With its star Philip Seymour Hoffman in Venice to receive the prizes on the Lido, Anderson, co-star Amy Adams and producer JoAnne Sellar discussed the film at yesterday’s TIFF press conference (co-lead Joaquin Phoenix was apparently in Toronto, but AWOL from the press conference). Here’s five highlights from the Toronto chat witht the media.
One Toronto critic had a rambling question about Scientology being the “elephant in the room with a lawyer” and whether Anderson could discuss it, but the filmmaker quickly jumped in and sidestepped the question. “Can we deal with that word [Scientology] and then get rid of it?” the critic asked? “You just did it perfectly,” PTA said. The director seemed bored, near-frustrated with the subject and when the same critic asked about the impulse to draw a portrait about such churches, Anderson said his film had a different aim, albeit one with a circuitous answer.
“I don’t consider that we’re dealing with a cult,” he remarked. “The area of this story after the war is like food and drink to me in terms of an opportunity for a lot of good stuff to tell a story. It’s a mix of a tremendous about of optimism, but an incredibly large bodycount behind you – how can you feel really great about a victory with so much death around you? So it gets you to a spot where you’ve gotta figure out where all the bodies are going and this creates a situation where people want to talk about past lives, about where we go after we die, past lives, and those kinds of ideas that the Master is putting forward – time travel is possible – those are great ideas. They’re hopeful ideas and stuff that was fascinating to write the story around.”
Just as the “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” was a big influence on “There Will Be Blood,” another John Huston film, 1946's documentary "Let There Be Light," which chronicled soldiers who had sustained debilitating emotional trauma and depression after WWII, was a big inspiration for “The Master.”
In the 1940s, Hollywood directors were commissioned to by the war department to make war films and directors like Frank Capra, John Ford and John Huston were enlisted to tell such stories. However, Huston’s documentary about veteran hospitals was just too real for their taste.
“The war department took one look at this film and said, 'absolutely no way we're showing this to anyone,' “ Anderson said. “They kinda had this amazing footage... very graphic and kinda showed you what these fellas were coming back with. I mean there's stuff [in 'The Master'] that we ripped off line for line from that film, it was sort of a way to talk about time travel. It was the best source of material that we found to show what these VA hospitals were like at that time. So we were sort of ripping it off and left, right and center. And the fictional version of that is [William Wylers] 'The Best Years Of Our Lives' which is just a great film and obviously tell its story in a very different way.”