Film review – Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2018)

Following the completion of filming for Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he would be retiring from acting and that his role as 1950s London high-society dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock would be his final role. This can be considered both a figurative and literal bowing out in style. Oozing elegance and beauty in every aspect, it is an absolute triumph of a film.

The story centres around Woodcock, head of the House of Woodcock, a well-regarded craftsman who is seeing his popularity diminish by the beckoning of new fashion from around the world. He baulks at the word “chic”. He is a meticulous and silent worker, unforgiving of those who have the audacity to interrupt his genius in flow. His obsessive nature flows over to his personality, and those close to him are dictated to by his need for control. His closest ally is his sister Cyril (the brilliant Lesley Manville), who manages his business affairs and the staff and running of the house. Their world is flipped upside-down when a chance encounter leads Reynolds to fall into infatuation with a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who quickly moves into the house and thus begins her strange relationship with Reynolds.

In 2018, a cinematic year defined by an uprising of oppressed and attacked women finally being given a platform to voice their views on oppressive and controlling men in the film industry, it seems almost perverse that I enjoyed Day-Lewis’s performance so much. I felt at times like he was on the cusp of bursting into tears of laughter, such was the audacity of his character’s actions. In one of the best lines of the film, as shown below, he delivers the cutting “The tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me.” Brilliant.

Jonny Greenwood, one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most frequent and reliable collaborators, provides the score. It is mesmerising, fitting beautifully with the visuals. In a recent interview with Adam Buxton, Greenwood stated that he wrote it in order for it to be performed along with the film. “I wanted to do it with six or seven players and make it all playable and send out the scores to cinemas and say ‘get some local players to play it live’ and it be a really regular thing. I love the idea of the film arriving and then the book of music arriving and these are the two things you put together and make it quite easy, but Paul kept on asking for bigger and bigger string section sounds to build the romance.” Indeed, this decision was probably the correct one, with the enduring stay-ability of the film benefiting over what could have been simply a nice touch at release. I challenge anyone to find a more perfectly romantic piece of film music this year than ‘House of Woodcock’. [1]

A film that is centred around a celebrated dressmaker almost inevitably has a wonderful display of costumes on show. Mark Bridges is another frequent Anderson collaborator, having worked with him on The Master, Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood. The costumes here are absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing the essence of 1950s London high society. It is a costumier’s dream of a film, with the intricate efforts of making such beautiful dresses captured in great detail.

The film culminates in a most unlikely ending that absolutely works with the film, underlining the nature of Alma and Reynolds’s relationship to one-another and their desire to stay together. Their dinner table stand-off with a mushroom omelette may not have the intensity of the “I drink your milkshake!” scene in There Will Be Blood, but it swaps intense for tense as the scene plays out. It’s just one of those scenes in cinema that hangs perfectly together. Script, acting, cinematography, lighting, score – everything is just right. A masterclass in filmmaking.

Whilst Day-Lewis may be unlikely to receive an Academy Award for this film, it certainly ranks up there with his most celebrated performances. He is one of this generation’s greatest actors and it is a real loss to the industry that he is walking away. However, it’s a noble decision to leave a profession whilst you’re at the top of your game. He could probably deliver a further three or four top performances, but his decision is clearly based on a balance between his enjoyment of his life as an artist and his enjoyment of his life outside of the industry. If Phantom Thread does prove to ultimately be his final role, then he is definitely leaving us on a high.

[1] Note: Jonny performed an exclusive version of this song on the Adam Buxton podcast (EP.63B, 9th February 2018) alongside a 30-minute interview backstage at the Royal Festival Hall prior to a live performance of the score on 30th January 2018. It’s well worth a listen and can be found here.

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Top ten Radiohead music videos of all time

Radiohead are set to take Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage by storm this weekend, so I thought it would be a great time to give a chronological run through of their greatest music videos. I was able to choose my very personally-opinionated list from an eclectic output, which has never felt like it was conforming to anything like the norm.

Take a look and feel free to challenge me if you think I’ve missed anything.

1. Just (Jamie Thraves, 1995)

Jamie Thraves’s breakthrough announced his work to the world and made him one of the most sought-after music video directors on the planet. He has since contributed some brilliant short films to bands (Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ and Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ are amongst his more popular work), though his feature film career remains highly underrated.

It’s worth watching before anyone tells you anything about it. Then you can Google “What does the guy say at the end of Just by Radiohead?”. Then in 22 years’ time you’ll be where I am now.

Utter genius.

2. Street Spirit (Jonathan Glazer, 1996)

Jonathan Glazer’s visually-stunning black and white video for ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’ was a masterpiece at the time and it has certainly stood the test of time. The slow frame rate mixed with regular or fast-forward shots creates a really effective result, and if the overall impression doesn’t do it for you then you can at least wonder how it was achieved technically without the use of computer imagery.

3. Paranoid Android (Magnus Carlsson, 1997)

Paranoid Android is an epic saga of a tune that fused three separate crunching progressive rock song and juxtaposed them with some darkly humorous lyrics. It’s essentially Radiohead doing a song like Bohemian Rhapsody but doing everything they can to not do a song like Bohemian Rhapsody.

The video that accompanies it, created by Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson, is just as bizarre. The band were fans of his animated series Robin, and asked him to create a video featuring the character. The dark playfulness of the songs lyrics and composition marries perfectly with the visuals, which could easily trick a young person into thinking it was a regular cartoon. They’d soon see a man with a head foetus poking out of his belly, or a bare-breasted mermaid swimming around.

4. No Surprises (Grant Gee, 1998)

No discussion of Radiohead videos would be complete without mention of the visually iconic ‘No Surprises’ music video. Thom Yorke’s head is slowly submerged in a tank that fills from the bottom, with some subtle slow-motion work causing it to feel even longer to increase the feeling of tension and suffocation. I guarantee the first time everyone saw it they all took a breath as the water was eventually released. Simple but very effective.

Gee was also involved with Radiohead during the infamous OK Computer tour, which almost led to the band breaking up. It was covered in the engrossing feature-length documentary ‘Meeting People is Easy’, released on VHS in 1998.

5. Knives Out (Michel Gondry, 2002)

Michel Gondry’s one-shot video for ‘Knives Out’ feels like a thematic predecessor to ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’, Gondry’s 2004 masterpiece that must surely be one of the best films of the decade. Thom Yorke is in a hospital bed next to his partner, played by Emma de Caunes (who later appeared in Gondry’s The Science of Sleep). She’s undergoing some operations but her body is represented by an oversized version of the Operation board game. Thom looks on in a nightmarish panic, underpinned by a feeling of repetition and inability to escape.

The marrying of two of the most creative artists in their respective mediums was inevitably going to lead to greatness and ‘Knives Out’ doesn’t disappoint.

6. There There (Chris Hopewell, 2003)

The first of two Chris Hopewell videos on this list. There There is a stop-motion animated video that features Thom Yorke venturing into a dark forest and encountering some small mice having a dinner party. He steals some magical shoes, gets attacked by some crowd and turns into a tree.

Brilliant.

7. Nude (Adam Buxton and Garth Jennings, 2008)

British comedian/podcaster/beardy cyclist Adam Buxton joined forces with music video and film director Garth Jennings to produce a beautiful and simplistic music video for Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ single.

Each member of the band performs against a black background, filmed in slow motion as the space they inhabit fills up with white feathers.

If it sounds simple, it’s because it is. And it’s wonderful.

8. House of Cards (James Frost, 2008)

No cameras were used in the making of James Frost’s mesmerising video for ‘House of Cards‘. Instead, 3D plotting devices were used to collect, collate and interpret data on the positional relationship between objects.

It’s hard to visualise and harder to forget once you’ve seen it.

9. Lotus Flower (Garth Jennings, 2010)

Because who doesnt want to see a black and white Thom Yorke dancing around like a maniac for five minutes and eight seconds?

10. Burn the Witch (Chris Hopewell, 2016)

One of the best music videos I’ve seen recently was for ‘A Moon Shaped Pool‘ lead single ‘Burn the Witch’. It is, specifically, Trumpton does The Wicker Man. It was created by Chris Hopewell of ‘There There’ fame. Another dark video that belies the cutesy animated façade.