Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Interview: Esquire Magazine

Esquire Magazine, Written By Todd McCarthy
March 2000

The Next Scorsese

The most talented new generation of film directors since the '70s is upon us. They won't all last. They won't all leave a great body of work. And they won't all continue making ambitious movies. Which one of them will become the next Scorsese?

Andrew Sarris nominates...Kevin Smith

Kenneth Turan nominates...David O. Russell

Todd McCarthy nominates...Paul Thomas Anderson

Tom Carson nominates...Alexander Payne

Elvis Mitchell nominates...The Wachowski Brothers

Martin Scorsese nominates...Wes Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson says he doesn't know "if I'm the type of guy who'd want to run the world like Spielberg or retreat to a mansion in London like Kubrick. I haven't got it figured out yet." It takes a lot of hubris for a twenty-nine-year-old director with three films behind him to presume that either route represents a viable option. But it's his sense of certainty, along with a large wad of talent, that has arguably put Anderson at the front of the pack of insurgent young dudes making the edgiest new films in Hollywood.

Due to the way he claims his very promising first picture, Sydney (retitled Hard Eight for release, in 1996), was butchered by its producers (a DVD of his original cut is available for comparison), Anderson has become exceptionally sensitive about maintaining control over his work. Since then, it's not only in the subject matter of Boogie Nights (1997) that he has exhibited a major preoccupation with length. After having been forced to compromise with New Line over the running time of his audacious and surprisingly sweet-natured spin through the world of porn, which stands as one of the key dozen or so American films of the nineties, Anderson demanded final cut from the studio on his next picture, and got it. But as powerful as Magnolia's best moments and performances are, the result raises questions about the director's discipline and tendencies toward self-indulgence.

In all of his films, however, he has demonstrated a natural filmmaking flair, a bent for risk taking, and a predilection for taking actors where they might otherwise never get to go. But what further distinguishes him is a skill much rarer among modern young filmmakers—his ability as a dramatist. Thus far, Anderson has fixed his gaze on the lives, from the exceptional to the mundane, of lower-middle-class suburbanites, particularly those of his native San Fernando Valley: Sydney, with its pared-down scenes devoted to blunt dialogue, often has the feel of a Mamet pressure-chamber drama; far more fluid and commanding, Boogie Nights looks like the love child of Scorsese's visual style and Anderson hero Jonathan Demme's generous humanity; while Magnolia, for better as well as worse, overflows its Altmanesque structure to assume quasi - operatic dimensions.

Anderson appears to have his roots planted so deeply in the irrigated soil of the Valley that it would be difficult to cut himself off from his greatest source of sustenance. As with Scorsese, it will be crucial to see what happens when he takes on other characters, other locations, other eras. Also significant will be his decision whether to continue writing his own scripts; all too many great writer-directors, from Huston to Coppola, went astray when they put aside their typewriters just to cash in irresistible directing fees. But Anderson's talent seems so supple, muscular, and responsive to human foibles, and his ambition is so outsized, that there is every reason to believe that his stature will only continue to grow, as long as he learns that he doesn't have to make a three - hour film every time out.