sake. I should know what an artistic disconnect feels like. This is different, though. I didn’t worship Eisenstein. I didn’t drag anyone to his movies and tell them he was a genius. I didn’t feel like a fool for watching them. She’d understand if I said I was disappointed. Wait, no, nevermind: it’s been two hours and I haven’t said a word. She would have understood if I told her right away. Best to just say I need alone time. Keep it mysterious.

I didn’t watch an Anderson movie for the next year. I mostly avoided thinking about them. Thankfully, this is easier to do the less a movie is known. But I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling that I hadn’t finished with Anderson yet, or, perhaps, that he hadn’t finished with me. I sketched out some basic thoughts about why I couldn’t connect with Inherent Vice, and why I loved everything else, but, much like Anderson’s problem piece, none of it seemed to go anywhere.18 I had nothing.

Then I watched Hard Eight. I found it while cleaning out my Dropbox, a lonely .avi that I’d put there years previous when swapping computers, on the assumption that I’d want to watch it in the future. In a technical sense this assumption bore out, though I’m not sure I planned on it taking four years. I had little desire to watch it, but somehow felt I should, if only to give some closure to my affair with Anderson, which I believed to be nearing its end. I assumed I wouldn’t like it all that much, but thought there was a chance I might like it a great deal, and that it might set off a new period of Anderson appreciation.

I didn’t like it all that much. But, somehow, it did set off a new period of Anderson appreciation. It did this not by being mindblowing, not by redeifying Anderson, but by being a perfectly fine movie that just wasn’t, as they say, my thing. Philip Baker Hall’s and John C. Reilly’s performances were good. The technical skills on display, though obviously limited somewhat by budget, are more than enough. The storyline is fairly straightforward but entirely functional. I had little in the way of criticisms other than to say that Hard Eight didn’t push my particular buttons, though I could certainly see how it could push someone else’s. None of this sounds revelatory, and in a way it’s not, because what it demonstrates as truth is simply and obvious: Paul Thomas Anderson is a person. He is a human being who has lived actual experiences, been young and sexually frustrated, been a parent and on four hours’ sleep, argued with his wife, forgotten his keys, tripped and fallen, and any other number of the petty nothings and very-much-somethings that make up a human life. And somewhere in the course of this, he’s made a few movies. And without ascribing any autobiographicality to his films, they are bound to reflect something about him as a person, his likes and dislikes, what he finds funny, what he finds gross, what makes him want to dance, anything. So for him to, in the course of his decades on earth as an actual entire person, develop an interest or two that isn’t one we share, this is inevitable.

Such an obvious realization shouldn’t have much of an emotional impact: impact implies a mental change commensurate with its size, and for this realization to cause any change would require seeing a filmmaker as something other than a person, which is patently insane. Yet insane is what I was, because not only had I imagined Anderson as some sort of demigod whose mistakes were only relevant in terms of how they highlighted his enormous successes, but I had imagined him as a demigod whose sole purpose in his celestial life was making movies just for me. Hard Eight showed me Anderson for what he really is: above all, a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.

  1. Plus buy a blu-ray, but that came later.

  2. Wild Hogs was still a somewhat recent phenomenon.

  3. Except, like everyone else on the planet, Hard Eight.

  4. Also… depthy?

  5. The portrayal happens at a much different level and refers to something a bit different, but for a good illustration of this sort of emotional genre-mixing, see Pixar’s Inside Out.

  6. Most of which are actually good, but guys, while I hate to curmudgeon the curmudgeons, let’s be realistic: the “they don’t make ’em like they used to” discussion might be the most perennially annoying thing we pretend is totally fine

  7. Which might sound negative, but in Anderson’s own words, albeit from some years ago: “I really subscribe to that old adage that you should never let the audience get ahead of you for a second. So if the film’s abrasive and wrongfoots people then, y’know, that’s great. But I hope it involves an audience. If not, that’s my fuck-up.”

  8. This type of character, whose sole purpose seems to be breaking sensitive guys out of their shells, had a name, but I’m told it’s now sexist, so let’s just agree that breaking sensitive guys out of their shells, while possibly a good thing to do sometimes, is neither women’s job specifically nor the only thing they can do.

  9. Yes, he had a good reason, but of course there’s no way Lena would know what this was, and so, unless she were a nearly braindead vehicle for Barry’s encouragement, she is justified in being miffed at him. That we don’t see Lena’s realization that she is, in some sense, wrong about the situation, I think to be a positive.

  10. The organization of disparate elements into some kind of cohesive whole being basically a director’s entire job.

  11. Yes, whip-pans, but also the insanely choreographed long-takes, pop(/~ish) music, and consistently melodramatic characterization.

  12. First-person videotape recording, all-cast singalongs, abstract visual interludes, and, of course, frogs.

  13. Ensemble stories, familiar romantic comedy beats set to percussive dissonance, a generally grainier look.

  14. The correct answer is not to order a martini, because they either taste awful (olives can get off my planet), or are so far from an actual martini that you may as well just get a spritzer.

  15. Except Hard Eight, of course.

  16. In my mind: very.

  17. Blood was adapted from Upton Sinclair’s Oil!, albeit loosely.

  18. Perhaps it still doesn’t, but I’ve recently been assured by a lovably progressive-optimist friend that all one can do is try.