The Master (Anchor Bay Entertainment, R)

dvd the-masterWhat is it about? I guess you’ll have to buy the disc, watch it a dozen times, and decide for yourself.

 

 

It seems like with each new film Paul Thomas Anderson makes, the less immediately accessible he gets. I don’t mean this as a bad thing at all, as he has never made a bad film, and I and many others like me are more than willing to be patient with wherever he wants to bring us. Meanwhile, it’s smart: he sells more tickets in the box office to repeat customers, and he makes a better reason to buy the DVD when it comes out. Which would you rather have, a DVD that will sit on your shelf unwatched, or a DVD you’ll consistently return to, if only to try your hand at further unraveling its mysteries?

The Master is P.T. Anderson’s newest film, and I expect you already know all about it. It’s the story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, in my favorite lead actor performance of 2012), a deranged, sociopathic WWII veteran circa 1950 who is taken in by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing a character who seems to have been written for Orson Welles, and doing a great job of it), the founder of a religious cult. Called "The Cause," it bears more than a passing resemblance to Scientology. But The Master isn’t really about Dodd, or about Scientology, or maybe even about Quell. What is it about? I guess you’ll have to buy the disc, watch it a dozen times, and decide for yourself.

And there are many reasons to pick up The Master on blu-ray. For one, another well-publicized bit of information is that it was shot on 70 mm film, which is odd in this era of digital (though both Samsara and The Dark Knight Rises were last year, as well), and the transfer from the original 65 mm negative to the blu-ray release is stunning. This is easily one of the nicest-looking blu-rays I’ve yet encountered (right up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Wall*E), and this is a gorgeous film in the first place, so it’s nice to see it well served.

The special features won’t help you to elucidate the meaning of the film much. The standard deleted and extended scenes and outtakes are present, but here are presented in one 20-minute collage set to Jonny Greenwood’s score—and with not much in the way of context—so you don’t quite know how they would have fit into the film, had they stayed in. Similarly, there’s an eight-minute featurette that bears no resemblance to the electronic press kits that normal featurettes resemble. There’s also a number of trailers, but again, these aren’t your usual trailers; all of them are as avant garde (or more so) than the film itself, and a number of them are for one-off preview screenings of the film, done for charity circa August 2012. Each of these trailers is for a specific city, theater, and night, and each is an extended version of a scene that’s in the film. No surprise that Austin’s world-famous (and completely wonderful) Alamo Drafthouse gets the best one: an extended cut of Quell doing the Rorschach test ("That’s a pussy… That’s a dick going into a pussy… That’s the space between the pussy and an asshole…").

The most telling (and useful) special feature here is John Huston’s 58-minute-long 1946 documentary on WWII vets, Let There Be Light, which was an influence on The Master. Watch one while the other is still fresh in your memory and you’ll see where Anderson got the idea for a number of the scenes and ideas in the film, be it the aforementioned Rorschach tests or hypnosis or what have you. There’s a history of Anderson’s films on DVD being accompanied by little-seen docs that served as an influence or inspiration on Anderson. It began way back with the Criterion laserdisc release of Boogie Nights, which included excerpts from Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story (the rights to which were lost just after the laserdisc release, and as such, Exhausted hasn’t appeared with any successive home video release of Boogie Nights). Also, you may recall the 1923 film The Story of Petroleum being included in the collector’s edition of There Will Be Blood. While I miss the cast party kegger commentary of his Boogie Nights days, so long as Anderson is being obscure with his meanings and motivations, I quite enjoy this habit of his in including docs such as these on his releases. As if you need any other reasons to run out and buy this. | Pete Timmermann

 

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