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Watch: 10 Minute Study Of Paul Thomas Anderson's Use Of Steadicam Across 5 Films

by Ken Guidry
March 8, 2013 10:40 AM
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He’s made just six films over his career yet the works of Paul Thomas Anderson continue to be analyzed in numerous different ways by many people. Kevin B. Lee from Sight & Sound, in particular, has showcased remarkable perception when it comes to analyzing PTA’s visual style. He’s compiled videos of every symmetrical two-shot, every whip pan, and most notably, every tracking shot and this video essay is definitely a must-see for any fan of the filmmaker.

In the video, Kevin B. Lee examines the evolution of Anderson’s style with Steadicam. With “Hard Eight,” he only has one notable tracking shot: when Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is walking through the casino before he eventually stops at the craps table. In “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia” however, PTA’s love for tracking shots really come alive. Lee specifically talks about the opening tracking shot in 'Boogie' as well as the long tracking shot in the studio where the “What Do Kids Know?” game show is staged in “Magnolia.” He notes how the shot in 'Boogie' is done with specific purpose, introducing each of the main characters in the film. The shot in “Magnolia” appears to have less of a purpose, merely movement for the sake of movement.

Then Lee astutely points out a shift in Anderson’s style in his subsequent films where he starts to use the tracking shot less and in different, more effective ways. It’s really interesting to see how Paul Thomas Anderson slowly shifted away from his Scorsese influences into a completely different realm all on his own. This makes his upcoming film “Inherent Vice” even more worth the watch just to see the continued evolution of the filmmaker. Be sure to watch the video below. [via Rope Of Silicon]

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  • Cribbster | March 14, 2013 4:22 PMReply

    As well-thought out as this is, listening to Anderson talk, you get the sense that many of his choices are intuitive. This may be a good explanation of why his tracking shots work, but I'm not sure most, if any of this, is actually going through PTA's mind when he's making the movie. (Except for maybe "Boogie Nights" where it's clearly PTA introducing you to the characters.)

  • kof | March 14, 2013 5:05 PM

    You are 100 percent correct. All this is babbling fodder for theorist types. Most filmmakers, including Anderson, would never do what they do if they actually deconstructed their shooting plan like this. It's intuitive; it comes from watching lots of films and absorbing stuff that grips them. Go watch Fellini, Bertolucci, Welles, and, of course, Altman, and you'll see a lot of what Anderson is doing in his later "phase." He is taking already established movements and framings but making them his own. As does every great filmmaker. Even the folks I mentioned.

    To listen to this drivel, you'd think he invented a whole new language of the long take.

    PS. Scorsese, too, has evolved in his later works with less kinetic tracking shots and NO VOs. Somehow, that's not mentioned.

    Each STORY informs its own approach.

  • Ciccio | March 10, 2013 4:17 PMReply

    Hope he is more accurate about cinema than music.
    Writing Mahler instead of Brahms... poor us!

  • cattt | March 8, 2013 3:25 PMReply

    Great clip.

    Subtle work and yet powerful.

  • Monty | March 8, 2013 2:11 PMReply

    Very interesting stuff!
    Great post guys.

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