It may still be a few weeks out from Obligatory End of Year List season, but once that gets in full swing, there’s decent chance P.T. Anderson’s cult-noir The Master will be making a number of movie round ups. The director’s latest film, a Scientology-tinged bromance gone awry, had been long gestating, the stuff of rumor, and seemingly always in some sort of rocky relationship with studios and distributors. When it came out, with only a fraction of theatres screening the thing in 70mm, as Anderson intended it be shown, reactions were only shades above luke warm. Despite the cast and stunningly vivid cinematography, moviegoers left confused (and, by degrees, disappointed) over The Master ’s boozy post-World War II psychic meanderings. But through the spells, one thing was sure: P.T. Anderson is getting slower.
As seen in this video essay by Kevin B. Lee, Anderson’s trajectory has been moving away from marathon tracking shots to something tighter, more bare. He’s “becoming less dependent on the influence of others, as in Boogie Nights ’ amazing, Scorsese-indebted opening,” the A.V Club writes, “and more likely to employ subtle shifts and small gestures to achieve the director’s desired effects.” Lee walks us through this evolution using five Steadicam shots from Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and There Will Be Blood. Together with matching set maps, the clips show a filmmaker growing more and more comfortable with stripping away run-and-gun pomp in favor of a brooding stillness, which bores slowly and further into the mind. The stark back and forths and portrait shots that mark The Master seem to be logical progressions of this slow burn.