Spotlite on Paul Anderson

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 27, 2008 09:04pm | Post a Comment


Paul Anderson is a prolific Generation X filmmaker with a trademark style and five Academy Awards under his belt. He's also made music videos for everyone who's performed at Largo. In addition to his film-making, he's dated models turned singers, singers turned models, daughters of singers and models who only sing in the shower.


Paul Anderson's films are notable for their flashy style and complicated, interweaving story lines. As one of the video store generation of filmmakers, he employs a large bag of cinematic tricks, including quick cuts, constant camera movement, stunning scenery, dutch tilts, low angles, high angles and revolving pullback shots-- tricks gleaned from growing up with a VCR rather than film school learning. He frequently employs female-led ensemble casts drawn from a stock of trusted actors. Making up that group are such players as Julianne Moore, Sean Pertwee, John C. Reilly, Colin Salmon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeremy Bolt, Melora Walters, Jason Isaacs, and Luiz Guzman, to name a few.


Anderson's ostentatious style is frequently used to elevate the seemingly mundane to epic proportions. Sometimes the point of this ostentatious streak seems merely like showing-off, perhaps an effect of Anderson's high level of film exposure but probable lack of theory. He frequently revels in the seedy underside of outwardly blissful environs. Other frequently recurring themes include constructions and examinations of makeshift families, the role of media, divine acts, secret governmental organizations and the unintended consequences of technology run amok.


He made his first film while still in High School. It was The Dirk Diggler Story. It was a short mockumentary inspired by the teenage Anderson's voracious appetite for porn.

In 1992 he made the short Cigarettes & Coffee which is notable because of it's titular similarity to Jim Jarmusch's Coffee & Cigarettes.

In 1994, he made his first feature length film, the controversial and ultra-violent Shopping. It centered around Sean Pertwee and Jude Law's performances as amoral, joy-riding, ram-raiding rapscallions. Here, as in many of his subsequent films, the flashy camera work seemed to some viewers a strange fit for the banal subject matter.

In 1995 he directed Mortal Kombat. Before Mortal Kombat, there had been several video game-to-film adaptations such as Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter and Double Dragon. All were savaged by the critics. I saw MK in the theater-- most critics (myself included) found it to be a surprisingly enjoyable bit of escapism. It also introduced decidedly heavy themes into a genre not associated with thought-provoking introspection. As with many of Anderson's films, Mortal Kombat focuses heavily on divine fate as a large ensemble cast of actors portraying combatants are brought together by Raiden to battle one another for the fate of Earthrealm.

Next was Hard 8 (1996). A bit of a sophomore slump, it was modestly successful but felt like something of a retread. As is often the case with follow-ups to success, the director seemed to repeat himself with yet another story about a group of combatants (this time craps players) battling for glory and money (instead of Earthrealm's fate). The obvious attempt to score another success by sticking to formula was transparent and audiences stayed away. A heavily edited DVD is available, but no director's cut.

1997 was a busy year for Paul Anderson. He signed on to direct Event Horizon, apparently unaware that the release date was stipulated in the contract and he rushed to finish the film in time. He was, as with Hard 8, unhappy with the final product and has claimed that a director's cut is in the works. The concept was essentially Solaris+Hellraiser but Anderson, expectedly, infused the film with his by-then recognizable style and themes. The plot concerns an ensemble cast (including Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill) who investigate a derelict spaceship. In the process they are confronted with their innermost personal burdens. The deceased captain's final words in his ship's log are "Liberate tutame ex inferis" (save yourself from hell), once again injecting his recurrent fascination with religion into the mix with the spaceship an obvious metaphor for the Abrahamic underworld.

A mere two months later, Boogie Nights was an enormous return to form and ended Anderson's slump with a massive critical and commercial success. Here, another large ensemble cast portray the denizens of the San Fernando Valley's 1970s porn industry. As with Mortal Kombat, a group of players from wildly different backgrounds are brought together by their profession into thrown into a dysfunctional, ersatz family. In the process, it also revived (for better or worse) Burt Reynolds' career and transformed a rapping underwear model into a serious actor in Mark Wahlberg.

In 1998, Anderson directed the Blade Runner sidequal Soldier. Here, a governmental organization breeds, from infancy, a team of supersoldiers including Kurt Russell as Todd. The family focus here is evident too, as the infants are plucked from their natural families and thrown together into a new unit. As an adult, Todd crashes on Arcadia 234 (an oblique reference to Arcadia (aka "Arcasia"), a neighborhood in the rival San Gabriel Valley) and is taken in by a man named Mace along with his wife and son. When the family reject Todd and he once again finds himself alone, he cries and is surprised by the tears in what is an almost comical representation of masculinity, another common feature of Anderson's films.


Magnolia (1999) has nothing to do with the famed "home of the soldiers." No, here the story centers on the interactions of several denizens of the San Fernando Valley throughout the course of a single day. Once again, these interactions provide Anderson to delight his audience with improbable couplings and Tom Cruise in his second-most hilarious role to date. And, in a clever nod to both Anderson's love of religious imagery and video game adaptations, the film includes the famous Frogger scene. When the plague from the Bible was mentioned, Anderson claimed to have no awareness of the incident, another testament to his childhood wasted on VHS porn instead of Sunday School.

With 2002's Resident Evil, Anderson returned, once again, to adapting a video game to the big screen. Much as he transformed a former model's career in Boogie Nights, here supermodel Milla Jovovich shows her considerable acting chops as an amnesiac named Alice who kills zombies. Developed by the Umbrella Corporation (another corrupt organization whose scientific tampering has unintended consequences), Alice is a lethal weapon in a sexy Ukranian package which inspired none other than VH1 to name her the "reigning queen of kick-butt."


Nine months after Resident Evil, Anderson released Punch Drunk Love (2002), which would later lead to an equally introspective sequel with Anger Management. In PDL, Sandler plays a young man who represses his emotions and occasionally explodes with violence (hearkening back to emotion-repressing, violent commandos of Soldier.).

Alien Vs. Predator was both a Super NES game (1993) and a fairly dissimilar Capcom arcade game (1994), the latter of which I was quite good at. According to rumors, the arcade version was intended to tie-in to an earlier cinematic adaptation which never saw the light of day. By the time heavyweight Paul Anderson climbed on board to direct AVP (2004), the inevitable heavy symbolism was added to yet another video game adaptation. This time, instead of evoking biblical imagery, Anderson turned to the Aztec codices and the writings of famous Swiss nutbag Erich von Däniken for his allusions.

In 2005, Paul Anderson and Maya Rudolph gave birth to a baby which they named Pearl Bailey, after the Virginian actress and star of Vaudeville. Two years later, he and Milla Jovovich gave birth to a baby which they named Ever Gabo, an apparent (and bizarre) jumble of yet another golden-age actress, the Hungarian star of "Green Acres," Eva Gabor.

Anderson's latest, last year's There Will Be Blood was about an oilman and silver-miner on a ruthless quest for power. Critics were again unimpressed. The New York Press said, "musical wit disguises the story’s incoherence—its meaningless siblings, silences and opportunistic sadism." The San Francisco Chronicle stated, "there should be no need to pretend There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece just because Anderson sincerely tried to make it one." Perhaps most damning, however, was the adoration of the Academy, a sure sign that an artist isn't operating at his or her creative peak. But with a director as capable and energetic as Paul Anderson I say, "expect the impossible!"

Stay tuned, next time Spotlite™ turns its beam on George Miller!
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