Guest Blogger Sean Strauss on Paul Thomas Anderson’s MAGNOLIA

Magnolia 1

“Do Good.”

(Love yourself. Love your children.)

All in this together.You never know when

the hard rains are gonna fall:::

Earl – Frank – Jimmy – Rose – Claudia – Donnie – Stanley – Linda – Phil – Jim Kurring suffer their individual catharsis in Paul Thomas Anderson’s third film, Magnolia (1999). Through interwoven plays on chance and anguish within a San Fernando Valley day, Mr. Anderson explores the effects of trauma in the realm of family dysfunction, and more significantly the necessity of its resolution through forgiveness, love or death.

In the Northwest Film Center’s “Art of Reinvention” context, the mirror film to Magnolia’s storytelling approach is Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), equally grand in scope of character and narrative fluidity, and also set within the confines of Los Angeles (with the exception in Mr. Altman’s movie of a disturbing fishing trip). Both films pull off a three-hour plus meltdown marathon. Short Cuts peeks into the awkward lives and behaviors of its 22 characters from a zoom lens, the clouded realizations and the moral rust. Magnolia is more portrait than voyeuristic. Mr. Altman’s film is observational; Mr. Anderson’s is involved, intimate. It’s important to note each filmmaker had his unique aesthetics and desires in creating the work.

Mr. Anderson’s personal life experiences leading up to the penning of Magnolia made for something more than a film.

Magnolia is an experience conjured by a highly intelligent 29-year old man who had lost his father, was falling in love with another highly intelligent understanding artist, and had proven himself a filmic storyteller twice over. Art like this rarely makes it to the screen. It’s too expensive to gamble on emotion.

So, the man got a cast of players to commit all in. Phenomenal performances are abound, from Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, Melora Walters, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, the mighty Tom Cruise and the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman. Also, Jeremy Blackman, as the young genius Stanley Spector, who delivers his every moment from an impenetrable innocence.

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Stirred in with Magnolia’s constellation ensemble are a songstress and a composer who respectfully translate the unfathomable pain and absurdity of heartbreak and redemption with care: Aimee Mann and Jon Brion. Mr. Anderson has made it clear from the beginning that Aimee Mann’s lyrics were his personal spark and guide for the writing of Magnolia. The kismet relationship of Ms. Mann’s lyrics and Mr. Anderson’s story works wonders. The mutual need of the artists to build a ship with all of the accumulated floating debris from life blowing up is out in the open, going as far as to incorporate Mann’s tough love lullaby “Wise Up” as an intimate ensemble sing-along.

Furthermore, Jon Brion’s score is an achievement in the lost art of film music (which seems to accompany each P.T. Anderson film). Mr. Brion’s orchestra weaves in and out of the story so gracefully it’s dramatic exit somewhere during Act II reminds the audience it’s been present not for a cue or a scene or a section but the entire film up to that point.

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Magnolia is a reverential film for anyone at the end of his/her rope. Whether it’s trying to overcome the loss of identity, the loss of parental love, the pressure-cracked floodgate of all the mistakes and needs… Magnolia offers a life jacket. In Mark Rance’s making of documentary “That Moment”, Mr. Anderson jokes that Magnolia is him “working out his psychosis at every one else’s $8.50.” Perhaps, but the pay off is worth the coin and the reflection. Rather than drowning the audience in tears and leaving the clean up to the audience, Mr. Anderson at just the right moments offers patches of hope and humor, allowing tears a moment to dry, a chance for the light to resurrect, so we can see what’s up.

Sean Strauss is the director of the documentary BACK THE WAY WE CAME, which was featured in the Northwest Film Center’s Northwest Tracking series in January 2015. Like us, he loves the work of Paul Thomas Anderson.

MAGNOLIA screens Friday, August 7 at 7pm and Saturday, August 8 at 3pm in our Whitsell Auditorium (located in the Portland Art Museum). The film is showing as part of our The Art of Reinvention: Paul Thomas Anderson & His Influences series.

Tickets are available online or at the door.

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