This week, the Fresh Films crew reviews Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film Phantom Thread. Transcript below.
[Plays clip from Phantom Thread soundtrack]
Marco Cartolano: The Oscars don’t respect a lot of things that aren’t typical Oscar canon of historical film, a film about a topical subject or stuff where actors get to yell a lot. But you know what isn’t a film that doesn’t fall into the Oscar category?
Elliot Kronsberg: Yet it was nominated for best picture?
Marco: Yes. Phantom Thread. Hello, this is Fresh Films, we’re a podcast devoted to new films that just came out in Evanston. I’m Marco Cartolano.
Elliot: I’m Elliot Kronsberg.
Marcus Galeano: And I’m Marcus Galeano.
Marco: Today we’re talking about the newest Paul Thomas Anderson film and best picture nominee Phantom Thread. Paul Thomas Anderson is the director of some modern cinematic classics. Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood Punch-Drunk Love. So, you know, one of the most acclaimed filmographies in modern cinema history. And this film is also famous for it supposedly being the last performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time Academy Award-winning actor best known for Lincoln, There Will Be Blood and My Left Foot, all three of which he won the Oscar for. It also stars Vicky Krieps.
Elliot: She’s a Luxembourgish actress who has only been in a couple of English language films. She was in Hanna in 2011.
Elliot: And the third sort of…
Marco: Main character is Daniel Day-Lewis’s sister played by Lesley Manville.
Elliot: You know Lesley Manville. Everybody knows Lesley Manville. We don’t have to mention what films she’s been in.
Marco: So the basic plot of this is that Daniel Day-Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, a famous dressmaker who lives with his sister and he’s this neurotic obsessive dressmaker who goes through lovers who can’t handle his mood swings. But one day he goes out on vacation and he finds this waitress played by Vicky Krieps and they fall in love. And they form this very weird relationship that defies a lot of the expectations, a lot of the norms of the “troubled genius falls in love” story. And it’s definitely a headtrip from start to finish. It’s very comparable to Mother! in themes, but it’s a little bit more subversive than Mother!
Elliot: I think it’s a lot less obvious than Mother! There’s a similar relationship that permeates the film, but it’s less of a cut and dry, “Oh, he’s the creative master and she’s his muse.” It’s more of this odd exploration of the odd power dynamic between this famed dressmaker and this woman he picks up at a country diner.
Marco: Yeah. One of the first things I want to talk about is what’s going to get a lot of attention, the acting. As previously said, this is Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed last role. He’s an infamous method actor. He actually apparently made dresses for a while to get into character. He plays this troubled genius character, but you soon realize that his portrayal has a lot more instances of him being sort of an impetuous manchild and this immature neediness that is a lot more subversive than how we usually portray these sorts of tormented geniuses. And he’s anchored by his sister, played by Lesley Manville, who has this sort of steely woman-in-charge sense. You get the impression that there’s a lot more power going to the women in his life than you’d get at first. And then Vicky Krieps walks in. She, at first, seems very vulnerable, ignorant and innocent in a sense. But she reveals layers of sort of sadism, of impetuousness, of determination that flip the story on its head and I actually think Vicky Krieps is a standout in the film, which is pretty impressive when you’re acting against Daniel Day-Lewis. And I think it’s a bit of an injustice that she didn’t get a best supporting actress nomination for her role.
Elliot: Well, I feel like maybe it’s 'cause she was a lead. She felt like way more of a lead than a supporting actress. Lesley Manville was nominated for best supporting actress. If you compare how much they’re actually in the film, you’d say like, “Oh, of course Vicky is a lead actress.” But that category was so stacked this year. I don’t know, it kind of makes sense, she should have gotten nominated in supporting if they would have considered that. I don’t know. I really think she did a great job.
Marcus: Krieps really brings a sort of oddly maternal thing, then when it’s introduced with Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance it’s just, there’s not a lot of clicking going on, but then as it starts to grow and develop and they start making decisions that influence their relationship, you start to see a thing, sort of start to take hold and form as it goes farther and farther down the line leading up to the very end, which really brings it to a bare – you get sort of the sense of why this dynamic starts to work and why what happens at the end actually does happen. Why don’t we talk about some stuff we actually can not spoil? What about music? The music was excellent. It’s beautiful. It’s very aristocratic. It lends a lot of sense of class to this film that you usually wouldn’t get. I think Jonny Greenwood, is it?
Marco: Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead.
Marcus: That’s right.
Elliot: Paul Thomas Anderson, when asking Jonny Greenwood to compose the score, said that he wanted some “big ass strings.” Which, as we all know, is American for orchestral. That’s not my joke, it’s Jonny Greenwood’s joke. But stylistically, it’s something that you would expect from a period piece, but its execution is just so beautiful and unique.
Marco: It kind of subverts a lot of period piece orchestral music in that there’s not this repetitive sense of riffing on the classics. There’s not a bigness to it. It feels sort of small and minimalistic and repetitive but also has that regalness to it. Jonny Greenwood has worked with Paul Thomas Anderson a lot in the past. Most famously in There Will Be Blood, a film that owes a lot to its music and he brings another great soundtrack to the fold in this film.
Elliot: I think that the music works well in tandem with the cinematography. This is the first time that Paul Thomas Anderson has shot one of his own films.
Marcus: Looks great.
Elliot: It really does look great, but it’s not grand. There are a lot of shots of Reynolds' car just driving and you can tell it’s like a fancy GoPro, but it’s executed really well.
Marcus: It’s such a confined little-cramped space and it sort of lends itself to these kind of feelings of unease, and just feeling trapped by the whole thing. Which really gives a sense of discomfort to the whole film and it works very potently.
Marco: Yes and this is a pretty subversive element for Paul Thomas Anderson. Paul Thomas Anderson’s famous for big films – like you have Boogie Nights, which has a famous one take. You have Magnolia, which is just like crazy cinematography. Like random bursts of singing.
Elliot: But you gotta remember that the two that you named Marco were early Anderson. This is late Anderson. This is the Paul Thomas Anderson who did Inherent Vice and The Master. It’s kind of almost a reflection on these films that are usually really grand and big. Even There Will Be Blood, it’s not a very fun western.
Marcus: Also, I sort of go into Paul Thomas Anderson movies expecting something that will divert my expectations, but one thing I didn’t really expect in this movie, it’s fucking funny.
Elliot: It is really funny.
Marcus: It’s really funny.
Elliot: I was talking about this last night. I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s like a dark comedy erotic thriller that’s not very erotic.” It cuts right before it’s supposed to get erotic.
Marcus: Again, he uses that sense of discomfort and he slides in these little one-liners with Cyril and Reynolds. And they just – they cut to the bone and you’re just laughing your ass off.Marco: Yes, it’s really funny actually and you have one-liners. You have absurdism as well with the scenarios that play out. There’s like this scene between Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps about asparagus that just is both absurdly funny and also dramatic in a display of both of their talents in this perfect scene. So it masterfully controls tone so that it can be a creepy, absurd and hilarious too.
Elliot: I think that this absurdity draws a lot from the kind of characters we have. We have this almost ingenue discovered in the middle of nowhere, and like a manchild and his really controlling sister – none of whom seem to be very good at interpersonal relationships. Cyril and Reynolds, Lesley Manville and Daniel Day-Lewis seem to be really good with the customers, but they’re not really nice people. They pretend to be nice, but neither of them have been married. There’s almost the insinuation that they’re not really interested in other people.
Marcus: To me, what that really felt like was sort of like this idea that this facade of politeness and elegance, sort of spackling over this interior, which is insecure and has all these other problems that you would have when you’re creating art. Which is probably the main theme that works in tandem with the dynamic of Kries and Day-Lewis, and they just sort of kind of juggle each other. One becomes more prevalent than the other becomes more prevalent and it just sort of balances them out together and it’s quite mesmerizing actually.
Marco: It’s also very interesting for me that the focus of artistic brilliance in this film is dressmaking, and it's dressmaking that’s made to be pretty clear is soon coming out of touch, out of style. So there’s a lot of tweaks to these traditional narratives that we’re finding about artists-muse relationships in that this artist is someone who, while very good at their craft, is doing a craft most won’t consider very important or meaningful – who's also on the verge of becoming irrelevant.
[Clip from soundtrack]
Marco: Let’s move on to our final thoughts. Elliot, what did you think?
Elliot: So I really enjoyed this film. Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing like he always is. Even when he’s playing really corny characters, he’s fun and really gets into the role. Vicky Krieps, I really am excited to see her in future films because, one, I don’t know of any other actresses from Luxembourg – actors or actresses from Luxembourg. I don’t really know much about Luxembourg. But I think that she’s a hell of an actress. I’m really excited about what she does in the future. I don’t know any upcoming projects. I’m sure she has some. Lesley Manville was good in her role. I’m surprised that she’s getting all this award recognition, both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, because, I mean, she’s the third major character in the film, but she didn’t really stick out to me, I don’t think. Of course, the music and cinematography were great and worked very well in tandem to create this sort of measured, contained period drama that really allows us to focus on the characters rather than these grand sets. Even though the sets, the costuming are all great. It’s very character-driven in a really cool way. Now for the future of Paul Thomas Anderson, I kind of hope that he continues to focus on these kinds of movies because I don’t know how many more Magnolias I can really see in one lifetime.
Marco: Well, hopefully the Tiffany Haddish, Timothée Chalamet rom-com he’s coming up with will be great.
Elliot: Look, I’m so excited if he’s working with Timothée Chalamet and Tiffany Haddish on a comedy because just to see what Paul Thomas does with a comedy and with Tiffany Haddish, whose known for very broad comedy. It’s going to be amazing and I look forward to it. But back to Phantom Thread, it’s a really good twisted film. I’m glad it got recognition at the Oscars and at some of the critic’s associations. I’d highly recommend it to really anybody who loves Daniel Day-Lewis. Anybody who loves Paul Thomas Anderson. Even the sort of crowd that loves the costume drama like Merchant Ivory did in the ‘80s and ‘90s that I think would enjoy this film, even if it is a little more twisted then they’re used to. Marco, what did you think about this film?
Marco: I think this film, yet again, proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of our masters of tone in filmmaking. He is a master of capturing both tension and claustrophobia, while also managing to make it hilarious too. Daniel Day-Lewis is as great as he always is. Vicky Krieps is a standout, hopefully, a future star someday. And the quality is at what you would expect from a Paul Thomas Anderson film in 2018. I really recommend it – I loved it and I would recommend this to Paul Thomas Anderson fans. Fans of the art of filmmaking in it of itself, also just fans of period pieces that are a bit more twisted than The Darkest Hour.
Elliot: Oh, we’re going to throw in a dig at The Darkest Hour here.
Marcus: Throwin’ down.
Elliot: Alright Marcus, what did you think?
Marcus: Alright, look guys it looks great, sounds great, actings good, narrative is interesting. Yeah, that should be all you need. Go watch it. Yay.
Elliot: Alright. This has been Fresh Films from NorthByNorthwestern Audio.
Marco: I’m Marco Cartolano.
Elliot: I’m Elliot Kronsberg.
Marcus: And I’m Marcus Galeano.
Elliot: Catch us online at NorthByNorthwestern.com and on Apple Podcasts. This has been Fresh Films. See you.
[Clip from Phantom Thread]