Phantom Thread

phantom3Phantom Thread, like its protagonist, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), does not give up its secrets easily, always reserved and distant. In this way it seems the most Kubrickian film I have seen since, oh, the passing of Kubrick himself. It even rather feels like it has the presence of Kubrick, like a ghost, running through it. The film maintains its own pace, and like in Kubrick’s films, each shot has a tendency to linger a little too long, making each feel a little uncomfortable, and perhaps hinting at meanings that might not even be there. Also like in Kubrick films, tradition and ceremony seems to hold import- in Phantom Thread, this is mostly in breakfast, an absent routine for many turned here into almost precise ritual, an exercise in power and control.

The films art direction, too, is so finely curated it feels like another character. I suspect one could return to this film in five, ten, twenty years, and like each time one returns to Kubrick films, it will return something new, some new insight. It is evocative of an era that is as alien to us as the surface of the moon, and is intoxicating and infuriating, warm and cold. I loved it and hated it: so very Kubrick.

But this is not a Kubrick film, of course: this is a Paul Thomas Anderson film; I adored his early films, Hard 8, Boogie Nights, Magnolia but was disheartened by There Will Be Blood, feeling as if it had broken some spell, so painful a film that I only saw it once and dared never to return to it. Indeed, I haven’t seen a film by the director since- both The Master and Inherent Vice have been temptations I shied away from. As a film-buff, it felt like a broken love affair, and while sometimes tempted, it always felt wrong, going back.

phatom1Phantom Thread is set in postwar London, and the strange, frankly alien world of 1950s haute coutre, a tale of obsession and control and love that reminded me of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (no small praise, as Vertigo is one of my very favourite films- will Phantom Thread prove as timeless?).  I expected a film about art and  fashion in the strange world of 1950s haute coutre, but it is actually a bizarre oedipal romance, a man haunted by his mother, trying to shape his muses to his whim and being finally undone by a muse that in turn shapes him to her own.

Or maybe I read it wrong. Maybe its a film about toxic masculinity, of a man in his 60s abusing his status and position, taking advantage of a young woman in her 20s (how sad that this feels so timely). Maybe its a film just about a man ruined by his mother, whose ghost literally appears before him, confirming his fancy that she is always watching him, perhaps always judging him. Maybe its an adult fairy-tale, of the Beast being undone by Beauty. Perhaps it will be a different film each time I see it. Phantom Thread is a complex web, a gorgeous film quite Out of Time, so unlike anything you usually see today. Indeed, how very Kubrick. I hope Paul Thomas Anderson would take that as praise.

Phantom Thread is currently showing on Netflix in the UK, and is of course available on DVD and Blu-ray. I suspect the 4K UHD is quite sublime.

The Big Lebowski 4K UHD

big2There’s something wonderfully endearing about this Coen Brothers film, that gives it the feeling of a warm blanket- its a film to wrap yourself in, enjoy the great cast, the wonderful dialogue, the gentle whimsy of it all. Nothing feels, well, convincingly real somehow- it’s all very dreamlike, a fable, or perhaps an adult fairytale. Even though it’s only twenty years old, it feels oddly old-fashioned, a reminder of a period when I saw films like this and Boogie Nights and Magnolia– great films, I was being spoiled back then and I didn’t appreciate how much. Its curious how much these three films in particular shared a common cast, how, say, Aimee Mann turns up in a cameo in this and then her songs form such a backbone to the mood and soundtrack of Magnolia.

Indeed, maybe it’s those twenty years but there is such a tangible feel of the ‘good old days’ here. Hearing Shawn Colvin’s cover of Viva Las Vegas over the Big Lebowski end-credits was a call-back to me buying her albums back then; I was a huge fan of her Fat City album in 1992, and have bought all her albums since, but hearing her voice here was a sudden jolt. I don’t recall her song from watching the film before. Yeah, I know, twenty years. Its a bit like how surprised I was to see Aimee’s cameo, I didn’t remember it at all. Aimee was another favourite singer of mine from that era (discovered from her featuring in Time Stand Still, from Rush’s 1987 album Hold Your Fire (it’s one of my favourite songs)) so again, rewatching this film brings back all that stuff.

Where did all those years go? The cast, too, is a blast from the past- Jeff Bridges has always been a favourite, but I’d forgotten that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in this- he looks so young here, so while it was a shock seeing him here, it was also a painful reminder of his untimely passing.  Of course he’s one of the cast members who turned up in Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Christ he was a brilliant actor. He’s kind of young and bubbly in The Big Lebowski and it’s a sweet role for him. John Goodman nearly steals the film, which is saying something considering the cast around him- I think this is possibly one of his best performances, it just clicks. I suppose much of this is the perfect chemistry between him, Bridges and a shockingly young-looking Steve Buscemi (what a cast this film had!). The scenes these three have together (“shut the f–k up, Donny!”) are brilliant slices of perfection.

So anyway, The Big Lebowski– maybe you’re here to see how the 4K UHD holds up. It looks brilliant, a fine example of what the format can add to catalogue titles. Maybe stating that the film has never looked so good is beyond stating the obvious- detail is great, colours are vibrant. There is a lovely texture to it, the grain being captured and maintained without any DNR that I could see. There is a nice use of HDR in this too, which is something people look for, while forgetting that these films originally didn’t have any HDR treatment either theatrically or on DVD or Blu-ray releases. It certainly adds a nice vibrancy and ‘pop’ but I do sometimes wonder if its wholly warranted- it works here anyway, not distracting at all, it just adds to the visual quality of the film.

I only bought the film before on R1 DVD back when it first came out, and haven’t seen it in years, so can’t really comment on how it compares (an unfair comparison anyway, really). I did try the accompanying Blu-ray, which I hadn’t seen before. This is an old disc so based on an old master, but it’s where all the extras lie hence it warrants its inclusion with the UHD.  Even with the Blu-ray being automatically upscaled to 4K (any comparisons I make between Blu-ray and 4K are hamstrung by this) its clear there are issues with the master or encoding with the Blu-ray. It looks pretty ugly. Ouch, I sound like a 4K snob.

Regardless, I’m sure The Big Lebowski would work brilliantly on VHS on a b&w television. Its just a great film. The dude abides, indeed.

On that last thought, if I admit to feeling guilty even mentioning it, can I get away with wishing for a ‘twenty years later…’ sequel?  I just can’t help but be curious regards the dude now, what the hell would he think of America, and the world, where would he fit in, how would he even survive, out on the fringes, on the outside looking in on the current madhouse? I think we need the dude.