With the release of 1999’s MAGNOLIA, director Paul Thomas Anderson had arguably reached the peak of what he could do with his particular stylistic conceits. As he developed ideas for his next feature project, Anderson dove right back into the world of music videos and short-form work as a way to keep his directorial skills active and engaged.
AIMEE MAN: “SAVE ME” (1999)
Like the music video for Michael Penn’s “TRY” following BOOGIE NIGHTS in 1997, Anderson created a tie-in music video for one of MAGNOLIA’s musical muse, Aimee Mann. The track, “SAVE ME”, appears during the closing scene ofMAGNOLIA, and was written specifically for the film. To reflect his, Anderson and Mann settled on an idea that would recreate key moments from MAGNOLIA in motionless tableau form, while integrating Mann singing towards camera in the background. Anderson’s fingerprints are all over this video, with a camera that continuously dollies forward on Mann with a creeping confidence. He also throws in a little visual variety by way of moving the furniture and set dressing around in elegant, almost impossible ways that reveal the hidden artifice of each vignette. “SAVE ME” is a simple, yet moving little music video—and arguably Anderson’s most popular.
FIONA APPLE: PAPER BAG (2000)
The turn of the millenium found Anderson and then-girlfriend Fiona Apple collaborating on a music video once again, this time for her song “PAPER BAG”. The video finds Apple performing at a bar inside of an expansive lobby, surrounded by little boys dressed as grown men. Anderson shoots wide to feature the location’s beautiful architecture, as well as to showcase elaborate old-school musical choreography. The piece is again an instance of Anderson’s elegant camerawork, incorporating the same whip-pan technique that he made a motif of in MAGNOLIA.
SNL: “FANATIC” (2000)
By the year 2000, Anderson’s work began to shift away from the sprawling, dynamic style that had made his name and towards experimental explorations into comedy and other genres. The first of such projects was done almost as a lark– less of a serious, cerebral project and more of a fun diversion for him and his friends at Saturday Night Live. The piece is a spoof on MTV’s show “FANATIC”, where a mega-fan gets the chance to meet his/her object of worship. Anderson recruits SNL castmember Jimmy Fallon as “Fanatic’s” overly-aggro host, who tracks down Anna Nicole Smith’s biggest fan (played brilliantly by Ben Affleck in a role that lets him eschew his romantic leading man persona and ham it up with a false set of horrible teeth and giant braces). While Anderson’s “Fanatic” is undoubtedly a fun little side-project, in an oblique way it still fits naturally amidst his larger body of work. The handheld video format and the reality TV conceit echoes THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY’s presentation and comedic tone, while Affleck’s quest to make Anna Nicole Smith his mother echoes Anderson’s thematic explorations of family and the search for home.
THE JON BRION SHOW (2000)
During this time, Anderson’s regular composer Jon Brion was trying to launch a new music-oriented variety show, appropriately titled THE JON BRION SHOW. Brion was unsuccessful in finding a home for the show at VH1, so Anderson stepped in to finance and direct a new pilot. While three episodes were produced in total, only the one featuring the late Elliot Smith has been made publicly available. THE JON BRION SHOW follows a pretty standard, generic variety show format, utilizing multiple video cameras to cover Brion as he guides us through the evening’s playlist. The piece is a very rough, yet fascinating look into Anderson’s interests outside of just filmmaking, as well as a nostalgic little time capsule of a very particular sound that flourished during the turn of the millennium.
While Anderson’s output during these years is relatively small, he was able to capitalize on the popularity afforded to him byMAGNOLIA’s modest success with a string of experimental works that allowed him to broaden his scope and expand his aesthetic.