• [The Daily] Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread

    By David Hudson


    “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 LiesDavid 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.’”

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