Friday, February 15, 2008

"And up from the ground came a-bubblin' crude

Oil that is, black gold, Texas T"

On my walk in this morning my thoughts turned once again to There Will Be Blood, the magnificent film on general release at the mo'. Mostly excellent feedback but I've heard a few voices moaning that it is overrated or indeed one of our customers today who thought it just boring. An incomprehensible response I must say.

Anyway, I was thinking again about the film and it occured to me just how funny it is. Yes, bleak and disturbing and violent and insane but also very, very funny in a drily absurdist sense that reflects the total absurdity of Daniel Plainview's exercise. Some of Daniel Day Lewis's faces and gurns and poses are blackly amusing and not, I think, unintended on the part of the director and actor.

This struck me when thinking about the scene where Plainview and his boy HW are out 'hunting quail' on the Sunday ranch when actually looking for oil. The part where they are firing their guns at the ground and then find some oil on the surface really reminded me of the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies where Jed Clampett also finds oil which leads him to a mansion in California much as Plainview's discovery leads him to a similar mansion only in a much darker place. I don't think echoes like these are an accident. Knowing Paul Thomas Anderson's previous work I think he would only be all to aware of the imagery and would consciously use the theme as a reflection on the American dream and where it would lead.

The marvelous thing about this film is that in an age where 'What's it all about then?' is usually reduced to the length of a blog post or newspaper review we have a film that absolutely refuses to be contained in such a way. It twists and turns and reveals its complex layers on each richly rewarded re-viewing. Can't praise it highly enough although my film companion does think I'm becoming a little obsessive. (I could bore you with my thoughts on the framing devices in the cinematography but maybe that's another post on another blog).

Go and see it. Atleast three times.


  1. Are you aiming for a spot on the couch of Newsnight Review or something?

    Meant in a nice way of course, you'll do well there. (Wouldn't he folks?)

  2. I think with any kind of artistic creation, one experiences it on two levels - head and heart. You can appreciate something as being good whilst not actually responding to it on any kind of emotional level.

    I can't fault anything about the craft that went into making There Will Be Blood - great acting, wonderful cinematography, brilliant score etc. And funny, yes, as you say.

    But watching it I felt completely unmoved. It did nothing for me on a personal level at all. I felt like I was watching the behaviour of ants through a microscope. Totally cold.

    So for me: head yes, heart no.

  3. Growing up in an oil town in Canada, filled with borderline nutbar entrepreneurial types like Daniel Plainview, I found There Will Be Blood had a more than personal resonance.

    There Will Be Blood reminded me of a Kubrick film in its essential enigma...although I think this film's tone and concerns are warmer than Kubrick. I think you get out of this film what you bring to it and that is the challenge that all formidable and idiosyncratic works of art lay down for the audience. It is a shame such experiences are so rare and far between in the cinema, but when they are encountered, they should be cherished.

  4. I'm really insulted by that Lee! Are you implying I didn't enjoy TWBB because I didn't bring enough to it? Like maybe I wasn't trying enough or I'm too stupid or I am incapable of appreciating art or in some other way I'm not up to the "challenge"? Personally I can't stand the intellectual arrogance that suggests that where someone disagrees with you on a work of art that the failure is in that person, rather than acknowledging the essential truth that there isn't a single film that has ever been made which works for everyone. As it happens, I thought that the essential enigma of TWBB was the result of putting intellectual argument over genuine humanity. But I guess I am too dumb to get it.

  5. Marie, I wasn't implying anything. Certainly not directly at you. I was simply following up on a conversation I had with Adam over the weekend. I sorry if you read my post as some kind of veiled attack on you specifically.

    I said that you get out of a work out of art what you bring to it. And sometimes one's own experience gives one a greater entry point into a problematic work of art than an intellectual response.

    I don't have a problem whether you didn't respond to the film, but I think there is too much going on in the film to dismiss it as simply an Oscar Worthy Problem film. In fact it is the film's sheer inscrutability at certain points which makes it so different than the kind of films Oscars are traditionally thrown out for.

  6. Sorry Lee. In my defense I am stuck at home after an operation and feeling very tired and sore and grumpy, probably not the best frame of mind to start debating Great Art!