There Will Be Blood

Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

15 May

 

Standard Oil declared a monopoly, 1911

On this day in 1911, the American oil company Standard Oil was ruled to be a monopoly by the US Supreme Court.

Set up only in 1870 by the industrialist John D Rockefeller and his associates, the company was efficient and focused and had grown rapidly, first becoming dominant in refining, where it used its early lead to price competitors out of the market or buy them up, before moving on to production and distribution, where it used similar tactics to squeeze out or buy out competitors.

By 1882 the company was already fighting state legislation designed to rein it in. To counter this, it established a skein of ghost companies, all of which owed allegiance to Standard Oil, creating the “trust” model of the multinational megacorporation.

By 1890, the legislation against the company’s practices had become national, with Congress passing the Sherman Antitrust Act, a landmark piece of legislation that gave the federal government the power to intervene when it considered that a market had become sclerotic.

The Sherman Act’s guiding principle was that it was against the “restraint of trade” by whatever means, though it was targeted at companies that sought to monopolise.

Standard Oil was soon in its sights, and it also became a target for “muckraking” journalists who used Standard as a focus for a general ill-feeling against monopolies.

Ironically, as Standard came under Federal scrutiny as a result of the passing of the act, its share of the market was slipping – it had controlled 91 per cent of production and 85 per cent of sales in 1904. Market share of finished products was down to 70 per cent in 1906 and to 64 per cent in 1911, when the company was ordered to be broken up.

Of the 34 companies that Standard Oil was broken up into, Standard Oil of New Jersey later became Exxon, Standard Oil of New York eventually became Mobil, Standard Oil of Indiana became Amoco and Standard Oil of California became Chevron.

 

 

 

There Will Be Blood (2007, dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)

There Will Be Blood is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Citizen Kane. The story of how a character gained it all and lost something on the way, it stars Daniel Day Lewis as the elemental sounding Daniel Plainview, a man whose credo is “I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people”.

The film starts with Plainview digging for silver, a man swinging a pick with the ferocity of someone who simply has to succeed. It then follows him from these early struggles through a long tangle with the equally elementally named preacher Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who had first given him the tip that Standard Oil were sniffing about a local farm with a view to drilling for oil – the tip was a good one and allowed Plainview to get in first and get rich.

That’s it, for most of the film, a dance between a phonily sanctimonious creep of a preacher and a booming, self-invented huckster. If you’re looking for some metaphor for America, you don’t need to go far.

Day Lewis nicks Daniel Plainview’s character wholesale from John Huston as Noah Cross in Chinatown, that booming voice, those pregnant pauses. And in truth Cross and Plainview are both very similar characters – boosters (that one water, this one oil) whose actual main purpose is the boosting of the self.

Dano is more original and, controversial view, better – he was the best thing in 12 Year a Slave too, though only in it for scant minutes – here as a man whose soul can almost be seen through the windows of his eyes, and it doesn’t look pretty.

They’re an epic pair, this behemoth and the worm, and Anderson works the epic levers to great effect – the big majestic western landscapes, the daguerreotype look of Robert Elswit’s cinematography, Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood’s Gorecki-esque score, percussively straining yet always withholding.

If you were being picky, you might accuse Anderson of perhaps reaching too readily for the epic lever, of producing something closer to the masks and codification of Noh theatre or of the didactic instructional of Pilgrim’s Progress than to living, breathing cinema.

But then PT Anderson is a deeply moral film-maker, even the porn-dressed Boogie Nights waved a big message. But you can’t say that this stripped back, epically dressed morality play doesn’t have its payoff. As the film winds to a tragic close and Plainview is wandering around his gigantic mansion alone, like Charles Foster Kane in Xanadu, he knows that now he’s got this far there is only one logical next step.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • An epic
  • Daniel Day Lewis and Paul Dano’s perfectly matched performances
  • Production designer Jack Fisk’s oil frontier-town
  • Johnny Greenwood’s score

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

There Will Be Blood – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Boogie Nights

Mark Wahlberg and Burt Reynolds in Boogie Nights

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

30 December

 

 

Jeff Lynne born, 1947

On this day in 1947, Jeffrey Lynne was born in Birmingham, UK. Jeff was an early starter and by the age of 16 had formed a band in Birmingham, called first The Hellcats, then The Handicaps, and finally The Andicaps. By 18 he had learnt the rudiments of the studio recording process after buying a Bang & Olufsen BeoCord 2000 reel to reel tape machine, and joined a band called The Nightriders, who changed their name to The Idle Race. In 1970 he joined The Move, at the invitation of former Nightriders/Idle Race member Roy Wood. Together with guitarist/singer Wood, and drummer Bev Bevan, also of The Move, Lynne formed The Electric Light Orchestra, a rock/classical hybrid band designed to function in tandem with The Move. In fact the ELO almost immediately replaced The Move, both in the affections of the founders, and musically. Both Lynne and Wood were multi-instrumentalists adept at studio production and both saw themselves as frontmen. By 1972 – in a clear case of “too many chiefs” – Wood had left, leading to Lynne taking full creative control of ELO. Lynne tempered the rockier edge of the band over time, and ELO became a pop band with an increasingly complex studio sound. ELO became one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, though they were never regarded as cool by music papers such as the New Musical Express. During the 1980s the band’s popularity began to wane and Lynne moved into producing, including for George Harrison on his album Cloud Nine, much of which was co-written by Lynne. This led to the formation of The Traveling Wilburys, with Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. In the 1990s Lynne produced the Anthology albums for the surviving Beatles. Since then he has produced and written for Tom Jones, Aerosmith, Regina Spektor and Joe Walsh.

 

 

 

Boogie Nights (1997, dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)

Is Boogie Nights Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movie? Yes, he’s hit high notes since, with There Will Be Blood for instance, but Boogie Nights seems to have it all. And by “it all” I don’t just mean Heather Graham naked – at one point nearly every film seemed to feature Heather Graham naked. A souped-up version of his 1988 half-hour film The Dirk Diggler Story, it tells the story of the smalltown boy with a big asset in the trouser area, who becomes a porn star in its last golden age, when films were shot on real film, and had storylines. OK, so the storylines were as scant as Graham’s outfits but hey… Anderson conjures the period brilliantly and seems to make absolutely no wrong turns at all. Casting Mark Wahlberg, then still better known as Marky Marky of Calvin Klein underwear fame, was as brilliant as getting old Burt Reynolds to turn up and remind us what a real shit-eating grin looks like. Playing Jack Horner, Reynolds is folksy perfection as a porn producer who has borrowed half of Colonel Sanders’ finger-lickin’ shtick and gathered around him a surrogate family of performers, technicians, hangers-on, dealers, schemers, but not many friends. Boogie Nights is about the business of making porn, the production-line process of it, the people it sucks in and spits out, how the smart ones treat it as a job and how the dim ones are beguiled by it and ruined. Wahlberg, as Dirk Diggler, tightropes along that dividing line all the way through, surrounded by characters such as new best friend Reed (John C Reilly), sad-eyed assistant director Bill (William H Macy) and mother figure Amber Waves (Julianne Moore) who are all also negotiating the sticky path. The music of ELO fits the bill perfectly – bouncy, a touch of cheese – alongside a great clutch of poptastic tunes that dial us back to the late 1970s (Boney M, Andrew Gold, Hot Chocolate among them). Meanwhile Anderson’s camera also takes us back in time, in scenes that recall the roaming camera and complex long tracking shots of Robert Altman or Martin Scorsese. A film about the 1970s made in the style of the masters of the 1970s, with a big cast of well defined characters all with their own story arcs, that’s not easy. Following on from Hard Eight, PT Anderson’s mood piece about gamblers and other dwellers on the periphery, Boogie Nights announces the arrival in town of a new master.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Wahlberg’s breakthrough
  • Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film
  • A cast including Anderson regulars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Baker Hall, Alfred Molina
  • Robert Elswit’s cinematography

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Boogie Nights – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Magnolia

Tom Cruise in Magnolia

 

 

Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow-up to Boogie Nights disappointed those who were hoping for more Dirk Diggler and his prosthetic schlong. At 182 minutes it also caught out those who were watching at the cinema with a beer or two inside them – knotted legs don’t make for maximum movie fun. At home with a pause button it’s pure luxury. Stylistically it’s heavily in debt to one of Anderson’s readily acknowledged influences, Robert Altman – the overlapping dialogue, the wandering camera and the faintly disengaged performances. By which I mean the actors are not all constantly presenting three-quarter profiles to camera (no, not even Tom Cruise).

Yes, Tom Cruise. How often is it that you can see Tom Cruise in a film that’s not a Tom Cruise film? In terms of plot Magnolia is multi-stranded, with lots of characters, each starring, to some extent, in their own mini-movie. That’s Altmanesque too (see Short Cuts). But Anderson’s theme is all his own. He follows a bunch of flash, empty characters – among them the trophy wife (Julianne Moore), the over-eager sex guru (Tom Cruise), the former child star (William H Macy), the ineffectual policeman (John C Reilly) – as they descend into an existential inferno of their own making. Except for one man (Jason Robards), whose take on existential activity is coloured by the fact that the Grim Reaper is sharpening the scythe in the hospital ward his intubated body is currently occupying. No, not literally the Grim Reaper, that was a figure of speech. Though at the end of the film, after he’s spun his separate stories closer to coherence, Anderson does do something which shatters the absolute matter-of-factness of everything that’s come before. And if you haven’t got wind of his most oddball of endings, I won’t ruin it. Magnolia is not a film for plot-junkies but it does deliver something rather magical in its place – virtuoso zeitgeist film-making with a message that could have been lifted from a medieval morality play.

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 Magnolia – at Amazon