“After mining the American soul (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, The Master) as brilliantly as any working director has in the last fifty years,” begins Robert Abele at TheWrap, “Paul Thomas Anderson moves to 1950’s England for Phantom Thread, his mesmerizing follow-up to the loosey-goosey Inherent Vice. An elegantly stitched romance of vector-crossing emotional neediness, it’s set in an evocative ecosphere of haute couture fashion. But by the time it reaches its appetizingly perverse end, the film primarily reaffirms Anderson’s own skill at hand-crafting exquisitely conflicting interior and external worlds.”
Daniel Day-Lewis, who has announced his retirement from acting and is making this his last performance, plays Reynolds Woodcock, “an internationally renowned couturier working in 1950s London, and that makes him a kind of gigolo with scissors,” as the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin puts it. And Day-Lewis “could hardly have given a more ideal performance with which to sign off. By that I don’t mean that Reynolds Woodcock is merely a great role: specifically, he’s a great last role, and in playing him Day-Lewis does so much intricate unfastening of various psychological nooks and hatches, you feel as if you’re watching him dismantling the apparatus of his trade as he goes. Every line-reading and gesture exerts an almost supernatural grip.”
Woodcock is “now under pressure from the New Look and influences from across the Channel,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “Just when he is at his lowest, Woodcock falls in love with a shy, maladroit German waitress at the country hotel where he happens to be staying. This is Alma, played by Vicky Krieps. With his connoisseur’s eye, Woodcock sees in her a grace and beauty that no one else had noticed, certainly not Alma herself. Dazzled, she comes to live with him as his assistant and model in the central London fashion house over which Woodcock rules with his sister and confidante Cyril, played with enigmatic reserve by Lesley Manville. But, as Woodcock becomes ever more impossible and controlling, submissive Alma must find new, more dysfunctional ways to re-establish her emotional mastery over him.”
“Manville is, like her character, so in sync with Day-Lewis that she borders on self-effacing—until you see how keenly she monitors her brother’s every breath.” David Edelstein at Vulture: “Krieps is bewitchingly lucent, her face just masklike enough to make our sudden awareness of all her dark thoughts a shock.”
For Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the plangent pull of Jonny Greenwood’s musical score, rapturous with longing and anxiety, summons an unmistakable ’50s-Hitchcock vibe. So does Anderson’s meticulous filmmaking. Reynolds is presented as a feverish artisan of fashion, sketching and sewing his way to a vision of the feminine ideal. He courts Alma by using her as a human mannequin, and it’s therefore hard not to get intimations of a movie like Vertigo, or maybe a super-kinky Pygmalion. Will Phantom Thread turn out to be the story of a man who falls for his fetishistic design of a woman?”
“It’s true,” notes Andrew Crumb at the Playlist, “that Anderson has compared his new film Phantom Thread to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca . . . But Phantom Thread has just as much in common with . . . Jacques Rivette’s recently restored La belle noiseuse, a movie dedicated to the painstaking process of creating art. In that film, we watch a painter set about making a masterpiece in long, interrupted takes of sketches and brushstrokes. In Phantom Thread, we see tailors commit to sewing dresses with unwavering focus plus laser precision.”
“Less grandiose than the writer-director's last three features, as well as more precision-controlled, this is a melodrama of love, desire and gamesmanship among three control freaks played out in a veritable hot-house in which the winner will be determined by who wilts last,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “More unconventional and downright weird on a moment-to-moment basis than it is in overall design and intent, it's a singular work played out mostly in small rooms that harks back to psychological melodramas of the 1940s/50s but hits stylistic notes entirely its own.”
“Though this is very much a PTA original in the way it playfully fudges the line between fastidiousness and spontaneity, the film it recalls the most is 1964’s Gertrud, the dour final work by the Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer,” finds Little White Lies’ David Jenkins. “Both films are concerned with the mysteries of love, but employing a unique (and uniquely austere) dramatic approach, they manage to drill right down to love’s masochistic core.”
For Screen’s Tim Grierson, “the film occasionally flirts with psychological horror‚or even the intense intimacy of a Bergman chamber drama. Phantom Thread expertly juggles these different tones, not to mention deadpan comedy, exquisite melodrama and wistful romance. But at the film’s core is the simmering tension between Alma’s efforts to win Reynolds’s heart and his determination to keep her at a remove—treating her like just another tool in his repertoire.”
“The passage and feel of time has long been a preoccupation of Anderson, but the rhythms here are decidedly unique,” writes Michael Snydel at the Film Stage. “At times, it feels more in line with Terrence Davies or Jane Campion than anything in Anderson’s prior oeuvre.”
“Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Anderson has said the film was inspired by the life of Cristóbal Balenciaga, a ‘monastic’ designer of exacting standards,” notes Keith Phipps at Uproxx. “A study of that kind of life—isolated, obsessed—might have been compelling on its own terms. Here Anderson uses it as raw material to explore some themes that have become central to his work: the way we struggle to control one another, the ways we seek connection and love, and the how those twin pursuits sometimes overlap. It ends up finding some seemingly impossible middle ground between There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love, turning a struggle for leverage at the most intimate level into an unusual love story.”
“Notwithstanding the enigmatic finale of Magnolia, the filmmaker has never made an outwardly supernatural movie,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, “but there’s an ethereal quality to his storytelling that always seems to hover just a few steps above reality. Phantom Thread positions Reynolds’s commitment to his work in near-religious terms as haunting and strange as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s L. Ron Hubbard in The Master, and Reynolds’s crisis of faith emerges from Alma herself. If this truly is Day-Lewis’s last role, he has chosen an appropriate window into the frustrations of throwing yourself into the work, only to realize that a greater world exists outside of it.”
“For thirty years,” writes Matt Singer at ScreenCrush, “Day-Lewis has reigned as one of the most respected movie actors of his generation, famous (or perhaps notorious) for his intense Method technique; supposedly he never broke character on the set of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln and spent his lunches on Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York sharpening his character’s knives. It doesn’t seem like a stretch to draw a comparison between Day-Lewis’s obsessive preparations and the toll they could take on the people in his private life, and Reynolds’s ornery demands of his staff and loved ones, and to consider Phantom Thread as part curtain call and part act of self-reflection by a man taking stock of his life and reckoning with the cost of making beautiful art for a living.”
Updates, 12/9: “Certain Anderson films, such as The Master, have an almost primordial hopelessness, reveling in a purifying masculine longing, inflicting the very sort of pain in the audience for which Reynolds feels and yearns,” writes Chuck Bowen at Slant. “Yet Phantom Thread offers a release, arriving at a place of qualified peace that cauterizes the emotional wounds of Anderson's cinema. Alma associatively resurrects not only Reynold's mother, but the lost mothers of all of Anderson's films. Merging mother, partner, and lover, Alma is the woman of every Anderson hero's dreams. With Reynolds, Alma forges a union, brokered by perversity, which might also embody legitimate love.”
“There’s perhaps not such a wide chasm separating the intense artist Anderson has written and the one he’s cast,” writes A. A. Dowd at the A.V. Club. “Surely, too, there’s kinship between the director himself and Reynolds, a highly gifted aesthete who doesn’t care what’s fashionable in his medium. . . . Anderson shot the film himself, and his 35 mm cinematography has a look and texture radically different than anything else he’s made—a subtle, suggestive quality of light that went out of vogue ages ago. . . . We’re a long, long way from the dick-swinging, long-take virtuosity of the director’s Scorsese-and-Kubrick-aping salad days: In the simple, refined timelessness of its technique, Phantom Thread is practically a love letter to classic aesthetic values—cinematic, sartorial, or otherwise.”
“Mark Bridges is the costume designer who was charged with creating an aesthetic for the film's fictional fashion house, making fifty original garments,” writes Booth Moore for the Hollywood Reporter. “In his eighth feature with Anderson, Bridges had the pleasure of being able to work like a couture designer himself, sourcing the sumptuous fabrics from around the world for the film's ‘50s party dresses and Savile Row tailoring, and having the clothes handmade by a workroom with a long heritage in the London fashion industry. I chatted with him about how he did it.”
And by the way, where does the title Phantom Thread come from? Kyle Buchanan’s tweeted the answer.
Update, 12/11: Jon Burlingame talks with Jonny Greenwood: “‘We talked a lot about ‘50s music, what was popularly heard then as well as what was being written and recorded,’ Greenwood tells Variety. ‘Nelson Riddle and Glenn Gould’s Bach recordings were the main references. I was interested in the kind of jazz records that toyed with incorporating big string sections, Ben Webster made some good ones, and focus on what the strings were doing rather than the jazz musicians themselves.’ Greenwood reasoned that if Reynolds listened to music, it would have been Gould. ‘Lots of slightly obsessive, minimal baroque music,’ says Greenwood of the sound the picture called for. ‘And we could use the piano as the common ground between the romantic music and the formal, slightly more buttoned-up themes that suited Reynolds.’”
Update, 12/12: The Credits has another interview with costume designer Mark Bridges, this one from Susannah Edelbaum.
Updates, 12/14: The Notebook’s posted an essay by Greg Cwik that focuses on the ending, so naturally, it should be saved until after you’ve seen the film.
Kyle Buchanan’s interview with Anderson for Vulture, though, is nearly spoiler-free.
Updates, 12/17: “Phantom Thread may be the first of a genre: the haute-couture gothic.” Writing for 4Columns, Melissa Anderson suggests that Anderson has a “gift for stealthily deranging the expected. . . . Phantom Thread shares with its predecessors, especially those that Anderson has made since There Will Be Blood (2007), his first collaboration with Day-Lewis, an agility in destabilizing familiar storytelling modes and trappings. Like that earlier film—a thunderous historical epic about the American West and greed that deepens and darkens considerably with Day-Lewis’s performance as Daniel Plainview, an oil-prospecting Mephistopheles—Phantom Thread continually torques its own British midcentury grandeur. From scene to scene, the movie fascinates via the tension between opulent, orderly surfaces and roiling psyches.”
“Anderson describes himself as shaped by a casually Catholic upbringing,” writes Nick Pinkerton in an assessment of the career up to Phantom Thread, “and in his films ideas about sin and expiation jostle against his distinctly Californian passion for the panaceas of personal therapy and self-help. The two perspectives can be said to meet in the redemptive—if often unfulfilled—potential of personal relationships. . . . Too fixated on the great to bother with the merely good, he wears the mantle of national bard, singing sad tidings of our destiny. Asked for his thoughts on Pynchon’s worldview in a 2014 profile, Anderson mused: ‘Has America really lived up to its potential? Let’s keep hoping.’ The same may be said for the extraordinary apparatus that is the film industry in Southern California—and for P. T. Anderson, hometown boy.”
Introducing his interview with PTA for the Playlist, Rodrigo Perez notes that “the conversation took us to some fun, unexpected places.”
Talking to IndieWire’s Michael Nordine, Krieps “elaborated on her revelation that she originally thought she was auditioning for a student film, revealed her approach to working alongside Day-Lewis, and alluded to the ghost haunting one of her favorite scenes in Phantom Thread—which didn’t make it into the final film.”
Updates, 12/18: “Numinous objects in the movie signify the pre-gothic (mushrooms, the dirt from which they are pulled) and the post-gothic (Woodcock’s car, a purple Bristol sedan, possibly a 1955 405, a speed demon of almost science-fictional dimensions),” writes Glenn Kenny at RogerEbert.com. “The movie also is rich with simultaneously playful and serious nods to what I presume to be Anderson cinematic touchstones, including A Clockwork Orange, Psycho, The Knack (And How to Get It), and, not as improbably as you might think, Raising Arizona. As they gradually build, the intimations inherent in the movie’s latent content, which is ever roiling under its beautiful surfaces, become dizzying.”
“Never imagined PTA would make a film that only came together for me in the final minutes, with everything suddenly snapping into place,” writes Mike D’Angelo. “That's not to say that Phantom Thread isn't weirdly captivating from the jump . . . If The Duke of Burgundy explores a totally mundane relationship through the distorted lens of kinky S&M, Phantom Thread, I realized, does precisely the opposite, which is nearly as fascinating.”
“It’s safe to say Phantom Thread was one of the most difficult production experiences of Paul Thomas Anderson’s career,” writes IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “He started shooting his ‘50s period drama on the day of the presidential inauguration; during the shoot, leading man Daniel Day-Lewis decided to the retire; and on the last day, Anderson learned that his longtime friend and mentor Jonathan Demme had died. ‘The world was a very, very different place than it was when we started writing this story,’ Anderson said, in a conversation from his room at the Crosby Hotel in New York. Recalling the start of the production, his voice became so soft it sounded as though it could break at any moment. ‘It didn’t make it easy to look at your country on fire, and you’re telling the story of a self-consumed egomaniac,’ he said. ‘But that was the situation we were in.’”
For Fandango, Erik Davis asks Anderson what a Star Wars movie he directed might look like. “Anderson smirked, leaned back in his chair and gave it a moment of thought. ‘Fucking over-long and depressing, probably,’ he said, laughing. ‘Moody. Obtuse. And look, you know… if it ticks the box of rebels vs. empires, in any form, I’m in. That story never gets old for me.’”
Updates, 12/20: “If the director’s earlier films boasted vigorous, look-at-me callouts to the likes of Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick and Elia Kazan, Phantom Thread reminded me of nothing so much as that small handful of muted, mesmerizing chamber dramas Luchino Visconti made in the 1970s in the wake of his stroke,” writes Bilge Ebiri in the Village Voice. “Most tales of people finding love present hard, angular worlds and allow romance to soften the edges. Phantom Thread does the opposite: It presents a soft, even sensuous world, and shows us how sometimes love can come in the cuts and the tears.”
Slate’s Dana Stevens: “The friend with whom I saw Phantom Thread for the first time admitted on the way to dinner afterward: ‘I sort of don’t want to let anyone else see it.’ Something about Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie encourages this sense of secrecy, the thrill of a shared mystery. . . . This devilishly funny and luxuriantly sensuous film is so successful as entertainment that it’s hard to stop and notice the extreme degree of craft that went into its construction.” Anderson “hides his aesthetic seams such that the visual, auditory, intellectual, and emotional experiences of seeing Phantom Thread come together into an irreducible and deeply satisfying whole.”
Day-Lewis gives “a performance of such concentration and commitment that it achieves the rare feat of seeming completely and utterly effortless, whether he’s alone or opposite the magnetic Krieps, who’s ably up to the challenge of being the soft-yet-prickly yin to Day-Lewis’ imposing yang,” writes Nick Schager for the Daily Beast.
Rolling Stone’s David Fear has a conversation with Anderson that ranges from “how a single glance inspired this story of obsession to how he felt once his leading man decided that he was ready to call it a day.”
Ben Barna talks with Krieps for Interview.
Updates, 12/24: “It hardly seems an accident that Paul Thomas Anderson has inscribed his monogram in the title,” writes A. O. Scott in the New York Times. “This is a profoundly, intensely, extravagantly personal film. I don’t mean autobiographical. . . . Not every movie about an artist is a self-portrait of its director, but Phantom Thread almost offhandedly lays out intriguing analogies between Reynolds’s métier and Mr. Anderson’s.”
“It has a quietly lustrous, satiny finish, like a swath of antique peau de soie that’s been languishing in the dark, far from sun or air, since the Marie Antoinette days,” writes Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. “It’s all so pristine and perfect that even just looking at it is probably an affront: Your eyeballs are sure to soil it. This is a curiously unreachable picture, most certainly by Anderson’s design. I felt discomfitingly indifferent toward it the first time, so I decided to see it again, just to make sure what I was feeling wasn’t actually a twisted kind of love. It wasn’t.”
“It's a rare combination of audacity and precision, impeccably tailored yet full of mystery and magic, like an essential part of it is beyond Anderson's control,” writes Scott Tobias for NPR. “Just defining what the film is presents an formidable set of obstacles.”
“Phantom Thread becomes a more difficult movie as it unfolds, less dazzling, more perverse, and perhaps more rewarding,” writes Chris Wisniewski at Reverse Shot. “It is possible that Anderson is done making movies that are chic; but then, Kubrick and Hitchcock spent long stretches being out of fashion as well. Phantom Thread may or may not earn the comparison to Vertigo. Maybe the highest praise I can offer for now is that it is a question I’ll ponder over many years and repeated viewings.”
“At its core,” writes Steve Erickson at Gay City News, “it’s a tale of physical and emotional manipulation more akin to Rainer Werner Fassbinder. But its push and pull between men and women is quite Hitchcockian as well. It’s a male fantasy of a female fantasy about how to deal with being the object of a male fantasy.”
From Zach Baron in GQ: “Anderson set and shot Phantom Thread in London, in part because of his affection for that city. ‘But you know, the second I hit the ground here, it was like that Californian kicked back in. I mean, I had my shorts on and my flip-flops within seconds.’ He laughed. ‘And I was driving down—you know, going from the center of London, the most beautiful, oldest, greatest city on the planet, and then here I was just sort of running down like Jimmy Stewart, like, Hello, Subway! You know, Hello, Chili’s! So full of gratitude to be back here. Hello, IHOP!’”
Woodcock “may be a designer,” writes Vanessa Friedman for the New York Times, “but he’s the designer as tortured genius, a man whose idiosyncrasies and unreasonable behavior are enabled and tolerated in the service of his art. It’s an old and favored trope in fashion, once cultivated by many. But while that version of the aesthetic auteur may still be revered in other realms, from Hollywood to SoHo, it has actually fallen out of favor in fashion. Or perhaps more pointedly, we’ve stopped falling for it.”
Update, 12/25: Anthony Lane in the New Yorker on Day-Lewis: “He dons the role as if it were a handmade suit. I happen to revere him most in motion, as in the hotfooted thrill of The Last of the Mohicans (1992), but he is equally a champion of stillness, and he seems, like certain rare sportsmen, to be preternaturally blessed with time—enough time, that is, to take stock of a situation, while people bustle around him, and to ponder his next move. His thoughts look more dramatic than other actors’ deeds, and his deeds are done with a deliberated grace.”
Updates, 12/26: “One of the striking aspects of the new movie is that there are, fundamentally, no bad people, and that everyone has their reasons,” writes Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope:
Woodcock doesn’t realize that he needs love in his life until it’s there, facing him, while Alma doesn’t realize that Woodcock isn’t all-powerful until she sees that it’s Cyril who really runs the day-to-day ship, and who sees a lot in Alma that could be good for her rigid brother. The screenplay, in a stark departure from all of Anderson’s previous movies, is a chamber drama whose setting and early dynamics suggest Harold Pinter, and Anderson fans anticipating the darkest and roughest possible drama might foresee a remix of Pinter coming by, say, the third or fourth reel of this 35 mm-shot and projected film. It’s all there: a settled bourgeois routine disrupted by the intruder. Yet the threesome at the drama’s center is alternately destructive and nurturing, momentarily at each other’s throats (and possibly worse), and then working together in true collaboration. Anderson hasn’t dramatized this more complex and adult dynamic before, and its alternating and unexpected shifts of power are likely what made Day-Lewis so dedicated to the project.
For Vulture, Charles Bramesco has a conversation with Manville that ranges “ from the complex dynamic between the siblings to the backstory we’ve never heard. And that still left a little time for a meditation on the upsides of working under fatigue.”
IndieWire’s Zack Sharf has embedded Pitter Patter Goes My Heart, a 2015 short (21’55”) directed by Christoph Rainer starring Krieps that’s won dozens of awards.
Update, 12/27: “I’ve explored so many different worlds, but the thing they have in common is they were always entirely mysterious to me in the beginning,” Day-Lewis tells Reggie Ugwu, who also talks with Anderson, Krieps, and Manville for the New York Times. Day-Lewis adds that this is “probably a great part of the allure—discovering something that seems beyond reach, sometimes impossibly beyond reach, that pulls you forward into its orbit somehow.” Ugwu asks Anderson what he’ll miss most about Day-Lewis. “‘He’s an actor and a movie star, and movie star isn’t a negative—movie star means that when you sit down in a theater, the lights go down and the big screen opens up, you have somebody who can fill that space.’ Then he paused. ‘[Expletive]. I don’t know,’ Mr. Anderson added finally. ‘He’s just a giant.’”
Updates, 12/28: Phantom Thread is a “virtual remake” of The Master (2012), argues the New Yorker’s Richard Brody. “Up until now, The Master was Anderson’s best film, but Phantom Thread is also, in many ways, an improvement on it. Both films are about an obsessively controlling creator whose creative system and private life are first expanded by, then threatened by, the arrival of an acolyte who is at first submissive but becomes assertive. One crucial shift in the new film is in its tone; with The Master and Phantom Thread, Anderson tells the same story—in the first film, as tragedy; in the second, as farce. What’s remarkable is that the farce turns out to be the more tragic of the two, because the subject of Phantom Thread is love, the tumultuous power of love, and the proximity of creation and destruction in art and love alike.”
Also for the New Yorker, Rachel Syme: “During filming, Day-Lewis wanted to dress himself every morning—part of his method—so Bridges outfitted a closet with impeccable plaid jackets, a crisp black tuxedo with a satin bow tie, several jewel-toned ascots, and fuschia socks from Gammarelli, in Rome (the same shop that dresses the Pope), and allowed the actor to select his own wardrobe. In one scene, Reynolds, by Day-Lewis’s choice, wears a formal vest and a sporty tweed jacket over a pair of lilac pajamas. The outfit is meant to imply a stunted effort—Alma throws Reynolds a surprise dinner party, and he wants to let her know that he is only half there.”
For Slant, Chuck Bowen writes up an annotated ranking of Anderson eight features. The Master comes out on top.
At the Ringer (99’38”), Bill Simmons and Sean Fennessey talk with Paul Thomas Anderson about the few brief clashes he had with Burt Reynolds on the set of Boogie Nights (1997), working with Adam Sandler on Punch-Drunk Love (2002), and the intense shoot of The Master.
Updates, 1/2: “To borrow from Stanley Cavell, it’s a comedy of courtship, marriage, and remarriage,” writes Amy Taubin for Artforum. “Comedy, however, may be too clear-cut a designation for this story about the intimate life of a couple from first attraction to a precarious arrangement of power, for which no one would write a lifetime warranty.” Phantom Thread’s “uniqueness is its fluidly shifting tone, as if the ghosts of genres as diverse as gothic mysteries (Hitchcock’s Rebecca), screwball comedies (Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby), perverse, obsessional romances (Kubrick’s Lolita), and Angela Carter’s feminist inversions of classic fairy tales were dancing at the edge of the collective consciousness of everyone involved, including the viewer. Anderson’s script is pretty great too.”
For Adam Nayman, writing at the Ringer, “with The Master, PTA finally made a movie that didn’t cop out, break down, or fly over the top. It’s a film about brutally damaged characters that still holds together at every level of its fantastically intricate construction. And, with the possible exception of this year’s splendid, deceptively old-fashioned period melodrama Phantom Thread, which addresses similar themes of control and co-dependence—to the point that it feels like a spiritual sequel—it’s probably his masterpiece.”
“Throughout Phantom Thread, at the basest metaphorical level, man hungers and woman feeds,” writes Guy Lodge for the Guardian. “Ravenous, even destructively toxic masculinity is hardly a new theme in Anderson’s oeuvre. Magnolia tackled it head-on via Tom Cruise’s performance as male-empowerment motivational speaker Frank TJ Mackey, a misogynist with a brittle alpha veneer and braying mantra of ‘respect the cock.’ There Will Be Blood’s ruthless, loveless oil prospector Daniel Plainview craved possession of land and human souls in roughly equal measure; The Master gave us two spiritually poisoned men, each shaped and gnarled by dysfunctional relations with women, whose power struggle built into a crippled romance of egos. Phantom Thread isn’t as outwardly harsh as any of these films . . . but the gender politics it illustrates are, unhappily, still very much on-trend.”
Updates, 1/3: For Sheila O'Malley, writing in Film Comment, “this love story reverberates with real feeling, emotions ricocheting off the claustrophobic walls. The characters’ arguments splutter, overlap, in ways that feel wholly unscripted. We don’t argue with one another in perfect sentences. Anderson generously gives scenes lots of space for behavior, listening and talking, pauses. Unlike other clichéd Great Men Humanized by Love narratives, Phantom Thread maintains its sense of humor (the film is very funny), its suspicion of shallow catharses, and its respect for the individualism of the characters. . . . Anderson’s is a versatile and inquisitive mind. His work is firmly rooted in technique, his awe-inspired response to Max Ophüls’s camerawork in The Earrings of Madame de . . . showing his awareness of the integral connection of form to story.”
For Filmmaker, Farran Smith Nehme talks with costume designer Bridges about “all that went into creating this tale of a fictional high-end fashion house and making it seem as real as its historical counterparts.”
Updates, 1/5: “This is essentially a film about war—from the little tyrannical snipes over breakfast to Alma’s drastic ploys to establish not just independence but outright control of her man.” Jonathan Romney for Film Comment: “It’s hard to understand how anyone could unironically characterize Phantom Thread as a ‘love story’; rather it’s a film that chooses love, or the need for possession, as the basis of what’s really a horror story.”
“Day-Lewis’s performance at times recalls his turn as Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence,” finds the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr. “Apart from the periodic outburst—as when a wealthy woman has the effrontery to fall asleep in public while wearing one of Reynolds’s dresses—powerful feelings are expressed in muted tones. Yet unlike Newland, Reynolds has a ferocity beneath his studied exterior. He is both fueled and intermittently felled by his own perfectionism.”
For Women and Hollywood, Holly Rosen Fink talks with Manville “about her role in the drama, ageism in Hollywood, and some of her greatest achievements.”
Update, 1/8: “In the cockeyed lineage of men fearful of losing control in There Will Be Blood and The Master and the vehement screwball of Punch-Drunk Love, Phantom Thread is tender treachery,” writes Ray Pride in Newcity. “From A-line to eyeline, Paul Thomas Anderson’s serenely sensual sub-dom stare-down rom-com set in another, ostensibly more romantic era, is generous, wicked and tailored with surprise after surprise.”
Update, 1/9: Sheila O’Malley, who wrote that Film Comment cover piece, joins FC digital producer Violet Lucca on the new Film Comment Podcast (34’01”) to discuss the film.
Update, 1/11: For the Film Stage, Jordan Raup talks with Manville “about giving Paul Thomas Anderson cultural advice, what was left on the cutting room floor, the power of reactions, her character’s secret control, the underlying sadness of Phantom Thread, Jonathan Demme, and more.”
Updates, 1/13: For Scout Tafoya, “the fetishistic parade the insane lovers lead is a tour of early sound cinema’s casual provocations. The films sounds and feels like the product of some mad fetishist from the ‘70s, a Losey or a Visconti, but it’s speaking to us in the present. I’ve never been more eager to answer.”
“Anderson’s impeccably choreographed trademark tracking shots have evolved into even more precisely timed close-ups,” writes Sean Burns for WBUR. “This is a fiendishly funny movie, one that’s extremely self-aware and follows its own internal logic to a conclusion that makes perfect sense while being entirely mad. I laughed myself sick.”
“The baffling final hour of The Master and the generally muddled Inherent Vice suggested that Anderson’s glittering talent was in danger of swallowing its own tail,” writes Robert Horton in the Seattle Weekly. “But Phantom Thread, though sometimes a puzzle, blooms with possibilities the longer it goes on. Halfway through, it steers in the direction of something really, really dark, but comes to a wonderfully perverse conclusion that might qualify as the year’s strangest happy ending—not by denying the stranger impulses of humankind, but by suggesting that people sometimes fill each other’s empty places in curious, oddly useful ways.”
“Phantom Thread is Anderson’s most playful and most kinky movie to date,” writes Kimberley Jones in the Austin Chronicle, “a Molotov cocktail gift-wrapped in taffeta and lace. It is also, not paradoxically, a dead-serious exploration of the act of artistic creation, the essential role a romantic partner plays in that creation, and the toll that subordination to another’s craft takes.”
Colin Biggs for Vague Visages: “Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday. With these characters, Anderson has toyed with the role of dominants and submissives by focusing on conflicts between rigid men. Phantom Thread upends that dynamic by having Reynolds and Alma occupy both roles simultaneously, just at different times.”
Kyle Buchanan interviews Krieps for Vulture.
Update, 1/14: The opening paragraph of Geoffrey O’Brien’s piece for the New York Review of Books:
Imagine a movie that might have opened at Radio City Music Hall in the mid-1950s, a lavishly produced romantic comedy—with songs, perhaps—about a headstrong and slightly naïve young woman who gets involved with a distinguished but very fussy fashion designer (Fred Astaire? Clifton Webb?), and step by step prevails on him to lighten up and rediscover the ordinary pleasures of life while, in the process, they realize a mutual love. Or, alternatively, imagine a post-Hitchcockian thriller with some fiercely witty repartee in which a young woman adrift is taken up by a reclusive, controlling man of wealth and his somewhat sinister sister, finding herself in an atmosphere both alluring and threatening, until the conviction grows that within this hermetic world lurks the possibility of murderous violence. Or, again, a late Ibsen play in which an aging death-haunted artist becomes fixated on a young woman he perceives as a soulmate—and her name is Alma—until the two are locked in a mortal standoff between cosmic forces of love and destruction, and he may end up poisoned by the life-force he sought to devour.
Phantom Thread “is indeed a triumph of stitchery, combining disparate colors and textures into an apparently seamless garment.”
Updates, 1/16: “A lot of the editing of the film became: How much of a (jerk) is too much of a (jerk)?” Anderson tells Michael Phillips during the course of an interview for the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a tricky question when you have a character like this, who puts clear boundaries around himself, and announces that he will not change, and good luck to anyone who tries to change him. We really had to keep an eye on just how alienating he can be, and make sure we never tipped an audience into checking out.”
And for Women and Hollywood, Holly Rosen Fink talks with Krieps “about how she interprets her Phantom Thread character, what it’s like to be a breakout star, and the strength of modern women.”
Updates, 1/20: “Anderson has gone on an online publicity tour, dropping into Reddit for an AMA on Tuesday, fielding Twitter questions under the #AskPTA hashtag, and generally giving ordinary moviegoers a chance to ask one of the most obsessively studied American filmmakers of his generation whatever they want,” writes Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the A.V. Club, noting that “there are some minor insights scattered throughout Anderson’s terse, good-sport answers, from his favorite characters in his own films (Magnolia’s Claudia Wilson Gator and Jim Kurring, Punch-Drunk Love’s Barry Egan, The Master’s Freddie Quell and Peggy Dodd) to his preferred lenses for close-ups (between 50mm and 85mm with spherical lenses, either a 75mm or a 100mm with anamorphics) to his memories of the young David Foster Wallace, who was Anderson’s English professor before he found fame as a writer. (‘He looked at us like we were all failing him . . . sweetly.’).”
“One of Woodcock’s most important clients is the heiress Barbara Rose (Harriet Sansom Harris),” notes Dan Callahan in a piece for Nylon. “Anderson gives Harris only four scenes in Phantom Thread, and they are not long in terms of length. But it seems to me that Barbara Rose is like a message stitched into the fabric of the narrative, and her appearance feels crucial to understanding the rather obscure meanings of the movie.”
Michael Guillen asks PTA about Jonny Greenwood’s score: “I’ll probably get like eight to ten two-minute piano demos a week and I’ll pick and choose and say, ‘This is great’ or ‘this is greater’ and sometimes things that might not seem exactly right, by the time we were finishing the film were exactly what we needed. But there’s a lot of stuff that he came up with before we started shooting, and that I had in my mind while we were shooting, and then those two-minute piano demos become orchestrated, made larger, and made to fit the film. So it’s a long process but he’s involved from the beginning, like with Daniel, and he’s a great collaborator to work with.”
Update, 1/21: “I guess that Day-Lewis’s intensity must be contagious?” Kate Kellaway meets Krieps for the Observer: “‘It is—he asks you to be very aware and awake. Their love, like all real love affairs, begins as recognition. They see each other.’ Not having rehearsed made her ‘more nervous than I might otherwise have been’ but it was a ‘powerful experience to discover someone as you are working—I think this is what he [Day-Lewis] intended.’”
Update, 1/22: “My friend Scott Pfeiffer has written that writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson posits one of Alma’s decisive actions (you’ll know the one when you see it) ‘as a metaphor for the skill of figuring out how to live,’” notes Michael Smith. “I will go further and suggest that the film as a whole is a manual for marriage: how do you let someone into your world without upsetting your routine? . . . I’ve heard the ending described as ‘twisted’ and ‘unsettling’ but I must note that Phantom Thread, which appears to be Anderson’s most autobiographical work, was made by a man who has been in a successful monogamous relationship for seventeen years.”
Updates, 1/30: Screen’s Andreas Wiseman gets Day-Lewis talking about working with Anderson. “There’s nothing mad you can do that he won’t encourage you to be madder. I love that. You are always so close to the line of chaos, which you have to be for it to be alive. There’s so much misunderstanding about preparation. You prepare for a long time, of course, if you are lucky, but the only reason you prepare is so that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing when you start, and to have the confidence not to have a clue what’s going to happen. I think Paul loves that element of risk. Of course, the only real risk is that you’re going to make a huge fucking fool of yourself and you do that every day anyway. But it does feel like you’re in the presence of danger.”
Talking to Anderson for Little White Lies, Adam Woodward brings up Day-Lewis’s retirement. “My take is just to embrace whatever it is he feels he needs to do,” says PTA, “but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t secretly have something in the back of my mind hoping that we’ll do something else together.” As for himself, “I fucking love doing this. I can’t see myself losing that love. I feel so fulfilled by it. There’s only two places I want to be and that’s with my family or making a movie.”
Update, 1/31: Mike D’Angelo’s caught the film a second time and, “armed with knowledge of the film's perverse destination, I better appreciated its intricate route, which had seemed needlessly circuitous the first time around.”
Update, 2/1: “Daniel Day-Lewis has given us many indelible performances, but in Phantom Thread it feels like he's giving us himself,” writes Philip Concannon.
“The film is a perfectly timed portrait of a patriarch crumbling,” writes the Guardian’s Catherine Shoard. “Accidental, of course. ‘It’s funny,’ says Anderson. ‘They land when they land. You really can’t account for what the world’s gonna be. Back when we started this story I didn’t think Trump would be president; I didn’t know where Harvey Weinstein’s life was headed. And here we are.’”
Updates, 2/3: “Anderson may be the most Freudian director working today,” writes Duncan Gray. “His films are dotted with children paying for the sins of their parents; seekers who are both eager for and ashamed of sex; and men who want badly to be cradled and get laid, though not necessarily in that order, because they can’t decide on the order themselves.” Phantom Thread “just might be the most perversely romantic film of the year. Anderson, who started his career as a precocious wunderkind and is now approaching fifty, renders emotion in a way that has a worldly lucidity and works like a dream.”
“It’s a movie rife with mischief: poisonous mushrooms, Freudian catnip, maternal ghosts, and untold secrets,” writes K. Austin Collins at the Ringer. His focus, though, is on “Cyril Woodcock, played with a near-immortal sense of self-possession by the great British actress Lesley Manville. . . . Mostly known to American audiences through her fiery, desperate turns in Mike Leigh films (All or Nothing, Another Year, and others), Manville is having what by all accounts feels like a moment. She has a highly praised role in a great film by a visionary American director, a stage run of Long Day’s Journey Into Night back in London, and is in the second season of her BBC Britcom Mum—and that’s all just this year. . . . It’s a particular joy to see Manville freed of the kitchen-sink misery of the Mike Leigh universe, not because those roles are less worthwhile, but because they so rarely give her a chance to strut through a movie as if she’s holding the lead actor’s nuts hostage in her purse. It’s a good look on her.”
Phil de Semlyen talks with Anderson for Time Out, while David Jenkins interviews Krieps (“It’s interesting how the perception of the movie progresses over time”) for Little White Lies, where Elizabeth MacLeod has some recommendations: “Six films to watch before you see Phantom Thread.”
Update, 2/4: “Anderson’s best film since Punch-Drunk Love is another cracked romance with a masochistic streak and a strong fairytale underpinning,” writes Mark Kermode in the Observer. “Tipping his hat in equal measure toward Hitchcock, Powell and Pressburger and the Brothers Grimm, Anderson swaps the heady, Stateside fug of Inherent Vice for a sharp Euro-vision as clear and pristine as alpine snow.”
Update, 2/6: “In what Day-Lewis has said will be his last performance, he summons the ghosts of performances past, marrying the epicene manners of his aesthete Cecil in Room with a View, the adamantine psychic furnace of a Bill the Butcher, while Anderson skips merrily at his side, in secret, mischievous league with his leading man,” writes Tom Shone.
Updates, 2/7: “I hope Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t retire,” writes Matt Singer at ScreenCrush. “But if he does, Phantom Thread is a perfect last film because it explains why he quit.”
David Ehrenstein’s “take-down” in Gay City News is “a necessary argument to have,” writes David Cairns. “I can’t gainsay it. Nevertheless, with reservations, I enjoyed the film itself.” And “given that the movie raises the spectre of homosexuality and then chastely sweeps it under the carpet, and given that it devotes its considerable runtime to meticulously detailing the workings of a relationship ultimately revealed to be based on something ridiculous, why did I enjoy it? It’s that detailing. And the performances. And the loving recreation of time and place. And Jonny Greenwood’s music. And the acting, of course.”
Update, 2/8: “Phantom Thread is as ludicrous and funny in a dead-pan sort of a way as it is serious,” writes frieze editorial director Jennifer Higgie. “At times it is moving, even as it tells us nothing about humanity that we don't already know: that we muddle through life, a mystery to each other and ourselves. That we're irritating and emotional and contrary and occasionally very dangerous. Oh, and that nice clothes make us look better. Perhaps it's a simple tale, after all.”
Update, 2/10: José Arroyo and Michael Glass discuss Phantom Thread “in relation to Anderson’s ouevre” (48’06”).
Updates, 2/22: “Just by beginning Phantom Thread with an image of a woman (Vicky Krieps as Alma) sitting beside a gentle fire, Paul Thomas Anderson has begun his barrage of games, thrown up the first of his crooked mirrors,” writes Scout Tafoya. “This is all a campfire tale, a ghost story, a warning to the curious, that throwing oneself into the flame of obsession, is not for the faint of heart. And then the music swells, doing marvelous Michel Legrand barrel rolls meant to land in our stomach, the camera ducks under a stairwell and sees women ascending as if to heaven. This it seems would be someone's dream, but it's a torture chamber nestled in blue flowered wallpaper, lavish meals and of course impeccable clothes.”
Also writing for the Muriel Awards, Ian Scott Todd: “Greenwood’s previous scores for Anderson’s films have been pricklier, more violent: recall the stabbing. punching strings of his music for There Will Be Blood, inspired by Penderecki, or the slow-churning, sea-sick tones of The Master. The score for Phantom Thread is more outwardly conventional . . . But Greenwood’s score has its own distinct voice even as it borrows generously from this range of influences, just as the film itself recombines an eclectic variety of sources—Hitchcock and Kubrick, M.R. James and Henry James, David Lean’s The Passionate Friends, and Albert Brooks’s Modern Romance—into something absolutely original.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Glenn Whipp talks with Anderson—about Phantom Thread, of course, but also about Los Angeles (“I know it’s not the prettiest place to live . . . But it’s home!”), Adam Sandler, There Will Be Blood (Daniel Day-Lewis is “not giving you an inch to let you know you can laugh”), The Master (“I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. But that’s fine with me”), Tiffany Haddish (“It’s the same way I felt when I saw Adam—there’s so much there”), and the movie he started working on with his eight-year-old daughter: “I was trying to guide the story to something a little bit darker, where my instincts wanted to take it, and she was politely, very sweetly reminding me I was aiming it that way and brought it back.”
Update, 2/25: Cinematologists Dario Llinares and Neil Fox discuss Phantom Thread on a recent episode (50’55”).
Updates, 2/27: In the New Yorker, Rebecca Mead notes that Phantom Thread “marks the cinematic début of George Glasgow, a bespoke shoemaker and nascent character actor.” Glasgow “is the co-owner of George Cleverley & Company, which crafts handmade shoes for bankers, hedge-funders, royals, sportsmen, and actors, including Day-Lewis.” He appears in two scenes and tells Mead about the experience.
NPR’s Rachel Martin interviews Greenwood (7’20”).
Updates, 3/1: “What remains fascinating to me about Phantom Thread in retrospect,” writes Neil Bahadur, is “that it more or less confirms that Anderson doesn't have many ideas of his own—as far as thematic functionality goes one can watch Anderson’s influences like Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Ophuls’s Caught, or Sternberg’s Devil and see much of the same film, with only slight twists and turns. Yet this is supplemented by the directorial approach he started in The Master: essentially, the collaborators build the film: Day-Lewis, Krieps, and Manville, Greenwood and Mark Bridges, while Anderson works more as conductor than composer.”
José Arroyo and Michael Glass discuss a second viewing (43’17”).
Update, 3/2: “From the shaving scene at the beginning with its scrape across the cheekbones of Reynolds Woodcock, it was clear this was going to be a film in which sound was prominent,” writes A. S. Hamrah for n+1. “People attracted to working in sound design no doubt have sensitive ears. But directors have got to dial this down.”
Update, 4/7: “Personal as it may be, the film is about a male genius so supreme that it can choose even when and how to be weakened in the presence of a woman, who, in exchange for monogamy, is ever willing to serve it,” writes Aleksandar Hemon for the New Yorker. “Anderson dazzled critics into believing that they’re not reproducing power but affirming the art of the personal. Disguised as art-house cinema, the film spectacularly endorses the inherent genius of masculinity. Phantom Thread is nothing if not propaganda for patriarchy.”
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