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What are you to do? It seems like all your friends and all the critics like Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and it has amassed an impressive 8 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. Yet when you watched the film you found it boring and without meaning. So what did you miss? What is it that you don’t get? The answer is nothing. Believe me when I tell you that what the critics like about There Will Be Blood is a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes.
For those who don’t know, The Emperor’s New Clothes is a short story by the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. It is about an emperor who cares too much about clothes and hires two swindlers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they tell him, is invisible to anyone who was either stupid or not fit for his position. When the swindlers report a suit of clothes has been fashioned, the Emperor allows himself to be dressed in their creation for a procession through town. During the course of the procession, a small child cries out, “But he has nothing on!” The crowd realizes the child is telling the truth and begins laughing. The Emperor, however, holds his head high and continues the procession.
Now I don’t believe that Paul Thomas Anderson is out to con anyone with his films. To me, the overrated director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia desperately wants to make a movie that means something. The problem is that Mr. Anderson has nothing to say, but he still wants to be taken seriously as an artist. So what does he do? He makes movies that look like art and sound like art in the hopes that audiences and critics will mistake his films for art. And to this extent, he has succeeded.
How has he fooled the nation’s top critics you may ask? He’s fooled them because very few of the nation’s film critics actually have a background in film. Many of them are English or Journalism majors and some of them are just lucky men and women who are able to earn a living off their love for movies. How does this come into play with Paul Thomas Anderson and There Will Be Blood?
During the Jacobellis v. Ohio case in 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said that pornography is hard to define but that “I know it when I see it.” The same thing can be said of art. Most people wouldn’t know how to define or identify art. Nor would they be able to tell you succinctly and specifically why they thought a particular movie is good.
This is where the problem lies. On some level, the film critics who have not studied film, nor have ever made a movie, feel guilty about earning a living criticizing movies. They feel a need to justify their job and position. By being able to point to a movie and champion it; to say, “this is art” allows critics a chance to put themselves on the line and become part of a film’s success or failure.
Sometimes, the critics are right and everyone is happy. Other times, the critics are wrong and bored audiences are left scratching their hands in confusion thinking “I don’t get it” or wondering “what is the meaning of X“. This tends to happen when critics find movies that are “cinematic” and “different”.
Man y directors, such as Paul Thomas Anderson and the overrated Martin Scorcese, have developed and honed a method of filmmaking that relies on elaborate camera moves, dramatic imagery and a bombastic use of sound and music to create movies that look and feel like art but are ultimately as empty and soulless as the latest entry in the Friday the 13th or Rush Hour series. The critics recognize that this type of stylization is only possible with movies and embrace this way of filmmaking as “cinematic” without realizing that this method is all style and no substance.
Many film critics seem to fall in love with movies that are “different” as they equate “different” with original and modern. The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t take into consideration that the reason that things are classical is because they work. It brings to mind the stories of a modern architect in New England who was tired of designing houses with slanted roofs. Instead, he designed flat roofed buildings that looked better and stood out because they were “different” from traditional slanted roof buildings. When winter came and the snowstorms hit, the flat roofs on these buildings caved in from the weight of the snow. The architect hadn’t taken into consideration the function of the slanted roofs on buildings.
There Will Be Blood is a movie that is very “cinematic” and very “different”. With its intrusive musical score and constantly roving camera, Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t so much construct scenes to create a story as he does film short expository story bits to transition between set pieces. The critics are wrong about this movie and don’t you go around joining them and praising The Emperor’s New Clothes. No, set your friends straight and send them over to the Moose.Buy the Moose a cup of coffee.