Blossoms and Blood

Blossoms and Blood: Postmodern Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

JASON SPERB
Copyright Date: 2013
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/752894
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  • Book Info
    Blossoms and Blood
    Book Description:

    From his film festival debutHard Eightto ambitious studio epicsBoogie Nights,Magnolia, andThere Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's unique cinematic vision focuses on postmodern excess and media culture. InBlossoms and Blood, Jason Sperb studies the filmmaker's evolving aesthetic and its historical context to argue that Anderson's films create new, often ambivalent, narratives of American identity in a media-saturated world.

    Blossoms and Bloodexplores Anderson's films in relation to the aesthetic and economic shifts within the film industry and to America's changing social and political sensibilities since the mid-1990s. Sperb provides an auteur study with important implications for film history, media studies, cultural studies, and gender studies. He charts major themes in Anderson's work, such as stardom, self-reflexivity, and masculinity and shows how they are indicative of trends in late twentieth-century American culture. One of the first books to focus on Anderson's work,Blossoms and Bloodreveals the development of an under-studied filmmaker attuned to the contradictions of a postmodern media culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-75291-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction WHITE-NOISE MEDIA CULTURE AND THE FILMS OF PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON
    (pp. 2-30)

    One of several iconic moments in the brief career of American filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson comes early in his flawed but deeply illuminating final-cut opus,Magnolia(1999). With Richard Strauss’sAlso sprach Zarathustraplaying in the background, celebrity salesman Frank T. J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) emerges from the harsh glare of a lone spotlight on an empty stage. As he announces his larger-than-life presence, the lonely, pathetic men packed into the room wildly cheer his dramatic introduction. Mackey is there to sell his lucrative how-to guide for “seducing and destroying” women, a self-help program that he’s carefully cultivated through numerous...

  5. CHAPTER 1 i remembered your face: INDIE CINEMA, NEO-NOIR, AND NARRATIVE AMBIGUITY IN HARD EIGHT (1996)
    (pp. 32-66)

    WhenHard Eightappeared briefly in a few art theaters throughout the United States in late 1996 and early 1997, few people outside the festival circuit knew anything about it. On the surface, the film looked like another low-key neo-noir, a genre common among independent films during the 1980s and 1990s. Most people recognized two of the actors: Samuel L. Jackson from his star turn in another neo-noir (Quentin Tarantino’s 1994Pulp Fiction) and Gwyneth Paltrow, who had already starred in such films asFlesh and Bone(1994) and David Fincher’sSe7en(1995). ButHard Eight’s two key leads, Philip...

  6. CHAPTER 2 i dreamed i was in a hollywood movie: STARS, HYPERREAL SOUNDS OF THE 1970S, AND CINEPHILIAC PASTICHE IN BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997)
    (pp. 68-110)

    Three temptations emerge when analyzingBoogie Nightstoday. The most suspect is to see the film as the symbolic beginning of Anderson’s career—the first auteur film resulting strictly from the stubborn determination of the young director himself. Another is to simply critique the film’s lack of historical realism as pertains to representations of Southern California, shifts in media technologies, and the porn industry in the 1970s and 1980s. The final temptation is to seeBoogie Nightsas ultimately a “film about porn.” There’s quite a bit more beneath the surface of an otherwise straightforward, if also ironic,A Star...

  7. CHAPTER 3 if that was in a movie, i wouldn’t believe it: MELODRAMATIC AMBIVALENCE, HYPERMASCULINITY, AND THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL IMPULSE IN MAGNOLIA (1999)
    (pp. 112-148)

    At the end of the last millennium, American multiplexes everywhere celebrated the auteurist potential of numerous cinematic talents—particularly rare since they emerged largely from the major studios. The success of these young directors was so widespread thatEsquiremagazine took the time to ask several respected film critics (Andrew Sarris, Kenneth Turan, Elvis Mitchell, McCarthy, and others) who they thought was “the next [Martin] Scorsese.” A silly exercise on the surface, it reflected a powerfully complicated moment in the historical intersection of Hollywood and the indie film scene. Early 1999 alone saw the general theatrical releases of Wes Anderson’s...

  8. CHAPTER 4 the art-house adam sandler movie: COMMODITY CULTURE AND THE ETHEREAL EPHEMERALITY OF PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE (2002)
    (pp. 150-186)

    The opening shot of Paul Thomas Anderson’sPunch-Drunk Love(2002) reveals much about that moment in the director’s career. The static long shot of its protagonist, Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), as he sits at a desk in an empty warehouse, conveys that powerful sense of personal and material alienation so crucial to the film. It’s also the first of countless moments where the safe distance of an old-fashioned telephone is his only acceptable means of interpersonal communication. Barry’s blue suit allows him to disappear into the wall—he is both the center of the film’s attention and insignificant in the...

  9. CHAPTER 5 i have a competition in me: POLITICAL ALLEGORY, ARTISTIC COLLABORATION, AND NARRATIVES OF PERFECTION IN THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
    (pp. 188-235)

    On the heels ofMagnolia’s 1999 release, Anderson was asked by theGuardianwhom he wanted to work with next. His first response was Adam Sandler, who would appear a couple years later inPunch-Drunk Love(2002). Anderson also mentioned Daniel Day-Lewis—saying, “He’s just a powerhouse. All of his films are really solid.”² Five years later, the two would work together onThere Will Be Blood(2007), which suggested Anderson’s status as one of the great American filmmakers. It was a potentially ephemeral ascendency—not unlike the premature attention garnered on the heels ofBoogie Nightsten years earlier....

  10. afterword ON THE MASTER
    (pp. 236-246)

    In September 2012, after a few months of sneak previews and festival appearances, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film,The Master, opened wide in American theaters. Shot on 70mm, the movie presented a glorious, even defiant, celebration of film in the age of digital cinema. Befitting that technical distinction,The Masterwas also an ambitious historical reflection on media, celebrity, and consumerism from the second half of the twentieth century.

    Meanwhile,Blossoms and Blood, which had spanned three years of research and writing in the aftermath ofThere Will Be Blood(2007), had been more or less completed just two months...

  11. notes
    (pp. 247-260)
  12. select bibliography
    (pp. 261-272)
  13. index
    (pp. 273-284)