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I wrote a fairly long review of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” at Taki’s, but it’s a large movie, so here are a few more items.

– I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan, partly for neighborhood loyalty reasons. He’s like Adam Carolla: another Valley Dude from Magnolia Boulevard. (Of course, those guys are distressingly younger than me.)

The Master looks great. The early scene set in a San Francisco department store is just a dream of what a high end department store looked like in 1950.

– I talked so much about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in the lead roles that I didn’t have time to mention Amy Adams as the L. Ron Hubbard character’s wife as a scary pregnant Lacy Macbeth who is more determined to launch her husband’s cult and crush their enemies than he is.

– An important aspect of movie acting these days is actors molding their bodies through diets, weight lifting, steroids, and so forth. About 98% of this effort is devoted to looking better for lead roles, by trying to add muscle and take off fat. But Phoenix does a great job of molding his body to his character lead role. He’s made himself into a very skinny guy without the muscles we expect now on actors now, even in period roles. But he’s very wiry, all tendons and gristle, a high testosterone but damaged and unhealthy-looking guy. With his shirt off, he looks exactly like a guy who grew up poor and slightly malnourished during the Depression, then spent years in the Navy lifting heavy objects under life or death stress, drinking poisonous torpedo juice for fun, slowly breaking down mentally, but still, after all that, having a motor inside him that gets him into endless trouble in civilian life.

– Among aspects of the L. Ron Hubbard story that are missing is that his Dianetics was an offshoot of Golden Age science fiction. It first appeared in the great sci-fi editor John W. Campbell’s Astounding magazine, and Campbell promoted it heavily. Hubbard always complained about how few pennies per word he got paid for his pulp stories and made clear how much he preferred to be rich than poor. The legend is that Heinlein told him that in modern America, founding a religion was a good way to get rich. (The recent biography of Heinlein says there is no evidence for this story, but it doesn’t strike me as implausible. Stranger in a Strange Land, which Heinlein began working on in 1949 in anticipation of publishing it when morals and censorship were looser in the future, is about a man from mars who starts a new religion in America.)

– Overall, The Master is better than Anderson’s last movie, There Will Be Blood, but I suspect it might not be quite as successful. There probably won’t be an I Drink Your Milkshake moment that goes viral on YouTube. And, it’s close enough in style to Blood that the novelty factor is probably worn off. As Paul Hogan said about Crocodile Dundee II, a sequel has to be twice as good to be perceived as not being worse than the original hit. The Master isn’t a sequel, but having two mid-career Anderson movies now makes it a lot easier to pick out what are the tics and weaknesses of this phase of Anderson’s career. A lot of people are invested in the idea that Blood is a great movie — it had serious support in decade-ending retrospectives as the best movie of the 2000s — so there may be a backlash against The Master as a way to calibrate the overrating of Anderson and Blood. If The Master had come out before Blood, I suspect  Blood would be viewed as an inferior knockoff. But, initial impressions usually last longest in the culture.

You can read my Taki’s review here. The movie opens on about 600 screens on Friday.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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  1. OT: The Throwing Gap

    Thomas points out that a biological explanation isn’t palatable to everyone. “If you say something is biological.” he says, “people think you should just give up and go home.” Janet Hyde agrees: “The more we argue for gender differences, the more we feed people’s stereotypes. A belief in large gender differences is incompatible with equal opportunity.”

  2. "The legend is that Heinlein told him that in modern America, founding a religion was a good way to get rich."

    We know from Opranetics and Obamanetics. And Zionetics.

  3. The total shittiness of movie culture.

    16 votes for pompous crap

    1 measly vote for a great masterpiece:

    1 measly vote for a great masterpiece:

  4. The movie opens on about 600 screens on Friday.

    Moving up in the world?

    Getting invited to pre-release screenings?

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:,0,3789684.story

    This is why cons lose. They cave into leftist mccarthyism.

    If politicians attacked companies for donating to pro-gay agendas(like starbucks, google, amazon), the companies would not back down and, if anything, the politicians will be counter-attacked for mccarthyism.

    Wimps never win. Prey-minded lose to predator-minded people.

    Opposing 'gay marriage' is a great evil? Obama comes out for 'gay marriage' and he's to be endorsed and re-elected?

    This happened mainly due to white conservative fear of offending Jews and pro-gay neocons. If cons don't back with courage, they'll just have to bend over.
    If Jews want it, we gotta give it.

    All who supported chickafilth is gagging now.

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    adam carolla is old. I do not care what his chronological age is he reminds me of those 30 something guys who, when I was a kid, seemed like they had been around for almost literally forever (even though now I know that they considered themselves young and full of vim and vigor.) I used to think maybe I was wrong and they only seemed that way. That thought was wrong. Now I realize that off=the=charts self-centered people like that, even if they are funny and all, are nature's geriatrics. Steve, with all your faults, you are a spring lamb in comparison.

  7. Comparing the movie to *Blood* might work the other way, too. Granted, if you love the former, there is the problem of the latter paling in comparison. But what if, like me, you thought *Blood" a piece of boring claptrap? That might open the door to loving Elron.

  8. "Any mention of Jack Parsons in the movie?"


    Jack Parsons was a rich kid from Pasadena who became one of America's first great Rocket Scientists, inventing the fuel for, I think, rocket assisted take off boosters for airplanes on short runways in WWII.

    In the 1920s, Parson struck up a friendship with another teen interested in rocketry and spent hours on the phone each night talking rockets … until his parents got the phone bill for thousands of dollars in trans-Atlantic calls to Werner von Braun.

    Parsons was also obsessed with Aleister Crowley's Satanism in the 1930s, which is where Hubbard comes into the story Parsons' story.

    As I said, there is a lot of good material out there, but Anderson can't find a good story.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Anderson is a natural behind the camera and in the editing room. The look and flow of his films are staggeringly COOL (see the middle section of Magnolia) and he can get the best out of ensemble casts. But his storytelling leaves something to be desired. He has incredible individual scenes (firecracker scene towards the end of Boogie Nights) but the parts are greater than the sum. His movies seem to be more about his own directorial prowess than anything else. The musical equivalent would be Prince. Great instrumentalist and performer and personality – too bad he's never written a memorable melody.

  10. Blood is great until Day-Lewis starts talking–and the dialogue-free opening sequence develops his character more, and more elegantly, than the ensuing two hours of huffing and puffing (it should be "I drink your scenery").

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The Parsons story is a great "L.A. Babylon" type of fragment that has its local backers but somehow comes across as too lurid to be plausible to east coasters, the same who chart the epicycles of Golden Age movie biz employees as if they represented dashing American royalty at its finest. Now we still have studio princesses of mixed quality reading the focus-grouped scripts into a lens while every other cultural, industrial, religious movement decamped for the 2nd-rate spots on the Sunbelt. Some company towns should not be artificially preserved; on another note, how funny that the Brits have their own equivalent of AFI that's both several decades older and totally unknown…

  12. Whatever David Thomson trashes, I have to go see and contrive a way to praise, however much of a stretch that's going to be in the case of "The Master" (at 137 min. it's probably 30 too long for my patience level with post-Kubrick artiste stuff)

  13. 1) I thought the story was John Campbell were sitting around drinking and bsing. Campbell happened to say you couldn't found a new religion today, and Hubbard bet him he was wrong.

    2) I thought Heinlein was linked somehow to that whole to that whole "moonchild" thing Parsons was trying.

    Maybe my memory is mistaken. Some casual googling didn't find anything on that.

    Kind of useful to have a friend who has orgies I guess.

    3) Did these people actually believe in this stuff? You can look at Hubbard in a cynical manner certainly. I guess you could look at his whole association with Parsons in that light. Not just money, the sex angle, and probably a useful name to throw around.

    But Parsons, Hubbard, and Crowley were not stupid. Being hooked into the scene, and taking part in activities the squares would never dream of is one thing. Actually thinking and writing letters to one another as if that whole thing would have done anything?

    If it's all a big con, that is a lot of effort to go to.

    Well my mind boggles. Oh well, some of the great minds of history have been religious fanatics of some sort or another. I guess this might be another manifestation of that, if non standard.

  14. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The version I heard was that Isaac Asimov joked with Hubbard that starting a religion would pay better than writing, and Hubbard thought about it and decided that the idea was just crazy enough to work.


    PS. You should write a screenplay. You're the only one in LA who hasn't written one.

  15. Oh just write a book about it already. I'll deal with fewer blog posts if that's what it takes.

    You've got such a great perspective, Steve. Southern California in the late 20th century through a native son's eyes. It's already history, and the window for literature on the culture is closing at an alarming speed.

  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    how funny that the Brits have their own equivalent of AFI that's both several decades older and totally unknown

    Ive been making compariosns.

    It's not quite the same entity, the BFI does a lot of the same kind of stuff the AFI does but…

    The BFI also has a large film archive for example, which I dont think the AFI does, not to the same extent anyway.

    The BFI also funds some movie production which isnt an activity of the AFI.

    Googling their URLs gives 63 million for AFI, 21 million for the BFI. So a rough and ready comparison gives the AFI three times the web presence of the BFI.

    AFI, BFI – FYI.

  17. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "In the 1920s, Parson struck up a friendship with another teen interested in rocketry and spent hours on the phone each night talking rockets … until his parents got the phone bill for thousands of dollars in trans-Atlantic calls to Werner von Braun"

    Did Parson speak German or did Von Braun speak English? Or did both speak both?

  18. I'll go see this movie simply for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is one of my favorite actors. His best movie, in my opinion, is Owning Mahowny. I recommend it to everyone.

  19. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    "Blood is great until Day-Lewis starts talking"

    All he did was reprise his role from GANGS OF NY. It was acting as "I'll huff and puff and blow your house down."

    The problem with Anderson is he's way too generous and compassionate. MAGNOLIA might have worked as black comedy, but Anderson just had to hug and weep with everyone.
    Altman, Scorsese, and Linklater knew better respectively in NASHVILLE, MEAN STREETS, and DAZED AND CONFUSED.
    It's one thing to understand and empathize with one's characters but quite another to go boo-hoo-hoo-let-me-wipe-tears-off-your-face with them, especially if they're a bunch of silly dolts. I can understand weeping for/with the mother in PATHER PANCHALI. I mean it's devastating to lose one's daughter. But in MAGNOLIA filled with self-pitying clowns? It should have been a black comedy, not an Oprahic drama. The movie should have called for empathy but NOT sympathy. The Tom Cruise story is the only one that works emotionally because the character tries to be 'strong' and not show emotions but breaks down at the deathbed of his father. There was tension between his tough exterior and vulnerable interior. That was moving. But everyone else is waaaaaaah from beginning to end. They cwy, Anderson cwies, and we are supposed to cwy too. Yuck.

    Anderson is also too generous with his actors. If some directors-as-dictators try to control their actors too much, Anderson generously allows his actors run free on the range. This is a bad idea because most actors are vain drama kings and queens to begin with. Letting them run free is like giving an alcoholic all the alcohol he can drink. Actors will overdose on their vanity to show off, and so we had Julianne Moore go into total radioactive meltdown in MAGNOLIA. Idiots confuse that for 'great acting', but it's overacting to the nth degree. It's like a conductor who allows players do what they want, resulting in each instrumentalist playing as loud and crazy as possible to draw the most attention. That is no way to make music.
    And Anderson's way is no way to make a movie. Director is supposed to direct. Anderson should be called a hugrector. Anderson knows how to make movies but his sensibility is all wrong. But because of his natural talent, I do hold some promise for him. Someone needs to toughen him up. Actually, I was impressed by the first third of THERE WILL BE CLUD, but then the movie got lost and it was Lewis just overacting drunk on his vanity as the greatest actor of all time.

    MAGNOLIA is the movie that really made Anderson's reputation as a great auteur. A lot of viewers think they are wonderful people for sympathizing and emoting for the loser-characters, but I think it's really a form of narcissism. Why? Because a lot of viewers IDENTIFY with the losers on screen and so their sympathizing with the characters is really a way of feeling sorry for themselves in a self-aggrandized way.

    Gimme the tough-minded Mamet. Or gimme even Jill Sprecher's very special CLOCKWATCHERS. Or how about DAYTRIPPERS, a movie that finely balanced absurdity, pathos, humor, and ridiculousness.
    No GAGNOLIA for me.

  20. I was embarrassed for Anderson when I saw the ending of There Will Be Blood.

  21. Wait… if we come across swpl PC ghosts, can we scare them away by yelling 'racist' epithets?

  22. I think I've hear the L. Ron/religion story at different times involving every SF author in Heinlein's Manana Literary Society.

  23. "Or gimme even Jill Sprecher's very special CLOCKWATCHERS"

    I haven't heard that movie mentioned too often, although Toni Collette is probably the one who makes it not only special, but gripping (amazing how well the Australian plays Americans.) Without her it would not have the same meaning–nobody conveys the sense of sincere groveling in order to belong to something she considers important, better than Toni Collette (Muriel's Wedding, Little Miss Sunshine.)
    Love the final scene where the boss writes a letter of recommendation for temp Iris (Collette) who tells him her name is Margaret (the temp who got fired). He never recalls the temps' names so he didn't know. Iris sends Margaret the letter as a favor (she had wrongly suspected Margaret of theft and wanted to make it up), and the temps go their separate ways.
    Waiting for Godot could not evoke more of nothing and nowhere in the office in Anywhere USA.

  24. Daniel Day Lewis was given so much credit for his great villain in Gangs of New York. He was a great cartoon villain–straight out of Punch cartoons, except the meat cleaver was a bit over the top. I know it was a rough time, but I just didn't buy all that medieval weaponry flung about in NYC in the mid-1900s. Nah.
    Back to DDL & GONY. He was not a great actor in that film as we really think of great acting on the screen today. He was doing great acting as defined on the stage 150 yrs ago. And without that top hat, half the effect would have been lost.

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I was glad to see in the other thread about this movie that many here agree with me about Anderson: an extremely talented filmmaker whose films don't add up to much – a lot of sound and fury signifying… not much of anything. 'Punch Drunk Love' is the only film of his that truly works for me, and I think it's quite wonderful, because it's relatively small and self-contained and seems to be about something personal, rather than trying to make some sweeping statement. Also, the filmmaking pyrotechnics in that movie are fun and not oppressive.

  26. Steve mentioned that Paul Thomas Anderson often gets confused with Wes Anderson (another, even more annoying director of pompous art house-type films). As for myself, I've often confused him with Paul W.S Anderson, director of such timeless classics as Alien vs. Predator and the Resident Evil series.

  27. Mike Zwick [AKA "Dahinda"] says:

    "I'm a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan, partly for neighborhood loyalty reasons. He's like Adam Carolla: another Valley Dude from Magnolia Boulevard. (Of course, those guys are distressingly younger than me.)"

    I like John Belushi partly because he grew up in Chicago's Western Suburbs like me. (Of course he is distressingly dead!)

  28. Bammy is one thing–a mulatto supremacist–but pretends to be many things.

    Rommy is many things–an all around schmoozer–but pretends to be one thing.

    Easier for one face to wear many masks than for many faces to share one mask.

  29. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Sounds intriguing, great review cause I want to see it NOW.
    As far as the lead's physique—
    "…Phoenix does a great job of molding his body to his character lead role. He's made himself into a very skinny guy without the muscles we expect now on actors now, even in period roles. But he's very wiry, all tendons and gristle, a high testosterone but damaged and unhealthy-looking guy. With his shirt off, he looks exactly like a guy who grew up poor and slightly malnourished during the Depression…"

    Well that's what a life-long vegan is bound to look like. It's an unnatural diet and a pitiful look. Maybe it's affected his mental state as well — he needs to eat some delicious MEAT on a regular basis.

  30. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    What is worse? Race-ism or class-ism/communism? I suppose it depends on the degree and how-and-where and context.

    But overall, I'd say class-ism/communism is worse. Why? Race-ist problems can be solved for good whereas class-ist problems can never be solved.
    There is a race-ist solution to the Middle East problem. Send all the Arabs in Israel to the West Bank and send all the Jews in the West Bank to Israel. Jews have their race-ist nation, and Pallies have their own.
    After WWII, the best solution for lasting peace was race-ism. Each nationality ended up with a more homogeneous nation. Poland for Poles, Germany for Germans, etc.
    Why did things turn out badly in Yugoslavia? The evil of anti-race-ism that forced different peoples to live together. And how was it finally solved? Through race-ist separatism. Slovenes have Slovenia, Croats have Craotia, Serbs have Serbia, Kosovo folks have Kosovo.
    You see, race-ist solutions are doable.
    And the best solution for South Africa would be a separate nation for whites.

    Class problems, on the other hand, can never be solved cuz classes are here to stay forever. Trying to rid the world of classes is like trying to make the head, body, and legs to be the same. It can't be done. Using great violence to do what can't be done is a greater evil than using violence to do what can be done. If violence is used to create homogeneous Israel and homogeneous Palestine, it will be successful in the end. The violence, though awful, would have served its purpose.
    But after decades of communism, after all that bloodshed… class problems still existed. Useless bloodshed is evil.

  31. You (Steve) increasingly are dwelling on your age. I'm afraid I have nothing to say that can make your passage into being elderly much easier. You are to smart to be distracted by any facile analogy to the life of Verdi.

    I am reminded of the tombstone inscription of Claudio Villa – "Life, you are fine. Death, you stink".

    Old age stinks too.

    (If you have never heard of Villa you are in for a treat. He was the Italian movie tenor for Italy at the same time that Mario Lanza was the Italian movie tenor for America.)

    Back to my point. You are apparently 53 and writers seem to have their last major writen work at around 55.

    This means that most of your creative output is now behind you. That stinks.

    The life expectancy of a Roman in Rome during the Roman Warm period was 23. Before public health everywhere the life expectancy was about 36. So you are only alive at 53 because you are here now. By historical standards you are already pretty damn old. Sorry.

    My personal observation is that sex gets better in your late fifties but not much else.

    You are an odd writer in that you don't write books. You are an odd public speaker in that you don't begin your talks with a humorous anecdote. So you have no one to blame but yourself for your relative obscurity.

    If you want fame, prestige and wealth you should have modeled your writing career after Bill O'Reilly. He sells a lot of books the modern way – endless TV promotion. He certainly doesn't fritter away his time dwelling on content. He also tells jokes endlessly and surrounds himself with comedians like the young Mr. Carolla.

    Yet as most people who follow this blog realize you, on ocassion, have something remarkable and original to say. It's possible that you will never be famous in your lifetime but you have a real shot at enduring regard. No one is likely to ever read a single word written by O'Reilly once he's off the air. His reputation is like a leaky balloon, without a continuous air supply it soon collapses. But a lot of people recognize even now that your ideas have shaped their thinking. That should grow. You may live long enough to see it.

    Shakespeare had a similar problem. He chose to write in a new and as yet unrespected medium – drama. He should have written epic poetry of course. Similarly you are writing serious stuff in an unserious medium. But pubic and elite opinions are likely to change.

    "Real" reporters are still those who get their words published on newsprint even now that no one actually reads newspapers anymore. Only recently have Hollywood stars abandoned the practice of taking roles on Broadway to prove their legitimacy as actors. Anyone worried about legitimacy will be advised to shun all new media.

    Your old age may very well be your "golden years" yet as one of the grandfathers of the new media.


  32. I saw Lester del Rey speak at the world science fiction convention in 1991 or 1992, and he claimed that in the late 40s, he, Heinlein, Hubbard, and a couple of other notables were having drinks with their wives. all of them were lamenting the lousy pay rates they were getting for SF short stories. Hubbard was silently brooding for a while, then he leapt up, and said they were doing it all wrong, there was no money in writing in America, the money was in religion. Hubbard then vanished for a few months, and surfaced with the manuscript for Dianetics.

  33. You're the only one in LA who hasn't written one.

    Back in '93 Barry Bonds said he was writing one, but he never got around to it. He lives near Steve.

  34. "But in MAGNOLIA filled with self-pitying clowns?"

    It was a showcase of several pathetic archetypes mostly native to the Valley of the late 1990's.

    Anderson is a skilled filmmaker, but ignoring the fascinating history of the Jack Parson's type character in this film boggles the mind.

  35. Steve did write a screenplay. Check the archives.

  36. If The Master had come out before Blood, I suspect Blood would be viewed as an inferior knockoff.

    The topic of why artists often get celebrated for inferior work is a very interesting one. Sometimes an inferior work will come along at exactly the right time and become famous. Think DH Lawrence and Lady Chatterley's Lover or Conrad and Heart of Darkness or Golding and Lord of the Flies or Tolkien and LOTR.

  37. Sorry Steve but your story about Parsons is wrong.

    First transatlantic telephone cable was laid 1955-56.

    Telephone calls from California to Germany in the 1920's? Impossible at any price.

    has an audio clip from a 1950's Dragnet episode which shows the difficulty of within US long distance calling at the even then)

  38. Anonymous said…
    The total shittiness of movie culture.

    16 votes for pompous crap

    1 measly vote for a great masterpiece:

    1 measly vote for a great masterpiece:

    What is it, some sort of inverse nerdy street cred among the commenters on this blog to show yourself to be technologically inept? How many people do you think will bother to cut-and-paste a link three times to find out what your movie tastes are?

    For Christ's sake, people, it's really not that hard to embed links with HTML code. What's the point of inserting a lame URL that most people won't look at?

  39. It looks like the first transatlantic call was 1927. I can't find the history of the first US to Germany call. So Parsons' calls still might have been possible. That leaves open the question of whether the two had a common language. Wikipedia fails me there.

  40. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    For Christ's sake, people, it's really not that hard to embed links with HTML code. What's the point of inserting a lame URL that most people won't look at?

    Have a little mercy on the uninitiated (aka old) commenters. I just learned how to embed URLs yesterday – twenty minutes later I realized that nobody is cutting and pasting links into browsers to look at them.

    Steve should offer a step by step guide for embedding a link near the comment window. I provided a couple of links with instructions in another thread.

    I'm considering, as an act of charity, bringing other people's links to life.

  41. What science fiction story or idea might serve as a cool idea for a new religion?

    Solaris? There is a brain-ocean planet out there…

    Foundation? There is a way to read the future…


  42. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    So is Phoenix playing a Parsons-inspired character or not? That doesn't seem clear from the trailer. Or is the character an amalgam of different lost souls that Elron preyed upon?

    Also, Parsons was supposedly the inspiration for the main character in Heinlein's book "Stranger In A Strange Land". There are also characters that clearly, almost undeniably based upon Hubbard and Crowley ("Jubal Hershaw").

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