By Drew Taylor | The Playlist February 4, 2013 at 11:01AM
"Unguided Message" might be the most enticing supplemental nugget, an elliptical and odd collection of behind-the-scenes footage. It mostly consists of material either captured by a cell phone camera or a super crappy, lightweight digital camera, that is either being carried or attached to someone on the production. (They are never identified but all the grips and assistants seem to know this person.) The footage is always obscured, never capturing anything truly substantial and we see the actors only fleetingly. It's still pretty fun though. We watch as cameras track along a dock and a boat filled with personnel tries to keep up. At one point the camera follows Paul Thomas Anderson up a stairwell, with Anderson dangling a smoldering cigarette in between his fingers. Another time an anonymous crewmember jokes that they have laid "396 feet" of crack for a complicated tracking shot. Our unseen cameraman quips, "Why not make it an even 400?" You can never really hear what's going on in any of the scenes, though because the soundtrack consists of squiggly jazz music and overlapping transmissions from what sounds like the walkie talkies of various crewmembers. A couple of times the behind-the-scenes material stops being video and is presented as a series of stills (which are actually more telling than some of the footage – the best is a black-and-white photograph of PTA, Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, all smoking cigarettes). It ends with that shot where most of the cast is in a crowded elevator and… someone farts. Hoffman looks heavenward and groans, "Oh my fucking god."
While certainly non-traditional, "Unguided Message" still manages to convey what most behind-the-scenes material does – the enormity of the production (for a movie mostly consisting of dudes in rooms, this thing looked huge), the camaraderie on the set (everyone looks really happy) and the technical exactitude that was required. Sure it's nutty and weird and presented in a way that's almost alienating, but it does the job. In the most Paul Thomas Anderson-y way possible.
Also included are 12 teasers and trailers – the theatrical trailer that most people saw along with the various teasers that Paul Thomas Anderson cut himself and released online. These are absolutely wonderful and just as hypnotic as anything in the movie. They also include additional material that never made it into the final film, different from the deleted scenes collected elsewhere in "Back Beyond." It's fascinating to think about Anderson compiling this material and hypothesizing that it'd get people into the theater, considering how utterly strange it and context-free much of it is.
On the Blu-ray (but not the DVD), too, is "Let There Be Light," John Huston's landmark hour-long documentary on veterans of World War II. Huston is one of Anderson's heroes and it's easy to see what he cribbed from this fascinating document. It starts off with a text crawl that says: "About 20% of all battle casualties in the American Army during World War II were of a neuropsychiatric nature." The text goes on to describe how the techniques in the documentary have been "particularly successful in acute cases." It goes on: "No scenes were staged. The cameras just captured what took place at an army hospital." There is hokey narration, typical of education films from the time, talking about "human salvage," and those that "show no outward signs, but they are too wounded… the casualties of the spirit."
Huston being Huston, some of the sequences are composed gorgeously, and the images are terribly sad. In Janet Reitman's terrific nonfiction book "Inside Scientology," she details how the tenants of Scientology, including Dianetics, seemed particularly helpful and alluring to soldiers who came back from the war and were unable to see psychologists or psychiatrists outside of their initial treatment or mental institutions, because private psychiatric care hadn't been implemented yet. It's fascinating to think about and clearly Anderson borrowed from the documentary – the sequences of soldiers being interviewed mimics similar sequences in "The Master" when Freddie is being assessed. This documentary, while occasionally dry and overlong, is essential viewing, fascinating from a historical standpoint and how it relates to "The Master."
"The Master" hits DVD and Blu-ray on February 26th. We should also add that the movie itself looks and sounds unbelievable – outside of a 70 mm screening, this is the best presentation of the film we've seen.