Anderson: Portrait of a Serial Filmmaker


Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson and Wes Anderson both released films in 2012.  The Anderson name is not the only thing these two intelligent storytellers have in common.  Born 13 months apart in the middle of Generation X, consider these other commonalities:

  • Back-to-back masterpieces to close the curtain on the 20th century and open a new one on the 21stBoogie Nights & Magnolia (P.T.) and Rushmore & The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes).
  • Revolving cast of players – Phillip Seymor Hoffman, John C. Riley, William H. Macy (P.T.) and Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwarzman (Wes).
  • Anti-pop culture topics with against-the-grain film making styles:  Wes’ Fantastic Mr. Fox is about a rag-tag group of B-list animals done in stop-motion animation in the age of in-your-face 3-D.; P.T.’s There Will Be Blood about a despicable oil prospector in early 20th century shot with old school 35 mm cameras in the economical age of digital.
  • Comforting but disconcerting character-driven storytelling with an odd mix of melancholy and humor

And yet their films couldn’t be more dissimilar – compare the decadent San Fernando Valley in the golden ago of porn in P.T.’s Boogie Nights with the surreal private academy in an anonymous time and place of Wes’ Rushmore.

Boogie Nights

Here are two compelling reasons with supporting video why I’m moved by their films:

First, I’ve see a lot of great ensemble films with parallel running stories all converging for a big bang at the end.  But none of these films, including recent Academy Award winners Crash and Traffic, packs the punch of P.T.’s Magnolia – one fateful day in the life of interrelated characters in search of happiness, forgiveness, and meaning.  Watch Tom Cruise prance in the role of his career as sex guru T.J. Mackey

Second, and on the similar note, I’ve seen a lot of funny films with funny characters getting into all kinds of funny predicaments – think of Chevy Chase as hapless patriarch Clark Griswold desperately trying to get his family across country to the wonders of Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation or Steve Martin’s ambitious idiot Freddie Benson in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

National Lampoon’s Vacation

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

As funny as Chase, Martin and many of their 80’s comedy brethren are, none of them displays the emotional complexity of Bill Murray’s lonely chain-smoking industrialist Herman Blume in Rushmore.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when watching Blume’s competitive friendship with eccentric teenager Max Fischer played by Jason Schwarztman.  Watch these frenemies exchange pleasantries at an awkward chance meeting

If you’re new to either Anderson, here is a good starting point:

P.T. Anderson

  1. Boogie Nights ‘97
  2. Magnolia ‘99
  3. There Will Be Blood ‘07*

*Watch Daniel Day Lewis bully his former nemesis by “drinking his milkshake” in Blood

Wes Anderson

  1. Rushmore ‘98
  2. The Royal Tenenbaums ‘01*
  3. Fantastic Mr. Fox ‘09

*Watch a few of the quirky Tenenbaum gang discover their wife/sister’s hidden past

With Moonrise Kingdom (Wes) and The Master (P.T.) released in 2012, that’s 15 consistent years of high-quality film making.  I’d argue that only the Coen Brothers have a run to parallel this.  And after all, there are two of those guys.

And by “run” I mean original, no-compromise film making in an industry where not compromising could mean career death or obscurity.  Woody Allen managed it for years but now makes most of his films overseas to secure the funding.

Even the guy who kicked off the whole indie film craze back in ’89 with Sex, Lies & Videotape, Steven Soderbergh, has made a handful of throwaway films, including the 3 hugely successful Ocean films.  I didn’t see his edgy male stripper in Magic Mike last year but I strongly suspect the film lacks the stuff that propelled his films like The Limey in the 90’s.

The Limey

Give me Gene Hackman as the lying, deceitful Royal Tenenbaum or the aforementioned sex-addled T.J. Mackey and you’ll find a character with a real edge – characters created by two very different but equally brilliant minds spinning yarns at the top of their game.


4 thoughts on “Anderson: Portrait of a Serial Filmmaker

  1. Hey mate. Good stuff. I always enjoy your blog posts. As you well know both Anderson and Anderson are two of my favourites. As you say, very similar career trajectories and sensibilities, in a lot of ways, yet so different.They should get together and try swapping ensemble casts and see what they come up with. I just got through listening to KP’s chat show with Harry Shearer and with Billy Bob. Man these are good. Love Billy Bob’s Billy Wilder story. By the way, I did notice there were a few dead links to the podcasts on Pollack’s website. You can find the whole trove here am going to spend some serious time listening to this stuff. Cheers dude…..Raleigh St Clair.

    Date: Sat, 8 Jun 2013 18:24:07 +0000 To:


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