Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Master

The Master
seen @ Ziegfeld Theater, New York NY

And now, five things I thought about while watching The Master:

1. This doesn't look like how I imagined 70mm would look. Part of the reason I held out so long to see this movie was so I could see it in 70mm at the Ziegfeld (the place could certainly use the business). Vija and I sat in the middle of the cavernous auditorium at my suggestion (maybe favoring the rear a little) because I was expecting, as I told her afterwards, a panoramic, Lawrence of Arabia-type image. What I saw didn't quite feel that... majestic. Maybe it was because it wasn't anywhere near the same kind of movie as Lawrence of Arabia.

Vija thought it was because we were sitting as far back as we were, which makes more sense to me. The Ziegfeld is far bigger than that of your average multiplex auditorium, making it easy to throw off your sense of scale - and it's not like I go to the Ziegfeld all the time. I talked to an usher afterwards to make sure that this was indeed, the 70mm print and she said it was... my first 70mm experience turned out to be slightly less than epic. If I ever get to see another one, I'll make sure to sit closer to the front.

2. This really looks like a Stanley Kubrick film. I think I may have mentioned it before, how Paul Thomas Anderson started out making movies that look like Robert Altman and now he's switched to Kubrick. What does a Kubrick movie look like? Definitely panoramic, for one thing, but he also loved to use long takes focused on a face, or maybe two people in conversation, usually centered.

Look at The Shining or A Clockwork Orange or 2001 and you'll recognize it immediately - the way he builds up tension within a scene by holding a close-up during a conversation and making few cuts within the overall scene. PTA does that here. Also, like Kubrick, he uses music carefully and judiciously.

3. Joaquin Phoenix' character is difficult to watch. I read somewhere that Phoenix studied the movement of apes for his role of Freddie, and indeed, the way he lopes around, swinging his arms to and fro, leanign forward with his chin jutted out, is reminiscent of some manner of primate. Plus there's his violence (the jail scene in particular is quite disturbing) and his sexual urges - thought they did provide us with a scene with lots of naked women!

4."Processing" is not unlike certain acting techniques. There's a scene early in the movie where Phillip Seymour Hoffman asks Phoenix a long series of personal questions that, I presume, are meant as an initiation to the Cause, the Scientology-like cult that PSH's character Dodd runs. 

I've talked before about my experience in studying acting, specifically about learning the Meisner technique, and it's quite similar to  how Dodd engages Freddie in this scene: staying completely focused on your partner. Repetition. Reacting to your partner; their face, their body movements, the sound and inflection of their voice, all of it (don't say "ouch" until you get a pinch - that's how they taught it to us). And above all, stay in the moment.

Seeing Dodd and Freddie go back and forth in their interrogation felt a lot like that technique, in which the goal - as Dodd makes clear himself - is to get at the truth. For an actor, that means emotional truth, and I'd say both PSH and Phoenix achieved that.

5. Why would anyone choose to follow Dodd in the first place? This is the big problem I had with The Master - I couldn't understand how Dodd got to where he was, because the Cause wasn't explained adequately enough for me. (Why is it even called "The Cause"?) Yes, Dodd is charismatic and has an air of knowledge and authority, but we never see him make the study of "past lives" sound appealing, like something you and I would wanna explore. Never mind the parallels to Scientology - which I think is a hoax and a sham, by the way - I found it difficult to fully invest in the reality of Dodd's cult.

The Master wasn't bad by any means, but I feel like there wasn't enough "there" there. It fell too much on the navel-gazing, introspective side and I wasn't as open to the premise as I should have been.


  1. A few more comments on "The Master":

    I didn't think it was as good as Anderson's last three films. Having said that, I thought it was fascinating enough that I want to see it again on the big screen.

    You're right on the money with the Kubrick connection. Coincidentally, another Anderson was making with the Kubrick symmetrical compositions this year: Wes Anderson, in "Moonrise Kingdom".

    I thought all the sequences in the department store were very Kubrickian, also Tati-esque(see "Playtime"). I'd watch the movie again for just that beautiful, mesmerizing section of film.

    I didn't think Jonny Greenwood's score was as poignant or powerful as what he wrote for "There Will Be Blood". Of course, much of his music for "There Will..." wasn't written for that film, but was intended to be performed on stage.

    I still think P.T. Anderson is one of the greatest living directors.

  2. If Kubrick made comedies, they probably would look similar to Wes Anderson's - though perhaps with fewer bright colors.

    Greenwood's score was quite unusual, especially in the first half. I'd have to re-watch 'Blood' to compare the score.

    I have a feeling I prefer Altman-influenced PTA to Kubrick-influenced PTA.

  3. If "The Shining" and "Eyes Wide Shut" are any indication, showing a lot of nude women is certainly Kubrick-ian. :-)

    As for the appeal of The Cause, it may be hard for us in today's world to understand, but I suspect that back in the 50s, such ideas were so new and uncommon as to seem revolutionary. Much like the discovery of Eastern philosophies in the 1960s. We're exposed to so much of the downside of these fringe movements that it comes off very different.

    -- Susan B.

  4. That makes sense, when you put it like that. I imagine it was easier for people to fall for such radically different ideas, if nothing else.


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