Preview and Q&A: Paul Thomas Anderson’s films & influences to be screened in Portland series

Paul Thomas Anderson (image courtesy of Northwest Film Center)

In the two days that Paul Thomas Anderson was enrolled at New York University’s film program, he turned in part of a script by playwright David Mamet’s as his own. Then he dropped out. He withdrew his tuition money and used it to bankroll his first movie Coffee and Cigarettes in 1993.

Since then, Anderson has written and directed several movies, including Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), There Will Be Blood (2007), and Inherent Vice (2014).

Starting this month, the Northwest Film Center (934 SW Salmon St) in Portland will show all seven of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, as well as 14 films that formed his style.

The series, programmed and presented by the Northwest Film Center, begins on July 24 through Sept. 5. All screenings will take place in the Whitsell Auditorium (1219 Park Avenue) in Portland. As the website states, most of the films in this retrospective will be screened in 35mm, as all of Anderson’s movies are shot on film, as opposed to a digital print.

Check out a Q&A with NW Film Center’s Promotions Manager, Nick Bruno, and Exhibition Program Assistant, Morgen Ruff, as well as the series’ trailer, below.
Emerald: What’s the significance of screening the movies in 35mm?

Nick Bruno: Well, generally speaking, if a film is at all available for screening from a physical print, that’s how we show it. We work with film archives, studios and even private collectors sometimes to secure quality 35, 16 and 8mm prints throughout the year. Yes, the vast majority of currently produced movies arrive at our doorstep on a hard drive, but our programming traffics in both current and retrospective content, so despite the advent of DCP [Digital Cinema Package], we still exhibit a lot of films via celluloid.

On a level specific to this series, Paul Thomas Anderson is a devout celluloid fan, insisting that his films be shot and, when possible, exhibited on 35mm. We’re all too happy to be respecting his wishes when it comes to how his films will be screened in our theater space.

Image from There Will Be Blood (Courtesy of Northwest Film Center)

PTA supposedly watched Treasure of the Sierra Madre every day during filming of There Will Be Blood. Why isn’t it included in this series?

NB: Treasure was certainly on the long list of films that Morgen and I were considering for the series. At the end of the day, we became more enamored by the comparison between Giant and Blood for a couple of reasons.

Anderson chose to shoot Blood in Marfa, Texas where George Stevens had shot Giant a half century earlier. Also comparing the two narratives is endlessly fascinating. Both films contain a birth of the oil/land barons theme, but Blood takes the ruination aspect found in Giant to a larger stage, playing it out beyond just the personal destruction of an individual, to illuminate more modern concerns like environmental impacts and all too human impulse to endlessly exploit natural resources.

Morgen Ruff: Nick nails it above. Treasure would have been in for atmospheric reasons over narrative/location/theme. Huston’s film is truly one of the most beautiful of the classical Hollywood era, but it’s also been screened a ton and we felt it was time to give the underrated Giant its due.

PTA also cites Kubrick as a main influence, and there are some tangible comparisons (the cinematography/camera lenses used in Barry Lyndon and Punch Drunk-Love; the scores of There Will Be Blood and The Shining) was it too tricky to choose just one Kubrick film for this series?

NB: 2001: A Space Odyssey was on the spreadsheet of possible titles, as was The Shining. Both the films and Kubrick’s vision are incredible, but get shown around town a lot.

MR: Like Nick says, those films are just screened too often. I’m sure we’d have a good turnout for The Shining, but we wanted to highlight some lesser-known films in this series.

Image from Jackie Brown (Courtesy of Northwest Film Center)

E: What sorts of PTA hallmarks could viewers find in these other films (the ensemble cast in Short Cuts; the cinematography of Jackie Brown)?

NB: Yeah, the ensemble thing and Robert Altman’s influence on that in particular was something that we wanted to highlight in this series. We could have just as easily picked Nashville to illuminate how much of a text Altman’s films have been for Anderson. Altman’s Popeye was considered, since Anderson borrows a song from it in Punch-Drunk Love, but it didn’t really get under the skin of the intersecting multiple stories/large ensemble cast thing as well as Short Cuts. The blueprint of how one successfully engages with that kind of structure comes directly from Altman and has indubitably informed Anderson’s experiments in that format of storytelling.

MR: Experimental, freewheeling camerawork with direct lineage from I Am Cuba to Boogie Nights. “Cop loses his gun” storyline, but also general atmosphere/existential malaise from Stray Dogs to Magnolia (John C. Reilly’s character in particular).

Image from Shoot The Piano Player (Courtesy of Northwest Film Center)

E: PTA is so methodical and deliberate, but still seems open to production mistakes and technical gaffes, all of which end up printed in the final cut. Are there some examples in this series of directors allowing blunders during production to end up in the final film?

NB: Well, I think the best directors often allow for these kinds of spontaneous gifts to emerge in all stages of the filmmaking process. Altman famously invited chaos to alter intention on his sets. And Cassavetes (whose The Killing of a Chinese Bookie features early in this series) was a grand master of orchestrating happy accidents based in improvisation, basically making the success or failure of how his stories were told a collaborative act between him, his cast and the technical players behind the scenes.

A full calendar of the screenings can be found online.

This story was originally published for The Daily Emerald on July 10, 2015 at

More stories I’ve written for the Emerald can be found here.


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