Sound And Vision: Paul Thomas Anderson
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at Fiona Apple's Across the Universe, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Paul Thomas Anderson, PTA for those in the know, has made a plethora of music videos. He started off with music videos for his then-girlfriend Fiona Apple, who later had some choice words about the director. At the time he also made a tie-in music video for Save Me, from Aimee Mann's soundtrack for his own Magnolia, and for her husband Micheal Penn he made the music video for Try (yes, Aimee Mann is Sean Penn's sister-in-law. Win trivia night with this little factoid).
Later in his career he made a bunch of more naturalistic music videos and album films for Thom Yorke, Johnny Greenwood, Radiohead, HAIM and Joanna Newsom. While his music videos for Fiona Apple and Michael Penn are grand, sprawling, cinematic, with more than a hint of Hollywood Grandeur, his later works for Haim and Radiohead are low-key, simple, to-the-point, realistic, conceptually subdued, subtle, but with gravitas. The two styles are like day and night, but also both very PTA. It's the same difference that sets something like Magnolia apart from The Master, or Boogie Nights from Licorice Pizza.
All of these music videos have one thing in common: they were used as tests for editing and camera techniques for his later films. Fast as You Can and Limp both use several lensing styles that later show up in Magnolia. The early music videos for HAIM are all shot on stock, cameras and lenses he would use as his own cinematographer for Phantom Thread. And Try was a proof run for the sprawling takes in Magnolia and the hallway runs in Punch-Drunk Love.
Which is why my pick for the Sound and Vision of this week is a bit of an outlier. It was not a camera test. Nor was the music video tied into one of his films like Save Me for Magnolia or Blossoms And Blood for Punch-Drunk Love. It was weirdly enough a marketing piece for Pleasantville, by director Gary Ross. In the music video for Fiona Apple's Across the Universe we see PTA alumni like John C. Reilly (himself a star in Pleasantville), trash an American diner while Apple sings, unphased by all the surrounding violence. It is the rare piece of movie marketing that outshines the film it ties into (a film which by itself is not too shabby, either). It proved that PTA could make something that has his own fingerprints, while also fitting the style of the original film. It's a stunning video, well worth the watch.