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I... INFLUENCES

One of the great aspects of Paul Thomas Anderson's genius is his incredible knowledge of film history. He uses his vast appreciation and knowledge while embracing his influences. When you watch his films, you know Anderson has such a passion of filmmaking and film history. As any artist, Anderson is influenced by other filmmakers, yet he also has a definitive and original ability completely his own. Simply put, Anderson is a master filmmaker and I believe he will be regarded as one of the greatest to ever live.

All his films are masterpieces and highly original works. They also share influences from filmmakers such as Jean Renoir, Jonathan Demme, Stanley Kubrick, and Robert Altman. Each of Anderson's films are influenced yet those influences are subtly and respectfully used by a filmmaker who was born to make films. It is with Punch-Drunk Love that this gifted and original young filmmaker reached the artistic expressionism of a master.

I believe Punch-Drunk Love to be one of the most original films ever made. However, that is not to say the film is not without it's cinematic influences. The most notable influences lie within the French New Wave films of the 1960s and 1930s-40s Hollywood musicals. Rather then being direct influences, Anderson captures the spirit of these films with Punch-Drunk Love. Of course, there are also some visual references/homages to these influences, and while most of them may not be direct references (perhaps they simply lie in the cinematic subconscious of Anderson), here is a look at the similarities of previous films and filmmakers.

Maybe the definitive display of using influences for Punch-Drunk Love is Anderson's use of one of the keys songs of the film: "He Needs Me", sung by Shelly Duvall in Robert Altman's Popeye (1980). Here Anderson perfectly combines the unique song (from an Altman film that is not a very memorable one) with the beautiful score by Jon Brion as well as the emotional longing of the leading characters (Barry and Lena). While not directly referencing Popeye, Anderson is using the song in an entirely new perspective and ultimately redefining how the song is remembered (while still being respectful of the original source, and one of his favorite filmmakers- Robert Altman).




Here is perfect example of Anderson's subconscious or indirect use of influences. A moment in which Barry Egan, out of frustration from being denied the immediate use of his Healthy Choice promotion of Frequent Flyer miles so he can visit Lena in Hawaii, punches his office wall. He then begins to cry before reaching out to the harmonium (which will be discussed more in the future). It is then revealed that his knuckles are bleeding and spelling out L-O-V-E. While this would seem an obvious homage to the classic 1955 masterpiece Night of the Hunter, or even Spike Lee's brilliant 1989 film Do the Right Thing (which itself was directly homaging Night of the Hunter), here it is done with it's own expression. The original working title for the film was Punchdrunk Knuckle Love, and it would appear that this moment was not a direct reference, but rather one of it's own in capturing the visual emotion of the films themes.





Throughout the film (in all but two short moments) Barry Egan is seen wearing a blue suit. While thoughts of Cary Grant's gray suit (throughout Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 North By Northwest) or Elliot Gould's suit in Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973) come to mind as inspirations, it is the blue suit of Jean-Luc Godard's A Woman is a Woman (1961) that stands out as most obvious. It is unknown whether the reference is direct or not, but Punch-Drunk Love captures much of the spirit of the French New Wave and Godard's playful and stylish film.

Lena is seen in a variety of different colored dresses (which blend with Jeremy Blakes artwork, and the color themes of the film). Among them are the beautiful scenes in Hawaii where Barry and Lena "relocate" (more on that later). Here Lena is seen wearing a lovely white dress which recalls that of the stunning Cyd Charisse in Vincente Minnelli's musical masterpiece The Band Wagon (1953). Again, maybe not a direct influence, but like Godard's A Woman is a Woman and the French New Wave, The Band Wagon or Hollywood musicals share much of the visual and emotional spirit of Punch-Drunk Love.

Anderson is sharing the sprit of those films (be it with direct or indirect references) while still expressing Punch-Drunk Love's images, themes, and emotions. Colors play a critical role in Punch-Drunk Love's expressionism (this topic will be further discussed), and the white dress and blue suit capture this.





Perhaps the films most direct references comes from the wonderful 1960 Francois Truffaut film, Shoot the Piano Player. Aside from sharing much of the French New Wave style and even some of Shoot the Piano Player's storyline, Punch-Drunk Love contains a couple notable homages to the film. Among them, is Emily Watson's mysterious character Lena, who (un-coincidentally) shares the same name as the mysterious woman who loves the piano player (Charlie) in Shoot the Piano Player.

Also, Anderson subtly homages the opening sequence of Shoot the Piano Player in which Chico (brother of the films man star, piano player Charlie) is being chased by two gangsters. The scene is referenced in Punch-Drunk Love when Barry is attacked by the four blonde brothers who were sent from Utah by Dean Trumbell ("The Mattress Man" and owner of the phone sex business).







The style and expression of Punch-Drunk Love is very much in the spirit of Hollywood musicals and French New Wave filmmaking. Another key similarity can be found within the work of French filmmaker, Jacques Tati. Tati mastered comic satire and slapstick, particularly through the use of objects and surrounding environment. His films often contained very little dialogue, and like Punch-Drunk Love used visual environment and sound to capture emotion and expression. While Punch-Drunk Love may not directly reference Tati's work, clearly Anderson (again, even if subconsciously) had Tati in mind.

Take for example the opening shot of the film, which will be discussed more in future topics. By simply framing Barry isolated in the corner of the frame with nothing but a white and blue background wall, the audience is able to understand the loneliness of the character. Also, in perhaps the most Tati-esque sequence, when Barry struggles to find Lena's apartment. Notice the framing, use of the environment, and particularly the sounds Anderson uses in this scene. It's very reminiscent of Tati's comedic slapstick expressionism through visuals and sounds. It also bares resemblance of Tati's postmodern satire, most notably his Mon Oncle (1958) and Playtime (1967).

Another example can be found in one of the films signature shots: a silhouette kiss as Barry and Lena come together in Hawaii. Notice the background when they come together to kiss- a crowd of people (lead first by a young kid with a flag!) begin to surround the background of the frame. Again the environment is absorbing Barry. One other example can be seen after Barry first meets Lena at the garage. As she walks away, he hides himself within the dark shadow of the garage only to peek out to see if she is still there (notice the contrasting of lightness and darkness).




In all his films, Anderson has shown influences from the legendary Stanley Kubrick, but it is Punch-Drunk Love that is undoubtedly his most "Kubrickian" film to date. Again, rather then direct references or homages, the influences are subtly evident within his directing and cinematography. Particularly the angles and lighting of the film that capture the emotions through images and sound in a way Kubrick mastered. One of the most notable similarities with Kubrick can be found in the scenes with Barry at home and on the phone with the phone sex operator. The lightning of these sequences, as well as the framing of the camera is very specific and the emotion is one of sad, and isolated detachment reminiscent of Kubrick.

Another notable (and indirect) similarity with Kubrick comes in the scene when Barry and Lena go out to the restaurant. After Lena begins to ask Barry about something his sister told her, Barry excuses himself to the bathroom where he lets out his inner rage. Notice the visual detail of the bathroom, which through framing and colors establishes emotions and themes of the film (color symbolism will be described more in the next part of this discussion). Of course, Kubrick always featured a key bathroom scene in just about every film he made. However, the similarity extends much further then the bathroom. It is the visual expression and emotion of the filmmaking that makes them similar. Notice the above example from Kubrick's The Shining (1980). It is composed with exact detail of expressionism to capture the themes and emotions of the film (through symbolic uses of red and double imagery- which is a key element of the film).




Anderson has always been associated with his Robert Altman connections, particularly in narrative structure (Magnolia and Boogie Nights both often get mentioned as being heavily influenced by Altman's Nashville and Short Cuts). Aside from the minor similarities with The Long Goodbye and the use of "He Needs Me", Anderson manages to slip in an Altman homage, all be it a very simple, respectful, and even humorous one. In Altman's 1993 film Short Cuts, Jennifer Jason Leigh (who is one of Anderson's best friends in real life) plays a phone sex operator who works from home while caring for her baby during calls. In Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson introduces the phone sex operator for the first time visually with a baby being tended in the back of the frame. This is a beautiful little homage to a filmmaker Anderson truly admires and respects.




One of the most energetic and wilding humorous sequences of the film arrives when Barry's sister, Elizabeth, brings Lena (who is picking up her car next door) to meet Barry at his office. The scene is pure chaos a very reminiscent of something out of a Federico Fellini film. The framing and movements of the camera here are incredible, and perfectly blend with both Jon Brion's score and the emotions of Barry. We can feel his nerves as we see the chaotic state of the situation: dealing with his sister "ragging" him and asking about the harmonium/pudding/shrink/crying problem, seeing Lena, the office on-goings (including a forklift which spills over, or Barry asking Lance about "the guy"), as well as taking threatening calls from the phone sex operator who forced him to cancel his credit card after she asked him for money. Of course, the scene isn't really referencing an particular Fellini moment and is highly original and brilliantly executed on it's own. It's just a sequence that captures much of the same chaotic and humorous spirit found within the work of Fellini.

Take for example an early scene in Fellini's masterpiece, 8 ½ (1963). Guido (played by Marcello Mastroianni) meets with several different people ranging from producers, screenwriters, critics all looking for answers on the production of his new film. The scene is pure chaos and though Punch-Drunk Love is not referencing this sequence it shows the similarities (even if unintentional) with the Fellini's energy, and humor. 8 ½ captures the chaos of film directing through Fellini's expressionism. In Punch-Drunk Love, Anderson is expressing the chaotic state of Barry's nerves.




Of course, Anderson even has moments (like all auteur filmmakers) in which he references his own films (again, often even indirectly). A couple of the most notable examples: Andersons' quintessential or signature shot may very well be the "Iris Shot". An Iris is a technique commonly used in the silent era, and also became a commonly used technique of French New Wave master Francois Truffaut, among others. Anderson has used the Iris Shot in every film he's made, and Punch-Drunk Love is no exception. Here it is used as Barry and Lena walk back to their hotel in Hawaii. They begin to hold hands and as they walk out of frame an Iris-Out Shot follows their hands into the room.

Another inter-reference shortly follows this signature shot. The next morning in Hawaii Lena is seen on the phone talking business with Barry's sister Elizabeth. A simple, even meaningless conversation in which Anderson makes enjoyable for those familiar with his previous films (in this case Boogie Nights). Elizabeth tells Lena to "unload the 484s", which not so coincidentally, is the exact same thing Buck Swope (played by Don Cheadle) is told by his boss in Boogie Nights.


 

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