Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Valentine” (2017)

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s output since his 2014 feature INHERENT VICE has been emblematic of a seasoned visionary dropping the selectiveness implied by his “prestige filmmaker” status and rediscovering the joys of artistic expression for sheer creativity’s sake.  The 2015 music documentary JUNUN is arguably his most substantial work in this vein, with him embracing the mobility and cost-effectiveness of digital filmmaking for the first time in a bid to capture the recording of the eponymous Jonny Greenwood album.  His ensuing trio of music videos for Radiohead’s 2016 album “A Moon Shaped Pool” doubled down on this approach, with the latter two in particular content to simply sit and observe Greenwood and Thom Yorke perform the respective tracks acoustically in simple surroundings.  JUNUN and the Radiohead videos were executed under relative secrecy, with the former making a surprise debut at the New York Film Festival and the Radiohead videos dropping on the unsuspecting blogerati with no advance warning.  2017 looks to continue this phase of Anderson’s career, judging by the similarly-surprising release of his music video for indie rock band Haim’s new single,  “RIGHT NOW”.  Even more surprising is the revelation that “RIGHT NOW” is simply the first third of a longer short film called VALENTINE, so named for the recording studio that the short takes place in.  Clocking in at a brisk fourteen minutes, VALENTINE was produced in secret by Sarah Murphy, Albert Chi, and Erica Frauman, and documents the Haim sisters as they perform/record three tracks off their first album since their 2013 debut.

Anderson’s involvement with the project is certainly unexpected, given his relative celebrity in regards to Haim’s own artistic profile, but just like his prior music videos for Fiona Apple and Radiohead, his connection here is highly personal.  He had reached out to them strictly as a fan around the time of their debut, but through their correspondence, he came to discover that the trio’s mother had been his art teacher (1). “RIGHT NOW” came about specifically when the band asked him down to their studio for his creative input on the track– a visit that apparently inspired him to document the song’s recording right then and there (1), subsequently leading to the expansion of the project under VALENTINE’s current scope.  Serving as his own cinematographer,  Anderson shoots VALENTINE in a manner indicative of the extremely tight prep window, but which nonetheless exhibits his impeccable taste for composition and movement.  He brings his compelling cinematic eye to the 35mm film image, harnessing the soft ambient light of the studio to create a cold color palette of cerulean & steel tones.  The piece creates a minimal aesthetic by stringing together a series of long takes that echo the spare, deconstructionist nature of the tracks themselves.  Anderson’s camera evokes the sensation of searching as it smoothly tracks, pans, and zooms around the studio and documents the three Haim sisters laying down the tracks using a variety of instruments.  In this regard, VALENTINE’s execution is relatively straightforward and documentary, but its subtle emphasis on the music’s physical construction via its constituent parts evokes the transcendent joys of artistic creation.  Indeed, VALENTINE is just as much a celebration of creation as it is a portrait of Haim as a band– to the extent that Anderson doesn’t bother to frame out his film lights from several shots, thus evoking the particular joy that the act of filmmaking brings him.  Anderson typically frames his close-ups in a manner resembling portraiture; a conceit that ably captures the Haim sisters as they lose themselves in the expression of self via their music.  Like the musicians featured in JUNUN, the Haim sisters seem to enter a state of heightened internal connection to their creative engines, manifest outwardly in facial expressions one might describe simply as “rapture”.  

VALENTINE would follow the release pattern of his recent musical work, dropping out of the sky with little in the way of advance warning and generating an exclusive “cool-kid” vibe by screening exclusively at the Film Forum in New York for a brief period before making its Youtube debut after months of buzz.  The film might be understated in its execution, but it is an impeccably-crafted and profoundly resonant hybrid of music video and short documentary.  Haim couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator to kick off the release of their second album, and given Anderson’s history of doing multiple videos for a single album, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were to coax him back for another round.  In the meantime, the cinematic community waits feverishly for his next feature– a reunion with THERE WILL BE BLOOD’s Daniel Day-Lewis set in the fashion world of midcentury London and slated for release this Christmas..  

VALENTINE is currently available on Youtube via the emblem above.


Produced by: Sarah Murphy, Albert Chi, Erica Frauman

Director of Photography: Paul Thomas Anderson

Edited by: Andy Jurgensen