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.
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.
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.
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 unfortunately often forgotten about) 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
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
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).
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 Popeye's "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.
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.
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.
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.
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.