On August 3 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, moviegoers were treated to a surprise screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" in stunning 70mm. Anderson and wife Maya Rudolph were both in attendance.
The screening was both public and secret -- "The Shining" screened to an almost packed house at 7:30 pm, with an announcement made as the ends credits rolled that any ticketholders were welcome to stay for an encore presentation of Anderson's Venice-selected film. Though 70mm prints have been tested at various theaters around the country for the past couple of weeks (the Aero being one of them), this was the first full screening of the film for an audience, a good month before it premieres in Italy. Reactions soon hit the blogosphere.
"The Master" stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, both superb in the film. Twitchy and palpably disturbed, with one eye bulging larger than the other, Phoenix plays adrift seaman Freddie Quell, violent and drunk from practically anything he can procure from the bathroom cabinet. He's sort of a fucked-up early mixologist -- combining photo processing chemicals, paint thinner, etc -- and one of his potions gets a man killed. Frightened and roaming, Freddie hops aboard a glittering wedding party boat, where he meets Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), or "Master" as his waterbound acolytes call him, whose daughter is getting hitched.
Hoffman goes big with this role. His Master is intensely focused, almost cartoonishly charismatic and seductive. But as he brings Freddie into the fold of his teachings, which include pre-birth recordings, past lives and strict emotional self-control, Master proves to be a simmering powder-keg. When he snaps, it jolts you out of your seat. (This nicely matches Johnny Greenwood's percussive, anxiety-inducing score.) Freddie and Master have a symbiotic relationship, where Freddie can feel anchored by Master's stranglehold, and Master can ward off his paranoia (outside groups are increasingly criticizing his methods) by focusing his efforts on such an inscrutable weakling.