Artist Profile: Paul Thomas Anderson on His Filmmaking Process and Love Navigating ‘Licorice Pizza’ | Arts

The Harvard Crimson recently joined a college roundtable with acclaimed writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson to discuss making his latest film, “Licorice Pizza.” Anderson is best known for making dark, complex films about difficult characters. For example, his 2017 period romance “Phantom Thread” was a searing exploration of masochistic love and fretless obsession with art in 1950s upper London. haven’t had a lot of rosy stories in Anderson movies lately. But that’s changed a bit with “Licorice Pizza” – at least on the surface.

Anderson’s latest follows Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and Alana Kane (Alana Haim), two misfits stuck between adolescence and adulthood. They’re flawed characters — an odd, explicitly “not boyfriend-girlfriend” pair who might have met a darker fate if Anderson were in a bad mood. But in “Licorice Pizza,” Alana and Gary’s flaws aren’t a death knell, they’re the product of youthful insecurities — of feeling a little out of touch with people their own age. Their winding story navigates the emotionally turbulent boundaries between a friendship and a relationship, as the pair bounce around episodic misadventures in 1970s Los Angeles.

Gary and Alana can only remain friends, and yet they find themselves constantly drawn to each other. Anderson commented on their complicated “platonic romance” dynamic: “The idea that two people can’t be together instantly creates this dilemma,” he said. “It’s a very traditional formula for 1930s romantic comedies that, to me, really stand the test of time. And it allows you to do endless comedic situations for them.

Haim and Hoffman received critical acclaim for their lead performances. “I know what it’s like as an audience member when you see someone onscreen that you’ve never seen before. It’s an exciting feeling,” Anderson said. as director of the film. I kind of built the whole thing on the premise that they could do it, and they did. Gives you proud dad feelings.

Anderson shared particularly glowing praise for Haim. After collaborating on music videos for her pop-rock group HAIM in the past, Anderson then decided to write “Licorice Pizza” especially for her. “I had a story going around that needed help, that needed something,” he said. “And knowing Alana was what that helps. It was written for Alana. There was only one person I ever considered and that was Alana. She is the reason all of this exists.

The level of care and attention Anderson puts into directing his actors is matched by the care he puts into creating lavish visuals. “Licorice Pizza” is shot on 35mm film, and Anderson captures color in a way that really maximizes that medium, with beautiful, dreamlike frames that reflect a hazy, blurry 1970s San Bernardino filled with characters that literally shine on the screen.

Still, Anderson says a lot of his directing approach isn’t always planned for the T. Talking about the planning process for his shots, he said, “It’s all over the map. For some things, you have an idea in mind. I was writing a film that took place where I lived. So there was not much that I provided with my imagination. You know, they were all real places of real stories. So I knew what they were, or I had to find suitable replacements. What I mean by that is that there used to be a real “Fat Bernie’s Waterbeds” and it’s now a tanning salon so I couldn’t use it. So, ok, I have to go get something else.

“Now a lot of shots end up really cementing themselves in the scouting process,” he added. “You have time to go to these places over and over, as many times as you need, and there’s not a countdown of 50 crew members wondering what to do. You have the opportunity to make the film quietly and without too much pressure when you are scouting.

Anderson doesn’t just revisit classic cinema aesthetics with lavish cinematography – in many ways, he goes back to old distribution methods to bring people to theaters. This included an extended two-month preview period between November and December, during which the film screened in select locations at many traditional theaters before being released nationwide. A theater near the Harvard campus that has screened “Licorice Pizza” since its full-scale release is Somerville Theater, which was built in 1914 and has been showing movies for a century. “We try a lot of old-school techniques to get the movie out,” Anderson explained. “Getting things done slowly, trying to raise awareness over a long period of time rather than what seems to be happening recently with films, which are kind of bombarded and then forgotten in two days…Stop and give the audience breathe, or at least present the film in a more respectable way, in turn gives respect to an audience.

Part of the freedom to pursue these old distribution techniques can be attributed to how the pandemic has changed the way audiences interact with movies. “What’s exciting about releasing a movie right now is that normally everyone at the movie studio likes to watch you and thinks they know everything and tell you what should happen,” Anderson said. . “What’s great is that they’re all looking at the landscape of what it’s like to make a movie and get it out today and they’ve put their hands up and they’re like ‘we have no idea what it’s all about. must do “.”

At the end of the roundtable, Anderson was asked what he wanted the audience to take away from “Licorice Pizza.” “When I started working with the HAIM group, we never had money, we never had time. We just did what we could with what we had. And we had a situation similar on this movie,” he said. “We had to shoot fast, we had to shoot without thinking too much about it, just instinctively. And we really used all of our friends and family to make the movie. So if whatever it is, it confirms that belief that you really don’t need anything more than desire and a handful of friends and a handful of your family to make a great movie.

The Crimson reviewed “Licorice Pizza” and gave it 5 stars out of 5. “Licorice Pizza” is playing in theaters nationwide.


—Lanz writer Aaron G. Tan can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @LanzAaronGTan1.

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