Paul Thomas Anderson’s instant classics, There Will be Blood and Boogie Nights, gained well-deserved attention alright, yet his other acclaimed works, including Inherent Vice and Punch-Drunk Love are less noticed by the public. It’s understandable; I particularly found it hard to care about the bond between the main couple in Anderson’s newest project, Phantom Thread. Though one can still greatly appreciate the artistry created here to depict desire above devotion beneath fashion’s puppet strings.
Several scenes express the same meticulous directorial attention of stitching a hem, so much so that even a mundane scene such as spreading butter on toast stresses the senses. Anderson’s vigilant craft demonstrates the sly nature of his first-hand man, Daniel-Day Lewis, through the quietest actions. Day-Lewis’s seamstress role feels he never was meant to marry, perhaps influenced by London’s fashion scene, although his inner conviction seems challenged once the dialogue between his new concubine arouses a need to restrict another's lust.
The visual cues suggest the look of a live stark-white studio photoshoot under diffused harsh lights to evoke heated passion, a sensation mellowed out by a gentle, warm fireplace glow until the cold breakfast table counteracts the calmness. Soon later into the runtime, snow graces its presence, completing the emotional glide along the film’s distressed ribbon. The supposed visual flaws in the ugly wallpaper heightened by the high ISO setting simply add to the visual flavor, making the whole sum of its parts reflect the era.
Again, the fashions really tell the story; the costumes designed by Mark Bridges (The Artist, Inherent Vice) rock to the wind of the citizens’ visualized longings, the wardrobes’ shapes and tones either emphasizing the female form for lust or simplifying the appearance for true love.
Beyond the visual elements, the musical score by Jonny Greenwood (Inherent Vice, There Will be Blood) orchestrates the beauty of the piano and the haunt of the strings to anticipate danger in the room based on the level of voluptuous nature. It almost seems like the crypt threaded Greenwood’s tones to trigger your own cravings by ringing your ears until they turn a deep crimson hue.
Each character’s realized past comes from whatever they could or could not control including the seamstress’s new concubine, who is introduced by saying she gave every piece of herself as he forced her to work on only four hours of sleep. Meanwhile, the seamstress’s house servant, played by one of this year’s Oscar nominees, Lesley Manville, sustains a delicate eye to keep our attention toward the subjects of managed focus in the home.
However, one critical problem damages the overall production: it seldom comments on present day issues, instead exploiting the time to show off pretty European clothes. The full reality of lustful men at the time gets the boot, both in comparing it to the women they took advantage of alongside how it links back with today.
Phantom Thread thus should be expected to fall out of public memory because it uses an autocratic political stand in service of the Oscars it thinks it deserves. Forget aiming to please multiple generations with a compassionate story anyone can see themselves in, it only has its sights on the temporary 90th Annual Academy Awards with its all-White setup in mind, since Paul Thomas Anderson clearly knows deep down that the voters fancy prestigious British motion pictures.
Consequently, Phantom Thread romanticizes two selfish leads, turning out an orgasmic experience rather than a compassionate one. So, in regard to the Weinstein scandals plaguing Hollywood right now, Phantom Thread does more harm than good. Think back to Fifty Shades of Grey, the unhealthy relationship depicted in Phantom Thread perfectly recreates those torturous sex games, except in a classier fashion. Why then exactly did this score a Best Picture nomination while James Franco, a recent actor accused of sexual misconduct, got snubbed a nomination? It makes no sense.
Hopefully, after time dissipates, one can enjoy Phantom Thread’s artistry. Hopefully, after a decade or two, this movie won’t scream, “Oscar-bait,” but be appreciated for how the well-staged tension gives a strong sample of the direction from the brilliant Mr. Paul Thomas Anderson.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Miller, Daniel; Kaufman, Amy. “Five women accuse actor James Franco of inappropriate or sexually exploitative behavior.” Los Angeles Times. 11 Jan 2018. Web. <http://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-james-franco-allegations-20180111-htmlstory.html>.
Phantom Thread. Focus Features. Web. <http://www.focusfeatures.com/phantom-thread/>.
Zacharek, Stephanie. “Phantom Thread Works Hard at Being a Masterpiece. But Is It?” Digital image. TIME. Time Inc., 21 Dec 2017. Web. <http://time.com/5075162/phantom-thread-movie-review/>.