It appears that director Paul Thomas Anderson and I are engaged in a strange dance: every time I think I’m up to-do-date with my essays on his work, he goes and drops a new piece that takes the film world completely by surprise. This time, however, I was ready, thanks to a cryptic teaser photo that popped up on Instagram last week featuring Anderson with the Haim sisters in front of the New Beverly Cinema in LA, the celebrated director holding a fresh 35mm reel of film labeled “SUMMER GIRL” set to be threaded up on the projector that evening. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t long for the rest of us.
Set to the new Haim single of the same name, “SUMMER GIRL” positions itself in perfect creative harmony with Anderson’s previous collaborations with the band. As other music videos become increasingly more complex and cinematic, Anderson’s contributions to the medium have simplified into brilliantly-executed performance videos centered around a core visual idea. On a surface level, “SUMMER GIRL” finds the band performing to camera as they waltz through various iconic locales around LA— we see them chowing down at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax, selling tickets at the Quentin Tarantino-owned New Beverly Cinema on Beverly, and strutting down the San Fernando Valley’s Laurel Canyon Boulevard shopping strip. All the while, they pull off endless layers of coats, sweaters and t-shirts, as if digging down to the state of endless summer that inhabits their very essence (signified by the bathing suits that are ultimately revealed). That LA doesn’t have easily-discernible seasons is an amusing paradoxical fact that surely must not have been lost on Anderson.
The video’s stripped-down technical execution is consistent with Anderson’s other recent music video work, likely with Anderson himself operating the 35mm film camera. The piece favors shallow focus and natural light, harnessing the golden glow of the late afternoon sun to imbue the Haim sisters with a summery luminescence. Anderson’s constant use of tracking movements also lend a kinetic, fleet-footed energy, beginning with the documentary-style realism of a handheld camera only to bust out a butter-smooth steadicam for the climactic vignette. It’s not a particularly flashy video, but Anderson nevertheless infuses it with the intangible aura of a master filmmaker at work; his confidence with technique and his clarity of vision result in an elevated watching experience that stands out amongst the din of an oversaturated market. Born from a place of melancholy and uncertainty (frontwoman Danielle Haim wrote the song for her partner as he was undergoing treatment for cancer), “SUMMER GIRL” asserts itself through the prism of Anderson’s eye as an ode to that indomitable California spirit: eternally youthful and vibrant, confident in its own skin, and poised to lead the way into a golden, sun-soaked future.
“SUMMER GIRL” is currently available via the YouTube embed above.