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Phantom Thread: A masterpiece of photochemical glory


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#1 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 25 December 2017 - 07:48 PM

Its very rare in this day of poor movies only designed to make money, to see something as elegant and well made as Paul Thomas Andersons new movie The Phantom Thread. This seemingly simple love story between a self-absorbed dressmaker (Reynolds Woodcock) and yet another model (Alma), has much complexity lying below the surface. As director Paul Thomas Anderson explained in a recent interview; the script is thin, because the story is told through looks. This sort of storytelling works well in a period piece, which this very much is. Anderson came up with the story researching fashion industry mogul Cristóbal Balenciaga. Set in the 1950s England, Woodcock played by Daniel Day-Lewis, is a self-absorbed career-minded dressmaker, who is seemingly only interested in women for their shape. Hes obsessed with finding the perfect shape to help guide his dressmaking and after he kicks out his previous in-house girl, finds Alma (played by Vicky Krieps) a cafe worker near his sea-side home. He falls madly in love with her body and Alma has nowhere to go, so shes dragged into his world.

At first, she loves being pampered and dressed, but eventually realizes Woodcock is a very difficult and distant person to be around. His obsession with work is nearly constant, which puts their relationship into uneven territory. This is not helped by Woodcocks sister Cyril (played by Lesley Manville) who lives with him as well. Shes seen these relationships come and go, seemingly dozens of them in recent years. Shes there to protect and manage her brother and rightly so, he needs managing. Alma does truly love Woodcock and tries desperately to save the relationship because she knows deep inside, he loves her too. After many failed attempts, she goes for the jugular and like a Shakespearian play. Her very rash and dangerous thought process, puts them back together again in an unexpected way. Woodcock eventually catches on to her madness, but instead of punishing her, accepts its the only thing that will keep them together.

This wonderful, beautiful and lush story is acted with impeccable precision and love by three brilliant actors, some whove already won awards for their performances this year, even though the movie isnt being released until January. The story goes that Paul Thomas Anderson wrote the story years ago for Daniel Day-Lewis, who is long retired from acting. It was about convincing him to come out of retirement, that was the delay in production. It was Lewis who found the movies leading lady Vicky Krieps, who until this point had not played a leading lady in an American film. The two of them have amazing chemistry, to the point where they seem like old mates from another life. This is one of Daniel Day-Lewiss best performances of his entire career. Its incredible seeing him on screen, he is a tour de force and constantly amazes the viewers at every moment. Even in static shots of his face, you can see him thinking, he really is Reynolds Woodcock. Then there is his sister Cyril, what a magnificent performance by Lesley Manville, a British television regular. She is the glue that binds the story and Woodcocks life together.

Since this movie is a period piece, costumes, vehicles, buildings, everything needed to be adjusted to fit the period and there were little to no touch ups done in post. The costume design was outstanding, not just the dresses made by Woodcock, but also the normal clothes people wore. You could feel the fabric as it was being worked with, you could smell the rooms and hear the creeks as people walked around. The entire movie was shot on location, both in London and a near-by seaside town. This allowed the production to focus on just a few places, which makes the art direction that much better.

This movie is the first time Paul Thomas Anderson worked without a cinematographer. His normal DP Robert Elswit, was unavailable but his normal crew was available. Since all you really need is a vision, great gaffer and camera crew, the role of a DP isnt AS important. Michael Bauman was credited as the lighting cameraman which is incidentally the same credit as Kibrick used on his movies. Its not easy to shoot a period piece, mostly taking place in a small practical (on location) rooms, but the cinematography on this movie was impeccable. Shot in 3 perf 35mm with Kodak Vision 200T and 500T stocks, the movie looks absolutely stunning and fits the period perfectly. Anderson works entirely photochemically, producing his movies the old way, striking dailies, watching film prints on a daily basis during production and cutting negative. Due to Andersons obsession with high quality theatrical distribution, the film is being presented in 4k digital OR as I saw it, 70mm blow ups from the original camera negative. The print at the Arclight is directly from the negative, which is quite astonishing. There were moments when I shed a tear because of how good film looks when shot properly. Things like dynamic range, the delicious blacks and soft highlights, there is just no other way to put such a beautiful image onto a screen in my opinion.

Then there is Johnny Greenwood, or should I call him, the best composer for 2017. His score is by far, one of the best scores Ive ever heard, could be one of the best scores in cinema history. He did this with Andersons There Will Be Blood in 2008, but this time hes outdone himself. Not only did he reference period music, but also the classics, integrating many themes from classical composers. The theme can be heard on nonesuch records youtube page if you so desire to look it up. That piece is only one of a dozen pieces which lead you to remember the beautiful visuals and storytelling.

In retrospect, one has to admit this could Paul Thomas Andersons best movie and looking back on the years movies, by far the best movie of 2017 in my opinion. It has everything anyone could ever want in a movie, wonderful story, brilliant acting, set on a stage thats entertaining and provocative. Then you add all the technical accolades and the entire picture is perfect in my mind. As the movie finished and the credits came on, the finishing touch was the photochemical credits, something that nobody does anymore and it just reinforces the artistic beauty of the format. This isnt just a movie about whats on screen, but also a swan song to the photochemical process and the beauty that lives within. This is a movie that MUST be seen by any film buff, anyone who cares about the artistry and photochemical process.

I cant wait to see it again.
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#2 Samuel Berger

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Posted 25 December 2017 - 08:16 PM

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#3 Samuel Berger

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Posted 25 December 2017 - 09:16 PM

FINALLY finished reading it. Okay, I'm definitely watching that one if projected on film near me. Thanks for the review. I didn't know about this film or this director. Good to know someone still works the way filmmakers should work.


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#4 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 25 December 2017 - 09:32 PM

FINALLY finished reading it. Okay, I'm definitely watching that one if projected on film near me. Thanks for the review. I didn't know about this film or this director. Good to know someone still works the way filmmakers should work.


Don't know about Paul Thomas Anderson and you're a "film" guy?!!??!! WHAAAAAA That's like not knowing about George Lucas and be a Star Wars fan.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the guy who brought back 70mm. It was his movie "The Master" that brought the Panavision 65mm cameras out of mothballs to be used on a major motion picture. It was also the first time 70mm projection had been used for a "new" release in decades. People hold Quentin Tarantino in high regard for the resurgence of 70mm, but honestly it was PT Anderson who did ALL the leg work. It's thanks PT Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolen, the Weinstein's, Warner Brothers, Kodak and FotoKem, that we have a very "stable" 70mm workflow from acquisition through distribution which can be used on any production. 

 

PT has used 70mm on three releases so far; 'The Master' 'Inherent Vice' and 'Phantom Thread'. 

 

Paul Thomas Anderson is also the guy who did one of the best shot movies of all time; "There Will be Blood", an anamorphic 35mm movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis. It's one of 10 movies I insist my kids watch because frankly, it's not just a well shot movie, it's an amazingly shot movie. 

 

So yea, you need to watch 'There Will be Blood' and 'The Master'... :D
 


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#5 Jon O'Brien

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Posted 25 December 2017 - 10:42 PM

I didn't know about him either. Now I do. Thanks for telling us about this film. I will try and see this one.


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#6 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 12:01 AM

http://www.indiewire...-up-1201910595/

 

Why the ‘Phantom Thread’ 70mm Screenings Are a Unique Experiment That Could Look Significantly Different

How will the film's grainy 35mm images look blown up to a much larger format? Paul Thomas Anderson's experiment with film projection continues apace.

Chris O'Falt

Dec 23, 2017 11:00 am

 

Starting on Christmas Day in New York and Los Angeles, followed by four other cities on January 12, Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film “Phantom Thread” will have special 70mm screenings in select theaters. It’s a rare treat anytime a print gets projected in 2017, while the special 70mm screenings of films like “Hateful 8” and “Dunkirk” have become must-see cinephile events that showcase the incredible detail that comes from working in larger format celluloid.

 

Anderson’s “The Master” was a perfect example. Since it was shot on 70mm, seeing the vividness of the image projected in 70mm heightened the power of the hallucinatory imagery as Joaquin Phoenix’s wayward soul falls under the spell of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s guru.

 

However, “Phantom Thread” is a different kind of movie — and its 70mm release will be instructive — even to Anderson’s lighting and camera crew – in terms of seeing what the film looks like in 70mm. Shot in 35mm, it was Anderson’s original intention to shoot the film so that he got a particularly fine grain image that he could easily blow up to 70mm. To get a “clean” or “grainless” image requires a great deal of light, something Anderson quickly realized would be impossible in his small, cramped and antique locations on “Phantom Thread.” Not only were large incandescent lights an impossibility, lighting the locations in general was enormous pain as the restrictions on the historical landmarks prevented him even from being able to control the light coming through the windows into Woodcock’s house (the main location).

 

More over, as IndieWire reported earlier this week, Anderson eventually reversed course and decided that he wanted the exact opposite – realizing that texture and grain would be what gave his film its unique period feel. The filmmaker, obsessed with making sure the film didn’t have the period polish and beauty of “The Crown,” spent months of prep doing tests figuring out how exactly he would “push” the film stock and pull more grain out of the image in the development process. The entire lighting design revolved around creating a more “dirty” image and often used filters and fill light to cut down the contrast and create less ornate, sculpted-looking photography.

 

It’s an effective combination that perfectly matches what Anderson was reaching for in “Phantom Thread,” but it’s unprecedent for an intimate drama of this type to be blown up to 70mm. The nearest parallel would be Ed Lachman and Todd Haynes’ personal print of “Carol” – shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm — something that was certainly common in the ’60s through the ’90s in independent film. To that end, it seems all but certain that the 70mm transfer and projection of “Phantom Thread” will heighten the images’ intentional imperfections, but will that also have an impact on Anderson’s intentions with his cinematography?

 

What’s notable here is the reason Anderson needed to push the stock, similar to what Lachman does when he shoots 35mm, and why today so many filmmakers are now reaching for 16mm: It’s because of how grainless Kodak 35mm stocks have become. In a digital age, the Kodak stock has gotten “too good” – too clean, too grainless – for filmmakers who specifically are reaching for the organic texture of film versus the video sharpness. For these filmmakers, 16mm is an great option to use on an intimate film like “Mother” or “Carol,” but it’s too small a format – lacking detail in wide shots – for a film with scope and landscape like “Mudbound,” which tested 16mm, but went in a different direction. While Anderson’s films have gotten increasingly intimate and smaller in scope, he is also filmmaker who craves detail and depth in his images, so 16mm would likely never be a viable option for him.

 

What’ll be interesting to see with “Phantom Thread,” is if 35mm blown up to 70mm mirrors to some degree the blow up from 16mm to 35mm, which creates this almost hyper-grain look. Will Anderson have that sharpness of detail, but also get an extra layer of “dirtiness” which is the foundation of the film’s period look? With PTA, two things are certain: He’s obsessed with the texture and quality of his images, and he loves to experiment to find new ways of getting there. The “Phantom Thread” release plan is yet another experiment, and anyone lucky enough to catch a 70mm screening will get to examine the results for themselves.


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#7 Samuel Berger

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 12:25 AM

What’s notable here is the reason Anderson needed to push the stock, similar to what Lachman does when he shoots 35mm, and why today so many filmmakers are now reaching for 16mm: It’s because of how grainless Kodak 35mm stocks have become. In a digital age, the Kodak stock has gotten “too good” – too clean, too grainless – for filmmakers who specifically are reaching for the organic texture of film versus the video sharpness.

 

 

I think this requires some qualification. I agree that the grain has become quite fine but I think that fine grain film only looks "like digital" when digitally scanned and projected. It's very likely that even Kodak's 50D would still look like film in a project that was photochemically finished. This I say from intuition. I have nothing that backs it up and gut feelings aren't scientific.

 

But neither is taste, so...


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#8 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 04:36 AM

Man I just shot/processed 10 year old stock that looked perfect. I mean to make 35mm "grainy" really takes A LOT of work. 


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#9 Samuel Berger

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 12:54 PM

Man I just shot/processed 10 year old stock that looked perfect. I mean to make 35mm "grainy" really takes A LOT of work. 

 

Some current smaller formats are looking amazing, too. Here's Fuji Provie 100D, my favourite for Single-8:

 

 

I shot some of that same stock last week and can't wait to see the results. When the guy in the sample nails focus, it's almost like S16.

Unfortunately the 100 ASA limits what can be done, but if you look at the video, there's a lot of low light situations that would have been consistently amazing if he had proper measure-based focus.


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#10 Samuel Berger

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Posted 26 December 2017 - 01:19 PM

I forgot to add that the example above was shot on Super 8, not Single 8, hence the mild shakiness of the image.


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#11 Ravi Kiran

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Posted 28 January 2018 - 03:28 PM

How was the DCP for this created? The normal DI method of scanning the OCN, or from a scan of an IP?


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#12 Chris Burke

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 08:03 AM

it seems that they have expanded their 70mm screenings. It is playing near me on 70mm and I going today or tonight.


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