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Gold Trumpet

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A Bloody Mess
« on: April 07, 2008, 01:19:04 PM »
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A Bloody Mess
Notes on There Will be Blood





There Will Be Blood has risen as a personal favorite among critics and audience members. The praise has been so extensive that the film only knows a few rivals for best of the year. During most years critics are able to sufficiently disagree with each on what is the best, but this year No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood have run away with most considerations. The few critics who have gone against the hype have had to issue statements in their reviews that were acknowledgements of the large leap they were taking. What sometimes happens when a film becomes universally applauded is that acceptance of agreements and disagreements gives way to a situation where the minority is just trying to get some representation. Andrew Sarris met the situation when his failure to acknowledge No Country for Old Men as a great film left readers attacking him. He responded in his annual top ten list award by giving No Country the entire category of “Movies Other People Liked and I Didn’t”. There Will Be Blood could get similar recognition for those who disliked it.

I’m not a fan of There Will be Blood. I actually dislike almost every part of the film. Most critics would be dismissive when dealing with a film of zero favor to them, but the praise and ambition of Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is forcing me to take issue with all of the criticisms. There Will be Blood is also so large and complicated that a simple review cannot cover all the problems so I’m utilizing an old structure to tackle the film. Years ago there was such a thing as critical history books. They were critical reviews of a major film movement or era. The author(s) wanted to criticize certain periods of cinema but wanted to structure the book so it could encompass numerous ideas and trends. Thus the books were broken into shorter chapters about the individual ideas. This review will follow suit.

The Two Beliefs

The accepted conflict in There Will be Blood is with Daniel Plainview and the forces around him. His problems in the story come in numerous folds. The major one is his struggle with local Christians of a small town he goes to because of oil. Plainview disdains them for their arrogance because it impedes on his well being and business when he is trying to dig for oil. The second important conflict is with a supposed brother who shows up out of nowhere but has no real relationship to him. It’s just a man who knew his brother before he died. The third is with the illegitimate son Daniel grew to love as his own but disgraced him when he grew up to become an oil man himself and posed a threat to his business ventures.  The complexities of these entanglements has made for a film that people are applauding as rich and diverse. The truth is that their only one conflict within the film. The other two are just symptoms of Daniel Plainview himself.

Daniel, like the Christians, represents an institution of belief himself. His character really is the basis of the idea of nobility and aristocracy. Daniel believes the success he has in life and power he holds over everyone comes from inert qualities within him that no one outside of his bloodline possesses. His character represents an idea of power and just cause older than even religion itself. The film simplifies his meaning when it shows him as just God-less and semi-disturbed. That is how the townspeople of Little Boston view him. The film makes his problems with his supposed brother and illegitimate son to be signs of his evil when they are indicators of deeper beliefs a lot of people held back then. There Will be Blood takes no consideration of the deeper history to Daniel’s character and instead views all of his actions at such a close barometer that they are meant to outweigh its context.

The apology could be that Daniel’s characterization is a completely personal one. Whatever the rationalization may be it is the opposite of how Eli Sunday and the other townspeople are depicted. The film shows their belief and its meaning before it shows any of their distinguishing personal characteristics. Eli Sunday is a major character but all of his scenes are standard scenes of a preacher being a preacher. The only scene that stands out to show his character flaws is where he sits at the dinner table with his family, covered in mud, and insults his father for agreeing to a deal with Daniel Plainview that he himself originally thought was fair. The scene is indicative of the personal defeats Eli will meet later, but it’s also the only scene that does it. In all the other scenes Eli Sunday represents the establishment of religion and God. He is a walking caricature of a religious man because his personal aspects are almost wholly removed.

The difference in how Eli Sunday and Daniel Plainview are shown is important. The two characters make up the dramatic center of the film. Daniel’s problems with his son, brother and business in Little Boston rise to a crescendo when he is baptized and asked to confess the sin of his abandoning his child. The event encapsulates the frustration Eli Sunday and Little Boston has with Daniel. It’s also the greatest burden for Daniel because it makes him say the things that strike hardest at his psyche. Daniel’s defeated baptism meets its own reclamation at the end of the film when Daniel forces Eli Sunday to admit he is a hypocrite and everything he said before was a power play instead of him voicing the word of God. Sunday stands firm in saying he was the voice of God, but admits he has been a liar and is the failure of his family. Tell tale signs before show Sunday had more interest in power than God. His final stand with Daniel revealed the nature of his character.

The relationship between Daniel and Eli goes even further than the dramatic principles. Their characters are both the symbolic representations of their respective beliefs and ideals. There Will be Blood is about both the personal and cultural clash that happens.  The societal comment is a significant part of the film. The film has to balance both elements when sculpting the portrait of the characters. The end result is a completely divided picture. The audience only knows Daniel for his personal demons and Eli for his religious extremism. The fact that the end hangs on Eli’s “dramatic” revelation is a joke. The scene is more explanatory than dramatic because it includes so much new information about Eli. It has to because it didn’t have a character outline to base his demise off of.

Realism and Plot

Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t make a true classical epic with There Will Be Blood. He goes against many conventions of standard storytelling devices by not basing the film on methodical scenes and structure. Normally the focus of an epic is in building up environment, plot and character. Instead Anderson puts all his effort in a narrative that has a life of its own. The film flows at a pace that heightens the personal closeness of the major characters. We follow the characters before we understand the world around them. Scenes are drawn out to recreate the atmosphere of realism within the world. There Will Be Blood is closer to a dramatic rendition of a historical epic than a filmic one. The film has an amazing back drop that could have created a much lusher and more beautiful film, but Anderson commits himself to a realism platform in which to exhibit the characters.

Anderson isn’t breaking new ground with this choice. The beginning of this kind of realism began in the 1970s with American films that were trying to venture into new arenas of storytelling. Films like A Woman Under the Influence, Mean Streets, Mikey and Nickey were beholden to the realities of the scene. John Cassavettes was the forerunner of this style and a product of avante garde theater. He was able to respect film art by using cinema verite methods, but he made films that were made to be shown in the realities of a theater setting. The stories were limited to shorter time frames and most of the scenes were long and realistic. It allowed for films to explore realism more, but the essentials of the style had to more to deal with the essentials of theater than film.

There Will be Blood represents the opposite extreme. It has a large story of dense personal history for the characters and a historical overview of the time period. It takes place over thirty years and deals with numerous objectives for a range of characters. It has everything that fits the description of a novel adaptation, namely a large plot. It is the antithesis of the realist platform because plot itself requires construction and meticulous design to allow all the strands of the story to unfold. There Will be Blood has numerous elements to attest to. Paul Sunday is only worth a scene at the beginning and a few mentions later on but his character becomes a bridge for an important revelation at the end of the film. A film focused on the construction of plot would not have allowed an important character to get such scant recognition throughout the story. This is a classical example of empty symbolism. A character becomes an important idea for a theme but has little existence within the story.

An epic in the realist format isn’t impossible. It’s just that the story cannot be chronological. Doing so let’s in all the historical and personal details that have little relevance to the themes. The realist story is based on the close encounters between characters so structural decisions are very important. The story has to be adjusted to spotlight the theme the best. The best example of a realist epic is The Deer Hunter. It is about friends torn apart in the midst of the Vietnam War. The bond and connection between them is outlined at an extended wedding scene at the beginning. The rest of the film is a cut back between horrendous moments in battle and fond memories of life and how it was before. The film could have detailed each character’s life out much more extensively, but kept their portraits within the context of the friendships. Keeping this portrait allowed us to frame the character’s lives within our memories of their happier moments. If the film was traditional it would have to be six hours long to satisfy our interest in each character.

There Will be Blood limited itself greatly by making the story chronological. It had themes and characters to relate to the audience. The choices the film made as it relates to dramatic conception and character lay out kept the film from realizing the full potential of its subject.  Paul Thomas Anderson had the chance to make a lot of progress and make a film of good art, but he made filmmaking choices that became standard affair of the overrated aspects of the art circuit.

A Default Style

There Will be Blood has to be given some due. It has a very deep dramatic identity but it does many things to try to escape easy categorization. Most filmmakers resent critics because they box their films into easy categorizations. As much as a lot of filmmakers complain publically, most do little about it filmically. They continue to make films that follow standard rules of storytelling. But filmmakers like Bertrand Tavernier have openly tried to defy the attempts of criticism to objectify by making films that have no consistency relevant to any recognized structure in filmmaking. Tavernier has been successful with this in such films like A Sunday in The Country and Safe Conduct. There Will be Blood also exists to defy structural recognition by taking a difficult subject and filming it with a style and tone that distinguishes it from any other film today.

It is hard to have a straight forward conversation about the style of There Will be Blood. When Robert Altman was asked to speak about his style (something most critics claim to easily recognize), he said he had no clue about the thought process to how he filmed stories. There Will be Blood has a few nods and references to Paul Thomas Anderson’s other films, but the only recognizable development is the tone of the film being more important than the story. Boogie Nights has a lot of camera movements and shot techniques. It is also filled with elaborative editing patterns and flows at a brisk pace to keep up with the pace of a fast story filled with numerous characters and plot points. There Will be Blood has a much different construction around it. The film lingers through the story with few shot adjustment and very little editing techniques. The composition of the film is based on camera angles and a methodical tone. The actors have a lot of room for movement because the camera is always well centered, but many scenes don’t end when the dialogue does. The camera continues on with the scene because the tone it creates within the film is the most important feature.

There Will be Blood is about a historical subject that is very familiar in American folklore. A very specific genre is recalled when one deals with the Old West and the development of land to suit technological innovation.  The Western genre began as the shoot ‘em up genre, but evolved to encompass most stories about the development of America west of the Mississippi River. John Ford gave the genre its aesthetic tone when he made the visuals of the land an essential character to all of his films. Robert Altman took that look deeper when he based the tone of the film on the realism of yesterday with McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Then Terrence Malick created an archetype in Days of Heaven with a tone of visualization so ambient and exalting of the landscape that his style became famous. Malick became synonymous with his work on the film that filmmakers who explored his style of visualization did so with the direct threat their work would be compared to how Malick set the original barometers.

Paul Thomas Anderson creates a style in There Will be Blood that is a mixture between McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Days of Heaven. Anderson wants the tone of the film to be observant and peaceful with respect to highlighting the landscape, but he also favors graceful movements of the camera to go in between the action and the scenes. The composition is remiscient of Days of Heaven while the movement goes back to Altman’s achievement with Mccabe. He isn’t doing much out of the ordinary with this combination of tonal styles. Most Westerns of any ambition since then have taken on the personality of either Altman or Malick’s achievements. Both films were that influential to later filmmakers. The surprise with Anderson’s decision to mix his filmmaking with these two films is that the story in There Will be Blood has both too much story and action to be the best fit.

The first reason for the assertion of too much story in There Will be Blood has to deal the structures of the former two films. McCabe and Heaven are comprable to Paul Thomas Anderson’s film only in the matter of realism, but opposites in almost every other way. Both really are poem-like expressionist works that rely very little on physical story but instead on color hues with the cinematography and tonal features in how camera investigates the story. When most films would bring the camera closer to the action, both of these films kept a distance in all the scenes. They were able to do so because the stories were simple and philosophical. When originally released, both were unique for being ambient character pieces in a time when realism constituted higher degrees of drama and violence. The easy comparison is that McCabe and Heaven reflected the wavelengths of Yasurijo Ozu when most other filmmakers embraced the tough drama of Akira Kurosawa.

The first situation with the style of There Will be Blood comes with the obscuring it does of numerous plot points through out the film. Plot points are nothing more than story and character references that help to spell out the details of the story. It gets a subplot from point A to B. Numerous examples are bound through out the film, but most glaring are scenes like when H.W. looks through Henry’s diary and then mysteriously lights fire under his bed. What the audience sees H.W. sees in the diary gives no clue to why he does what he does. It’s revealed later on, but is just a random action at the time. Then there is the presence of Paul Sunday. Paul Dano plays both Eli and Paul Sunday, but it’s never revealed they are twins. The casting was accidental in the first place but the film never tries to distinguish their differences or even make a theme out of the uniqueness they are twins. The story just goes on, but it does so with such scant characterization of Paul Sunday that the subplot is confusing. The film has a lot of information to convey to the audience but fails to do an adaquate job because better relaying it because that would force the film to deconstruct its lingering camera movements and provide a denser, more adaquate editing structure.

The second major problem with the style is how it expels the most dramatic scenes. The nature of the style is to be distant and reflective, but There Will be Blood has a confrontational force to it with a lot of scenes and moments. The purpose of editing and composition is to be able to gage the drama best when the action is heightened, but the film is sloppy at best and absurd at other major points. The easiest example is with the renunion of Daniel and H.W. Plainview after the latter was sent away. The scene begins in an open field. The camera shows their reunion in the distance, but instead of cutting closer to the scene when it becomes fiery, the camera continues to weave down an oil pipeline. It does this while the characters are having a troubling moment. The reason for this choice of filmmaking is to highlight the oil pipeline which Daniel later shows off to H.W. and also to show the new found distance between the characters. The problem is that highlighting the oil pipeline really has little significance to what matters in the scene. Then the shooting from a distance to show character distance is so elementary of a film technique it would be criticized in film schools if a student attempted to use it.

The other major example is with the final scene. Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday start a troubling discussion that excalates to physical blows when Daniel attacks Eli in his bowling alley. His method of attack is to chase Eli around the room, throw different things at him and then finally beat him with a bowling pin until he is dead. The chase has Eli begging for mercy and hiding behind the front of the bowling frame while Daniel attacks him. Anderson does little to bring the camera closer to the confrontation. While Daniel is chasing Eli, the camera remains aloof. Even when Eli goes out of frame and hides and Daniel is severely hitting him, the camera remains aloof. The only major cut into the action the camera does is when it does a low angle pan up to Daniel and he smears some excrement onto the lens. It’s surprising Anderson chooses that technique of all things because when he has used it before it was always for expositional purposes to introduce new scenes and locations. It has little reason to be in a dramatic moment with exception to the smear on the lens. The feeling is that Anderson is just on a rotation of different film techniques to lay out the story. His concern is mainly about the tonal structures in the film.

There are numerous other examples of bad filmmaking decisions by Anderson. Only a DVD commentary could do justice to explain all the problems in the film. The style is so bad because it takes so many basic ideas of how to shoot a Western period piece and does so with little direction. The general assumption could be that Anderson looked at the backdrop of his story and made a film to look like other films that dealt with similar historical periods, but didn’t know how to make the adjustments to fit into There Will be Blood.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to sum up There Will be Blood. The film is driven by its loose ends and intensity. Critical comment about the film is so scattered that most are impressionistic jubiliations without being detailed and specific. There even isn’t an agreed upon argument about how the film is good. The film is mostly relevant for its differences in look and feel from every other film out there.

My best summation comes with comparing There Will be Blood to another film. When The Passion of the Christ was released, it was done to notable controvery and heavy critical discussion. Social critics took exception of the film for its stereotypical image of Jews while historical critics demoted the film for its slim, almost irrevelant perspective of Catholicism. Film critics said the film tried to make up for its lack of variety in production skills with a high intensity to make the story more powerful.

There Will be Blood holds a similiar position with respect to all those subjects. The film is highly interesting, but succeeds on just a few levels of how we look at a film. It is irrelevant or clueless when other greater subjects are taken into consideration. The intensity or uniqueness of the film shouldn’t be the sole reason it is considered a masterpiece.

children with angels

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2008, 06:57:44 PM »
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The film simplifies his meaning when it shows him as just God-less and semi-disturbed. That is how the townspeople of Little Boston view him. The film makes his problems with his supposed brother and illegitimate son to be signs of his evil when they are indicators of deeper beliefs a lot of people held back then. There Will be Blood takes no consideration of the deeper history to Daniel’s character and instead views all of his actions at such a close barometer that they are meant to outweigh its context.

I don’t think we are given enough context to know what Little Boston as a whole believes at all, and certainly not enough to align that belief (whatever it might be) with how the film views Daniel. The fact that the film gives no history or context for him is I think entirely appropriate to the fascinatingly narrow point of view the film establishes, as I argue in my piece.

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Their characters are both the symbolic representations of their respective beliefs and ideals. There Will be Blood is about both the personal and cultural clash that happens.  The societal comment is a significant part of the film. The film has to balance both elements when sculpting the portrait of the characters. The end result is a completely divided picture.

I don’t think it’s useful to see these characters as symbolic representations. We can say that they reflect a number of impulses associated with elements of their society (or ours), but to say that they wholly represent them is a gross simplification, and doesn’t stand up to what we see in the film. Though the movie has certain allegorical overtones, I think the temptation to read the entire film and its characters as allegory should be resisted. Whatever political commentary the film might be making is secondary to its situations and its characters, both of which certainly have clear political dimensions (as everything does), but neither of which is clear-cut, or constitute a political ‘statement’. Thus, I don’t think that the accusation that the film is divided in this way stands up, since I don’t think it is trying to be a ‘character piece’, nor a ‘societal comment’ picture. It contains elements of both (though its ability to be a traditional character study is again challenged by its point of view, as I argue), but its peculiar power comes partly from not being reducible to either.

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The fact that the end hangs on Eli’s “dramatic” revelation is a joke. The scene is more explanatory than dramatic because it includes so much new information about Eli. It has to because it didn’t have a character outline to base his demise off of.

I don’t see how you could argue that the final scene hangs on Eli’s ‘revelation’. To me it doesn’t seem to be a revelation at all (if you’re talking about his renunciation of his faith), and the ending certainly doesn’t hang on it: he has been forced to say what he says, and he is shaken by it, but it’s not a revelation. If there is a revelation, it is of Daniel, and of how truly psychopathic his character is/has become. Again, my piece argues for why we haven’t been given the context necessary to understand Eli’s actions in the last scene in the way you suggest (or, indeed, to truly understand Daniel’s).

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An epic in the realist format isn’t impossible. It’s just that the story cannot be chronological.

I’m not sure why you’re so concerned with the clash between the ‘epic’ and the ‘realist platform’ (I’m also unsure of what you mean by the latter). From the loose way you’re using the word ‘realism’ I don’t think it constitutes a specific mode that you can judge the film’s success or failure against. I also, incidentally, don’t know how you could possibly argue that a ‘realist epic’ mustn’t be chronological – if anything, non-linear narrative points towards non-‘realist’ impulses.

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There Will be Blood has to be given some due. It has a very deep dramatic identity but it does many things to try to escape easy categorization. There Will be Blood also exists to defy structural recognition by taking a difficult subject and filming it with a style and tone that distinguishes it from any other film today.

It DOES escape easy categorization: that’s one of the reasons why it’s so fascinating. It uses conventions and codes from recognizable sources – classical Hollywood westerns, revisionist 70s historical epics, political ‘message pictures’ – but it isn’t reducible to any of them, and finds a new and effective and powerful way of relating them. That to me is one of the hallmarks of a great film: using familiar contexts and modes and conventions intelligently, and also adding something new and powerful to them. This is something that the best classical Hollywood filmmakers did again and again with genre pictures, and – incidentally – something that great art has done since the beginning of time.

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There Will be Blood has a few nods and references to Paul Thomas Anderson’s other films, but the only recognizable development is the tone of the film being more important than the story. The film lingers through the story with few shot adjustment and very little editing techniques. The composition of the film is based on camera angles and a methodical tone. The actors have a lot of room for movement because the camera is always well centered, but many scenes don’t end when the dialogue does. The camera continues on with the scene because the tone it creates within the film is the most important feature.

I would need more specific examples before I knew what you were talking about here.

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Paul Thomas Anderson creates a style in There Will be Blood that is a mixture between McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Days of Heaven. Anderson wants the tone of the film to be observant and peaceful with respect to highlighting the landscape, but he also favors graceful movements of the camera to go in between the action and the scenes. The surprise with Anderson’s decision to mix his filmmaking with these two films is that the story in There Will be Blood has both too much story and action to be the best fit.

I think here you’re trying to rationalize and compartmentalize the film into what it might have done rather than make an effort to understand what it actually does do. Yes, we can see that there are influences of Malick and Altman on this film, but Anderson is making a film that doesn’t try to finally be like either of those filmmakers’ works. He tells his story in such an original and fascinating way, whilst incorporating these influences, that to try to make it fit into the paradigms you’re attempting to force it into here makes little sense. You can only argue that the story isn’t a good fit for the techniques of Malick or Altman if you think that the style of these directors is all he’s trying to emulate, and they aren’t: he’s come up with a method of storytelling that is totally alien to them, and it’s that that makes the movie so unique. Again, he’s effortlessly de-familarizing things that we think we understand (e.g.: Hollywood Renaissance film styles) by placing them in another context (e.g.: the psychopathically tight point of view he sets up, as I argue for). This also relates to what you say later, here:

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The style is so bad because it takes so many basic ideas of how to shoot a Western period piece and does so with little direction. The general assumption could be that Anderson looked at the backdrop of his story and made a film to look like other films that dealt with similar historical periods, but didn’t know how to make the adjustments to fit into There Will be Blood.

In one sense I’m surprised to see you resisting the creative impulses of a visionary filmmaker who is challenging convention, because this is something that you yourself often argue is necessary for great film art (and I, on the other hand, might resist); in another sense, I can see why you might, since you also value being able to understand and explain films in relation to existing and established paradigms. Could it be that you’re more open to experimentation when it has already been championed and explained by previous film theorists, rather than when faced by a new example of it that you have to confront alone?

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when H.W. looks through Henry’s diary and then mysteriously lights fire under his bed. What the audience sees H.W. sees in the diary gives no clue to why he does what he does. It’s revealed later on, but is just a random action at the time.

H.W. setting fire to the shack almost certainly isn’t motivated by what he reads in the diary. Someone intelligently pointed out in the Blood thread that he looks at the diary upside down, which suggests that he can’t even read (as would be highly probable). It’s more likely that it comes from H.W.’s frustrated desire to communicate with the outside world (and his father in particular): he is acting out violently, recklessly – in fact, in a similar way to how the emotional/social cripple Daniel himself will later act out.

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Then there is the presence of Paul Sunday. Paul Dano plays both Eli and Paul Sunday, but it’s never revealed they are twins. The casting was accidental in the first place but the film never tries to distinguish their differences or even make a theme out of the uniqueness they are twins. The story just goes on, but it does so with such scant characterization of Paul Sunday that the subplot is confusing. The film has a lot of information to convey to the audience but fails to do an adaquate job because better relaying it because that would force the film to deconstruct its lingering camera movements and provide a denser, more adaquate editing structure.

I make a case in my piece for why the Paul subplot, and many other subplots/ character motivations, etc. might be obfuscated.

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The camera shows their reunion in the distance, but instead of cutting closer to the scene when it becomes fiery, the camera continues to weave down an oil pipeline. It does this while the characters are having a troubling moment. The reason for this choice of filmmaking is to highlight the oil pipeline which Daniel later shows off to H.W. and also to show the new found distance between the characters. The problem is that highlighting the oil pipeline really has little significance to what matters in the scene.

OF COURSE the pipeline has significance for the scene: it conveys the essential conflict at the heart of the film: Daniel’s relationship to others and his relationship to his work/capital! The film is continually stylistically powerful and economical in this way: to capture the essence of what a scene is about through camera placement, etc.

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It’s hard to sum up There Will be Blood… Critical comment about the film is so scattered that most are impressionistic jubiliations without being detailed and specific. There even isn’t an agreed upon argument about how the film is good.

I agree that critical reaction to the film in general has been very vague in its reasons for lauding the movie; I suggest some reasons for this, and suggest some more specific reasons for why we might praise the film, in my piece. Intensity and uniqueness alone might not be reasons why the film is a masterpiece, but those elements combined with a consummate cinematic intelligence towards its storytelling, thematically fascinating situations, technical brilliance on almost all levels (sound design, music, production design, cinematography, editing), and the ability to make something new and relevant out of established conventions point the film well on its way to masterpiece status. It is indeed hard to sum up There Will Be Blood: could this be one of the reasons why you’re reacting negatively towards it?

EDIT: P.S - Please people, someone other than just GT respond to stop this becoming a duologue between me and him. This is such an extraordinary film, and particularly one that a lot of us have a particular personal stake in: it makes so much sense that we should discuss it, celebrate it, criticise it in some depth. If nothing else, this is surely a big part of what this board is for: to be a platform for sharing ideas about films that we care deeply about...

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Alexandro

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #2 on: April 10, 2008, 04:55:26 PM »
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the word epic is used by studios as a marketing device. dumb people think it means big or something. critics are mostly lazy and have used that word to describe "big" films for years now. i don't think there will be blood isn't an epic. but it's not an epic as critics are implying. it is an internal epic. an epic of the mind of it's main character, and in that it succeeds.

i read a review of this film talking about, like plainview himself, there will be blood "doesn't like to explain itself". i thought that was a stroke of genius, and everything you say in your essay (children with angels) rings true to me in that respect. it is a subjective film with a narrowed point of view, and the way it surrenders itself to it is masterful. as you, i find a lot of what GT says strangely lacking of arguments. i dont' know where the affirmation of the town's people feelings towards daniel come from, and i don't understand how the film presents daniel plainview only as an evil, godless individual. in my view is way more complex than that. I also wouldn't call Plainview semi disturbed. He´s more in the totally pretty disturbed realm.

I resent critics trying to tańl of this characters (Paul and Daniel) as some sort of heavy symbols. Nothing in PTA's previous works suggests he's the kind of filmmaker to go that way, and this is certainly no exception. The idea is toyed around, but the film's main concern lies within the idioscinracies of Plainview. Also, I never felt a "revelation" in Eli's last scene. It made total sense and felt just like a normal progressionl There was nothing surprising about it. Eli was established as a weak soul from moment one.

This idea of what should be chronological and what not is just...i don't know....it doesn't make sense from a creative point of view. It seems to be some sort of undeclared rule on how to do things that I particularly wouldn't find useful in any case.

What I don't agree with is with the supposed groundbreaking new thing PTA is doing here. I think There Will Be Blood is a masterpiece, but is nothing new under the sun either. Radical, yes; beautifullyu shot and acted, yes. A new paradigm? No...The psychpathic angle Children with Angels discuss, and which is a great asset on a fantastic film, is just another way of turning the subjective experience into an entertaning movie. Is no different than what Scorsese has been doing, from Taxi Driver to The Aviator, or a lot of other major directors have done in the past.

Daniel Day Lewis said in an interview that Paul Thomas Anderson "is the story he's telling". Every worthy artist aims for that. But not everyone can achieve it with such eloquency. That's the charm right there. His movies are a window to his soul and to himself. The power comes from that.


Gold Trumpet

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #3 on: April 10, 2008, 05:25:46 PM »
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I'm going to get to Children With Angels, because he does have a few things to say, but first.....

i read a review of this film talking about, like plainview himself, there will be blood "doesn't like to explain itself". i thought that was a stroke of genius, and everything you say in your essay (children with angels) rings true to me in that respect. it is a subjective film with a narrowed point of view, and the way it surrenders itself to it is masterful. as you, i find a lot of what GT says strangely lacking of arguments. i dont' know where the affirmation of the town's people feelings towards daniel come from, and i don't understand how the film presents daniel plainview only as an evil, godless individual. in my view is way more complex than that. I also wouldn't call Plainview semi disturbed. He´s more in the totally pretty disturbed realm.

I imply that the characterization of Daniel is overly simple, but I don't limit myself to that. I also go into detail about the deeper signs that are layered through out the film about Daniel's deeper personas. Yes, he's troubled. Yes, he's disturbed, but that's an obvious observation. It's just pointing out the most surface level actions you see in the film. Eli Sunday's characterization is with total reference in which to the times he comes from. You can keep the structure and look of the film as is and still make reference to Daniel's historical relevance and his belief.

I don't buy the legitimacy of the narrow viewpoint argument. If you look at Daniel through a tunnel vortex and put his personal experience as yours, you get an alien character of zero personal resemblance to yourself. The whole point of movies that are tunnel versions of the personal experience is that they speak to your experience. The stories are suppose to be experiences of the modern man. Bernard Shaw said that a work of art should only last 100 years, as times change and so do the perspective of people. Daniel represents a dead culture. He represents an old ideal. There is nothing personal to get out of his viewpoint so the whole point of making his experience personal is to find some way to tie it to our perspective. The film does no such thing. He comes and leaves as an alien character. Thus the important thing to do is to give him some historical perspective so he gets context for our understanding. 

Filming this dead character to match the closeness of a personal experience has zero value. I do not believe that just countering narrative expectations is in itself good. It's an easy thing to change the gears of how a story is told. The important thing is what is told. There Will be Blood makes tonal choices to make the film unique, but it does nothing to make the narrative important or stand out.



Alexandro

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #4 on: April 11, 2008, 04:24:39 PM »
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I think the way you look at this character is overtly simple, but not the way the film presents it. I resent reviews that describe him as a monster, a "movie villain for the ages" and things like that, because that's too easy. He's much more complicated than that. I'm not gonna repeat what Children with Angels already said, because he said it so well. My feelings towards the complexity of Plainview are expressed beautifully on his essay. The fact that the film accomplishes this and at the same time maintains the narrow point of view you don't buy makes Day Lewis's performance even more remarkable. I think that me and many other persons have found Plainview to be more than just disturbed, or "evil", or "troubled"...my guess is if we thought that we wouldn't find him or the film so interesting.

I still don't know exactly where in the movie is shown or even suggested how the people around Little Boston really saw Daniel Plainview. The only time someone talks about him in his abscense is when Eli screams at his father. The only one who expresses an opinion on him is Eli.

I understand both Plainview and Eli live in a context, and their status as symbols is certainly present. PTA has said when confronted with this that he's "no dummy", but it's obvious from him and the film itself he's not that concerned with that. He's way more interested in the personality of Plainview than anything else. Eli is explored only to the extent that his doings affect Plainview. He's only fleshed out from the point of view of Plainview. We mostly see him as Plainview sees him. This is nothing new, no breaking of any barriers here, and it's not a mistake or miscalculation from the filmmakers part either.

Coming back to Plainview and the "narrow" point of view, talking about myself I must say I felt a lot of emphaty with this character. His actions seemed weird only on first viewing. By my third time I began to understand better where he's coming from. You don't need to be shown the full story or to have the full context to understand human behavior. He's not alien at all. But of course, you have to try to understand with the information the film gives you. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is great to have that chance as an audience member. His experience is tied to our perspective. At least to mine. This the film achieves. It hasn't achieved it with you I guess. I still don't get why he is a dead culture or an old ideal, though...his main problems and concerns are atemporal, he's just a human being after all. I, for one, was relieved that PTA didn't spend too much time "explaining" us the culture and the context. He's never done that before in any other film. He didn't do it in Boogie Nights and yet you understand enough of it. He has always been more interested in the individuals than in societies.

We all know no one is going to convince you of anything else, of course.

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #5 on: April 11, 2008, 06:34:04 PM »
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I don’t think we are given enough context to know what Little Boston as a whole believes at all, and certainly not enough to align that belief (whatever it might be) with how the film views Daniel. The fact that the film gives no history or context for him is I think entirely appropriate to the fascinatingly narrow point of view the film establishes, as I argue in my piece.

I disagree with the narrow viewpoint being fascinating or even good, but I thought it was beyond obvious that the film was alluding to Daniel's personal symptoms as a form of personal aristocracy. He made comments about his "bloodline" and "having what I have inside". The main symptoms of personal demons deal specifically with subplots that are about people involved in his life who are not tied to his own blood - his supposed brother and illegimitate son. He kills Henry maybe because he lied to him, but he challenged him for the truth by making assertions of how they had the same things inside. Daniel wasn't just referring to his drive to become a success. He understood that Henry didn't have that same drive, but he does clearly mention how he doesn't like most people and only sees the worst in them. That is him putting himself above others, specifically the townsfolk in Little Boston whom he resents anyways.

Daniel tries to love H.W. as his own, but as soon as H.W. wants to leave his flock and start out on his own, he immediately goes to calling him a bastard and saying how he isn't his own. It's a very specific assault he launches on H.W. He could have used numerous other things to slam the boy, but instead he reminds him how he is below him because he doesn't have the same bloodline.

I don’t think it’s useful to see these characters as symbolic representations. We can say that they reflect a number of impulses associated with elements of their society (or ours), but to say that they wholly represent them is a gross simplification, and doesn’t stand up to what we see in the film. Though the movie has certain allegorical overtones, I think the temptation to read the entire film and its characters as allegory should be resisted. Whatever political commentary the film might be making is secondary to its situations and its characters, both of which certainly have clear political dimensions (as everything does), but neither of which is clear-cut, or constitute a political ‘statement’. Thus, I don’t think that the accusation that the film is divided in this way stands up, since I don’t think it is trying to be a ‘character piece’, nor a ‘societal comment’ picture. It contains elements of both (though its ability to be a traditional character study is again challenged by its point of view, as I argue), but its peculiar power comes partly from not being reducible to either.

You shouldn't assume that the entire structure of the film will change if the cultural and social context is brought more to light. I definitely wouldn't want the film to be just a social commentary picture with its own traditions and cliches. There Will be Blood existing as a film without the ability to be reduced down to easy explanations and answers is a very good thing, but...

The film really has no inner meaning to it. There is no dimension in which to look at any part of the film. It has scattered images of thought. With Eli Sunday, you have the representation of old Christianity, but with Daniel, you have a black hole of personal problems. His character exists as a force even though his character does represent a grand idea within human history. As is, the film is just a scramble of different things that don't add up to much at all. The characterization differences are too different and too broken to have meaning in it.

The film comes close to giving a picture of human history because it does give ideas of what Daniel is, but resists the temptation to go all the way. It should have gone further with clear assertions of what part of history it was dealing and what idea of human thought it was about. The audience could have related better to the situation. As of right now, the only thing they can relate to is the style and filmmaking choices. The film could have given clear ideas of the world around the story and still have made structural decisions to be mysterious and evasive to the audience in giving them easier answers. It could have actually challenged them with deeper emotions, thoughts and questions! All it seems we have now is a film that is meant to be experienced, but I'm more interest in the content level of a film because it solely isn't about style.

I understand I am not criticizing the film for what it is its, but I don't care to. Doing so means I have accepted all the choices of story and content as is. I most definitely have not. The major issues taken with reading your essay (and I will make direct comments on it), i find that you also want to align the film with certain criterias in film history to justify the dominance of style over content, but all the ties seem superficilious.

I don’t see how you could argue that the final scene hangs on Eli’s ‘revelation’. To me it doesn’t seem to be a revelation at all (if you’re talking about his renunciation of his faith), and the ending certainly doesn’t hang on it: he has been forced to say what he says, and he is shaken by it, but it’s not a revelation. If there is a revelation, it is of Daniel, and of how truly psychopathic his character is/has become. Again, my piece argues for why we haven’t been given the context necessary to understand Eli’s actions in the last scene in the way you suggest (or, indeed, to truly understand Daniel’s).

There is no new dimension to how psychotic Daniel has become. The scene with him and H.W. before already established that Daniel was beyond recognition of normal human form. If anything, the film is repititious with just trying to repeat the assertions that his life of "success" is nothing more than grand decadence. He is in ruins personally because he cannot relate to anyone anymore. What more is shown of Daniel in his scene with Eli? He kills Eli brutally, but he already killed Henry beforehand so was already capable. He also was wild and belligerant with H.W. as he was with Eli. Maybe the gestures were more insane because he does a milkshake show and dance, but he also was doing similar antics with H.W. as well.

The scene was better to be about Eli because that is relaying new information. It is about a character who was an important element of the story and it comes together well that both would meet at the end and that Daniel would challenge him the way Eli did earlier. When Eli challenged Daniel, it gave us ideas about who Daniel was. We saw the core of his being be ripped apart with the fact he had to admit to abandoning his child. A similar thing is done with Eli when Daniel forces him to admit all the things he is not. Thus the switch of the situation implies it was about Eli.

Of course we aren't given enough context to understand Eli. That is part of my criticism, but the film would have done itself a better favor by painting a better image of the personal Eli. We would understood how his character got to that road where he was himself in ruins with Daniel at the end. He is a major figure in the film and means a lot in association with Daniel's problems. I don't think the film is totally about Daniel.

I’m not sure why you’re so concerned with the clash between the ‘epic’ and the ‘realist platform’ (I’m also unsure of what you mean by the latter). From the loose way you’re using the word ‘realism’ I don’t think it constitutes a specific mode that you can judge the film’s success or failure against. I also, incidentally, don’t know how you could possibly argue that a ‘realist epic’ mustn’t be chronological – if anything, non-linear narrative points towards non-‘realist’ impulses.

I'm concerned with the clash between epic and realist because I'm concerned with how the information in the story is relayed to the audience. You're looking at the film differently than I am. You are happy with many of the choices in which the film made in how to relate its story to the audience, but I am not. I'm getting flack from my essay because I am looking at the film completely differently. What one may not see as many good arguments, I do because it fits well into how I pattern the problems of the film as. We're both taking different objective looks at the importance of the film. Two different vantage points.

But, non-linear and chronological have nothing to do with distinguishing realism. Filmmakers in the 1960s like Francesco Rosi dealt with social realist films where they paid the highest scrutiny to authenticity in their films like casting local people and working with the real places to shoot at. Rosi was never concerned with making a story chronological to fit into his realist storyline because he understood the ideas in his film could better come out with structured storylines where the audience was meant to understand one thing at a time.

Anderson is different with There Will be Blood because he doesn't have social ideas to imply, but he does deal with a social dilemma in the clash between religion and aristocracy. As a dramatist, he needs to keep some balance of the clashing ideas and dramatic ends to make a workable picture of the world for the audience to relate to. Working with a structure storyline in a realist format would have helped him better relay the information in the story. He could have maintained the mysteriousness of his film by making the story not come to easy conclusions, but he needed to paint a more thorough picture of the world to make the audience have any perspective of the world outside of just the personal anguish of Daniel (which isn't very interesting by itself).


It DOES escape easy categorization: that’s one of the reasons why it’s so fascinating. It uses conventions and codes from recognizable sources – classical Hollywood westerns, revisionist 70s historical epics, political ‘message pictures’ – but it isn’t reducible to any of them, and finds a new and effective and powerful way of relating them. That to me is one of the hallmarks of a great film: using familiar contexts and modes and conventions intelligently, and also adding something new and powerful to them. This is something that the best classical Hollywood filmmakers did again and again with genre pictures, and – incidentally – something that great art has done since the beginning of time.


It doesn't escape that easy of categorization to me. I do say the film isn't like any made today, but the film reaks of numerous tendencies of the 1970s. Of course the film isn't identifiable to any specific style or filmmaker because no film really is. Making comment out of that is just taking notice out an accepted element within all films. The important thing to take notice is of the similar tendencies. Since the 1930s films have been taking style elements from different films and combining them together. It's so engrained it's a moot point to make on a general level (which is what I am seeing here).

I understand Anderson is breaking with convention, but I don't see the default importance of that. His style doesn't bring me closer to what I see is important in the film so I find it disregarable. I also see inconistencies. The first 20 minutes of the film has a dark, simplistic look to the filmmaking. The camera was mostly at a standstill. I actually liked it but then the scope of the film widens when the story expands and the film takes on more camera movements and wider looks. That is when I thought the style got more conventional.

There Will be Blood reminds me of A Touch of Evil. It has a lot of style touches and does a lot of things to differentiate itself from most other films, but it is too freewheeling with the filmmaking choices. There was no organization with A Touch of Evil and there seems to be little organization with Blood either. When Bertrand Tavernier made structurally obscure films, he made very structured and thought out films. A Sunday in the Country and Safe Conduct have very unique, identifiable structures. You cannot widdle either film down to an idea or a source, but you see the the movements of the structure at work so you are able to appreciate the accomplishment. There Will be Blood is sometime sparse with camera movement, but you still get the stylistic loose ends of other filmmakers.


I think here you’re trying to rationalize and compartmentalize the film into what it might have done rather than make an effort to understand what it actually does do. Yes, we can see that there are influences of Malick and Altman on this film, but Anderson is making a film that doesn’t try to finally be like either of those filmmakers’ works. He tells his story in such an original and fascinating way, whilst incorporating these influences, that to try to make it fit into the paradigms you’re attempting to force it into here makes little sense. You can only argue that the story isn’t a good fit for the techniques of Malick or Altman if you think that the style of these directors is all he’s trying to emulate, and they aren’t: he’s come up with a method of storytelling that is totally alien to them, and it’s that that makes the movie so unique. Again, he’s effortlessly de-familarizing things that we think we understand (e.g.: Hollywood Renaissance film styles) by placing them in another context (e.g.: the psychopathically tight point of view he sets up, as I argue for). This also relates to what you say later, here:

With my examples in the essay to show how the filmmaking badly interprets many scenes, I stand by my analysis. I still don't understand how de-familarizing according to Hollywood styles is in itself important. I think the argument of style more has to do with how one interprets the content. My problems with the content will always keep me at arms length with the style since it is primed to make the film more of an experience, but I think the film has a cloudy logic of what the story is about. Nothing definite to give you an idea, but I guess the weird power of the film carries everything for you.


In one sense I’m surprised to see you resisting the creative impulses of a visionary filmmaker who is challenging convention, because this is something that you yourself often argue is necessary for great film art (and I, on the other hand, might resist); in another sense, I can see why you might, since you also value being able to understand and explain films in relation to existing and established paradigms. Could it be that you’re more open to experimentation when it has already been championed and explained by previous film theorists, rather than when faced by a new example of it that you have to confront alone?

The quote you used for this was a small hope There Will be Blood would be even more unconventional. The film isn't Days of Heaven or McCabe and Mrs. Miller, but it has too many tendencies of both filmmakers. As you said, it takes from known genre uses and spins it its own way. I think the film would have benefited from a more original conception of how to dramatize the action.

But no, I don't need styles that are established ideas within the realm of film theorists. The analogy to Tervanier was example of such.


H.W. setting fire to the shack almost certainly isn’t motivated by what he reads in the diary. Someone intelligently pointed out in the Blood thread that he looks at the diary upside down, which suggests that he can’t even read (as would be highly probable). It’s more likely that it comes from H.W.’s frustrated desire to communicate with the outside world (and his father in particular): he is acting out violently, recklessly – in fact, in a similar way to how the emotional/social cripple Daniel himself will later act out.

Then why did he light fire under Henry's bed? Was he feeling jealousy of Henry for being Daniel's new best friend? Why is it good enough for the film to tie together actions so we can just guess at what the reason is? That's ridiculous.

I make a case in my piece for why the Paul subplot, and many other subplots/ character motivations, etc. might be obfuscated.

Yea, looks like an argument for when I reply to your essay.

OF COURSE the pipeline has significance for the scene: it conveys the essential conflict at the heart of the film: Daniel’s relationship to others and his relationship to his work/capital! The film is continually stylistically powerful and economical in this way: to capture the essence of what a scene is about through camera placement, etc.

I wasn't denying the intentions. I'm just saying it's overly simple. But of course deeper questions about the validity of the style go back to our argument of what is right for the story in the first place.


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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #6 on: April 11, 2008, 06:59:15 PM »
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I understand both Plainview and Eli live in a context, and their status as symbols is certainly present. PTA has said when confronted with this that he's "no dummy", but it's obvious from him and the film itself he's not that concerned with that. He's way more interested in the personality of Plainview than anything else. Eli is explored only to the extent that his doings affect Plainview. He's only fleshed out from the point of view of Plainview. We mostly see him as Plainview sees him. This is nothing new, no breaking of any barriers here, and it's not a mistake or miscalculation from the filmmakers part either.

The problem with Daniel is this....

For most of the film, you understand him in the sense of how a businessman would interact. The deeds and things he does seem caculating and even cruel, but it's what any businessman in his shoes would have done when dealing with the situation of acquiring the Oil rights of a small town. It's a pure staple businessman role. The audience doesn't connect with him personally because he represents power and control. His nice dealings with his son are token moments of good memories.

Then the film begins to separate the businessman in him and start to show the personal side when he deals with the situation of H.W. losing his hearing and his long lost brother coming back. The problem is that his actions still are somewhat alien. the film follows his actions so closely it becomes almost impossible to not empathize with him on a basic level. All films that have little context or characterization to add to a character know to slow down the film and just follow their actions closely because the character's experience will become the audience's, but there is little true understanding of Daniel. 

You say understanding him would make it "explanatory", but that's bogus. Creating an outline of a character is developing emotions and ideas that give him meaning. Explanations happen when films try to give easy answers to explain their ends, but giving no information about who they are is useless. Emotional connection with a character comes in both an intellectual and emotional context. The character has to radiate with some earmarks of personality. Daniel Plainview is a character of mere situations. His son loses his hearing and so he misguidely sends him away. Someone who comes as his brother isn't him so Daniel kills him. Hardly the deepest track to bond with the core of a man.

I believe the film took a realist track with the story and like most stories, the audience became more familiar with the character, no matter how reprehensible he was at the beginning. But basing sympathy on a character because of a few scenes like how he fondly reads his brother's diary and sincerely regrets sending his son away isn't much meat at all. Besides, if the reason of the film is to make someone unexpectedly sympathize with a horrible person, then it's not much of an ambition.

Also, Eli is important because his character has enough scenes separate of Daniel's perspective to be so. If the film wanted to be completely strict about making this from Daniel's perspective, it would have limited Eli to just a few scenes, but it also gave him extra scenes because it knew the finale had to be more than Daniel's perspective. That is why Eli is shown assaulting his father and revealing the first traces of his hyporcrisy. That is why quality time between Eli and H.W. is documented so both characters are given some context. The film tried to make Eli an indepedent character on his own standing.

We all know no one is going to convince you of anything else, of course.

I'll say the same of my position to you guys, but rarely does anyone convince anyone of anything. The point of argument is for each side to make the other side better understanding of any faults of their argument. So far I've just defending my essay so it's been one sided, but the greatness of There Will be Blood should never be expected to be just accepted, especially if you really do believe it.

Also, there is a lot more characterization in Boogie Nights. Not for all the supporting characters, but for all the meaningful ones. Roller Girl has the significance of Daniel's business partner in the film so detailed perspectives about them aren't necessary.

children with angels

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2008, 04:54:11 AM »
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GT, I’m just going to respond to a few points, because it’s abundantly clear that what we’re talking about here is less the film than two conflicting ways of looking at films in general. Rather than argue against the case that I’ve put forward, you’re arguing that my case may very well be true, but that this isn’t a valuable way of appreciating movies. Thus, debating individual moments of the film (while potentially still interesting – I’m afraid I just don’t have the time to go into them all), probably won’t help us better understand where our problems with each others’ positions lie.

I don't buy the legitimacy of the narrow viewpoint argument. If you look at Daniel through a tunnel vortex and put his personal experience as yours, you get an alien character of zero personal resemblance to yourself. The whole point of movies that are tunnel versions of the personal experience is that they speak to your experience.

This is a good example of what I mean: you want the film to make you relate to it, drawing a connection between it and your own personal experiences/ life. This doesn’t at all have to be what art in general does, and is certainly not the ‘whole point of movies that are the tunnel vision of personal experience’. It’s a basically romantic connection that you desire with art (and thus with its authors?) here, and while this can be one way in which a film works, it’s certainly not the only valuable way. Nevertheless, having said that, it’s clear from what Alexandro has said, and from how I feel about Plainview, that the film DOES give us enough to empathise with Daniel, and relate to his experience – it just does it economically (and economy is something that I often greatly value in art).

However, you then go on to say:

The stories are suppose to be experiences of the modern man. Bernard Shaw said that a work of art should only last 100 years, as times change and so do the perspective of people. Daniel represents a dead culture. He represents an old ideal. There is nothing personal to get out of his viewpoint so the whole point of making his experience personal is to find some way to tie it to our perspective.

WHOA! That is a hugely narrow statement you’re making there. ‘The perspective of people’, ‘modern man’, and what constitutes the ‘personal’ or ‘our perspective’ are hugely flawed and exclusionary concepts, and can never truly exist. Because you and I, and Alexandro, and my next-door-neighbour, and a friend I have in France, and a friend I have in Canada, all live in the same period we are expected to share some kind of perspective?! No work of art is ever going to speak to everyone ‘personally’ in the same way: that idea was thrown out of aesthetics over half a decade ago. What you’re asking for is an impossible goal, and it betrays the nature of your assumptions. You essentially don’t like There Will Be Blood because it doesn’t speak to you personally. Because it doesn’t do this, you then construct a critical (romantic) schema that states that it fails to be good. Every point you make is thus in support of this one central fact: that the film didn’t move you, or make you connect with it. Rather than try to understand the film on its own terms (which you say later you refuse to do), you are trying to fit it into a model that it has no interest in, or chance of, achieving. As you say...

I understand I am not criticizing the film for what it is its, but I don't care to. Doing so means I have accepted all the choices of story and content as is. I most definitely have not. The major issues taken with reading your essay (and I will make direct comments on it), i find that you also want to align the film with certain criterias in film history to justify the dominance of style over content

We should always aim to understand and evaluate a film in relation to what it is, and what it attempts to do: otherwise we're fundamentally misrepresenting it. However, I’m not arguing for style over content (God forbid, right?! There are plenty of style-over-content that I love!): I’m arguing for style supporting content. Nevertheless, I AM arguing that one of the things that makes this film (or any other) great is how the film’s form communicates and carries the film’s meanings. I am equally interested in the ‘how’ as in the ‘what’. If all you’re interested in is the ‘what’ then you aren’t engaging with what makes cinema cinema: you might as well be talking about a novel, or an unproduced screenplay. I know that you’re not entirely uninterested in style, but I would argue that if you’re really interested in cinema as an artform you should consider ‘form’ to be as important – if not more important – than ‘content’, because if content (i.e.: what a film ‘says’) is your main concern, then you could just as well be talking about any artform.

But basing sympathy on a character because of a few scenes like how he fondly reads his brother's diary and sincerely regrets sending his son away isn't much meat at all. Besides, if the reason of the film is to make someone unexpectedly sympathize with a horrible person, then it's not much of an ambition.

This again relates to economy. Although the film denies us much access to Plainview’s psychology or history, we are given enough hints to begin to construct a picture of sorts of him. That it is narrow and incomplete is one of the fascinating things about the movie, but that it is there is undeniable: it just happened not to speak to you and your life personally, so you disregard it. One thing that neither of us have touched on yet is DDL’s performance: through the nuances of his body, eyes, voice we get a lot of hints about Daniel. The brothel scene, for example: he is simultaneously angry and completely paralysed, almost fearful, here – a combination that bespeaks something very wrong with how he relates to women and sexuality. This is also communicated to us through the tight framing and blurred background that I talk about in my piece. I would much rather be given the chance to extrapolate from a condensed moment such as this than have a scene in which we get a more detailed account of this part of his life. This is because feature films – because of the nature of their length, etc – are an artform that have to be able to communicate quickly and economically, hinting rather than explaining: showing rather than telling. And again, I would argue that much of the ‘meat’ comes from the way the story is told: the narrow point of view is making us feel and understand Plainview’s view of the world continually.

Basically, you seem to want two things from this film: either for it to relate directly to your life, or for it to give a historical portrait of a time and a way of thinking. For me, it happens to do both those things to an extent, but neither are necessary for this film – or any film - to be good.

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2008, 06:30:48 PM »
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A great moment not to be missed, even if you aren't going to read the whole thread:


We should always aim to understand and evaluate a film in relation to what it is, and what it attempts to do: otherwise we're fundamentally misrepresenting it. However, I’m not arguing for style over content (God forbid, right?! There are plenty of style-over-content that I love!): I’m arguing for style supporting content. Nevertheless, I AM arguing that one of the things that makes this film (or any other) great is how the film’s form communicates and carries the film’s meanings. I am equally interested in the ‘how’ as in the ‘what’. If all you’re interested in is the ‘what’ then you aren’t engaging with what makes cinema cinema: you might as well be talking about a novel, or an unproduced screenplay. I know that you’re not entirely uninterested in style, but I would argue that if you’re really interested in cinema as an artform you should consider ‘form’ to be as important – if not more important – than ‘content’, because if content (i.e.: what a film ‘says’) is your main concern, then you could just as well be talking about any artform.

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2008, 07:07:32 PM »
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i've read this whole thread as well as the other one and i'm continually impressed with children w/ angels' analysis of the film. Really a great read everyone should be following along.
“The myth by no means finds its adequate objectification in the spoken word. The structure of the scenes and the visible imagery reveal a deeper wisdom than the poet himself is able to put into words and concepts” – Friedrich Nietzsche

SiliasRuby

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #10 on: April 15, 2008, 11:20:49 PM »
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A great moment not to be missed, even if you aren't going to read the whole thread:


We should always aim to understand and evaluate a film in relation to what it is, and what it attempts to do: otherwise we're fundamentally misrepresenting it. However, I’m not arguing for style over content (God forbid, right?! There are plenty of style-over-content that I love!): I’m arguing for style supporting content. Nevertheless, I AM arguing that one of the things that makes this film (or any other) great is how the film’s form communicates and carries the film’s meanings. I am equally interested in the ‘how’ as in the ‘what’. If all you’re interested in is the ‘what’ then you aren’t engaging with what makes cinema cinema: you might as well be talking about a novel, or an unproduced screenplay. I know that you’re not entirely uninterested in style, but I would argue that if you’re really interested in cinema as an artform you should consider ‘form’ to be as important – if not more important – than ‘content’, because if content (i.e.: what a film ‘says’) is your main concern, then you could just as well be talking about any artform.

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2008, 10:41:47 AM »
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This is a good example of what I mean: you want the film to make you relate to it, drawing a connection between it and your own personal experiences/ life. This doesn’t at all have to be what art in general does, and is certainly not the ‘whole point of movies that are the tunnel vision of personal experience’. It’s a basically romantic connection that you desire with art (and thus with its authors?) here, and while this can be one way in which a film works, it’s certainly not the only valuable way. Nevertheless, having said that, it’s clear from what Alexandro has said, and from how I feel about Plainview, that the film DOES give us enough to empathise with Daniel, and relate to his experience – it just does it economically (and economy is something that I often greatly value in art).

It's not my idea of a romantic connection at all. Art should symbolize inner feelings one can have. You can even symbolize inner feelings with the most gruesome of characters because we all have the capabilities of extremes. If you don't represent the personal capabilities, then you have to explore the cultural significance. People want to interpret Daniel as a personal character, but I don't see it. His characterization is closer to a mythic monster. When PTA made the Nosferatu comparisons to Daniel, he wasn't far off. Nosferatu is a cultural symbol of a monster. Daniel does represent an old idea of a monster himself. PTA tries to extend the interpretation of Daniel to relate to personal interpretation, but he is dealing with a character who has greater symbolism for his cultural implication. I still believe the most context his characterization has is with his old idea of aristocracy and the personal belief that he is above others for his inner greatness, but it seems most people want to interpret the film on vague ideas of experience and closeness to Daniel.

WHOA! That is a hugely narrow statement you’re making there. ‘The perspective of people’, ‘modern man’, and what constitutes the ‘personal’ or ‘our perspective’ are hugely flawed and exclusionary concepts, and can never truly exist. Because you and I, and Alexandro, and my next-door-neighbour, and a friend I have in France, and a friend I have in Canada, all live in the same period we are expected to share some kind of perspective?! No work of art is ever going to speak to everyone ‘personally’ in the same way: that idea was thrown out of aesthetics over half a decade ago. What you’re asking for is an impossible goal, and it betrays the nature of your assumptions. You essentially don’t like There Will Be Blood because it doesn’t speak to you personally. Because it doesn’t do this, you then construct a critical (romantic) schema that states that it fails to be good. Every point you make is thus in support of this one central fact: that the film didn’t move you, or make you connect with it. Rather than try to understand the film on its own terms (which you say later you refuse to do), you are trying to fit it into a model that it has no interest in, or chance of, achieving. As you say...

Wow, that was a simplification and completely misguided reaction, filled with insane assumptions.

No, I don't need to JUST personally relate a film to be able to like it. That's ridiculous. I also don't believe it has to relate to my experiences! You essentially say that when you assume I would disqualify any film that isn't about me, when of course films from other cultures and other time periods have been made. Do you really believe I believe that when that essentially would disqualify me from liking almost every film ever made? And if you want to over analyze my last paragraph, I'll stop you by saying those comments relate to very basic feelings all humans have. You made the analogy how my feelings can't be the same as your friends across the world. That has to relate to experience, not basic feelings.

The point of the 100 year comment is that a work of art has to come with a context or focus that aligns it to either place and time in which it was made. It also can deal with theoretical ideas of the time period. After a hundred years those things start to become irrelevant or too dusty to be understood. If a film made about a time period before that it has to place context on all of the characterizations.  My major point is that There Will be Blood is a historical film, but it is too ignorant on a lot of the illusions it makes. Daniel makes many nods to the deeper beliefs he has but the film chooses to represent none of it though it is plainly obvious what it is about. The film tries to get off on the velocity of the actions within the film to answer for the lack of context.

We should always aim to understand and evaluate a film in relation to what it is, and what it attempts to do: otherwise we're fundamentally misrepresenting it. However, I’m not arguing for style over content (God forbid, right?! There are plenty of style-over-content that I love!): I’m arguing for style supporting content. Nevertheless, I AM arguing that one of the things that makes this film (or any other) great is how the film’s form communicates and carries the film’s meanings. I am equally interested in the ‘how’ as in the ‘what’. If all you’re interested in is the ‘what’ then you aren’t engaging with what makes cinema cinema: you might as well be talking about a novel, or an unproduced screenplay. I know that you’re not entirely uninterested in style, but I would argue that if you’re really interested in cinema as an artform you should consider ‘form’ to be as important – if not more important – than ‘content’, because if content (i.e.: what a film ‘says’) is your main concern, then you could just as well be talking about any artform.

Content and style are equal in my book, but that goes with specifications. Content for me has nothing to do with with the best that a bad genre has to offer. A film has to have the thought of filmic structure with the insight of great intellectual ideas. As far as I'm concerned, genre is too widely accepted within film studies. It doesn't mean I'm not unwilling to learn from genre studies, but it is a sincere disagreement. When we had the conversation about Vertigo and Persona, I felt you were not making comment about film art but about the importance of studying a national phenemonen in the significance of genre. It makes me focus on what a film is about before I dig into the questions in how it is important, but I'm not the only one who has done that. Other film theorists like Parker Tyler and others were also more concerned with it. In Film Studies there is no right and wrong.

You might say you believe content and style are equal as far as There Will be Blood is concerned, but I'm trying to point out how the content is severely lacking in the film. The most discussion I've heard from the opposite side has to deal with mainly the style. The content is rationalized with old examples of other films it doesn't deserve comparison to.

This again relates to economy. Although the film denies us much access to Plainview’s psychology or history, we are given enough hints to begin to construct a picture of sorts of him. That it is narrow and incomplete is one of the fascinating things about the movie, but that it is there is undeniable: it just happened not to speak to you and your life personally, so you disregard it. One thing that neither of us have touched on yet is DDL’s performance: through the nuances of his body, eyes, voice we get a lot of hints about Daniel. The brothel scene, for example: he is simultaneously angry and completely paralysed, almost fearful, here – a combination that bespeaks something very wrong with how he relates to women and sexuality. This is also communicated to us through the tight framing and blurred background that I talk about in my piece. I would much rather be given the chance to extrapolate from a condensed moment such as this than have a scene in which we get a more detailed account of this part of his life. This is because feature films – because of the nature of their length, etc – are an artform that have to be able to communicate quickly and economically, hinting rather than explaining: showing rather than telling. And again, I would argue that much of the ‘meat’ comes from the way the story is told: the narrow point of view is making us feel and understand Plainview’s view of the world continually.

First I'll say "ridiculous" to what I highlighted in bold. It's true in basics but doesn't cover the extent of my argument at all. A gross over simplification. Second, I'll remind you I'm not looking for an explanation of Daniel Plainview. Alexandro tried to pigeonhole me there as well when I asked for context to his characterization. I'm not looking for that. Everything you just said is description to the detail that defines a scenes. Yes, a character needs to exist within the details of a scene and have the smallest elements speak to his characterization, but....

He needs something of an outline beforehand. He needs a identity to relate to. The film makes suspicious references to his own beliefs but shows no characterization at all to make us understand it better. I doubt I am the only person who assumed he believed his own personal greatness the way others have over time, but the film tries to shape and define him through vague actions and events. Eli Sunday has a total cultural context but Daniel has absolutely none. And yes, I do believe Eli is a more important character than you suggest.

You also say the film is about his actions and not explanations, but a lot of understanding about him does come from explanations anyways. When he meets his suppossed brother, much of the understanding of Daniel comes from Daniel explaining himself to his brother. He voices opinions of himself and his disgust for others. He even goes back into memories of Wisconsin. You can say his ideas of himself are elusive and not grounded in firm context, but he does pigeonhole himself when he blank face says he sees the worst in others. It can be used as an explanation for most of his actions through out of the film. It discards the importance of nuance to the action.

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2008, 12:16:28 PM »
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You say understanding him would make it "explanatory", but that's bogus. Creating an outline of a character is developing emotions and ideas that give him meaning. Explanations happen when films try to give easy answers to explain their ends, but giving no information about who they are is useless. Emotional connection with a character comes in both an intellectual and emotional context. The character has to radiate with some earmarks of personality. Daniel Plainview is a character of mere situations. His son loses his hearing and so he misguidely sends him away. Someone who comes as his brother isn't him so Daniel kills him. Hardly the deepest track to bond with the core of a man.

So. We've only morsels to go on when trying get to the core of Daniel Plainview and what core there is to get to is diminishing with every minute of the films runtime. The slight sense of guilt or remorse evident when he sends H.W. (the one character he has any kind of relationship with, a child) away is completely extinguished by the time he disowns him. What little sense of relief he feels with his brothers arrival is destroyed by an imposter and his opinion of humanity is further vindicated. Is there a core to get to or is it just pretty simple?

For such a monstrous performance there is actually a pretty delicate balance to the onscreen characterisation that we are lucky to have the nuggets we do. When I first saw the flashback towards the end of the film, where H.W is playing with Daniel's hat I was expecting to see something that would resonate with me but instead there was nothing. I still can't get to the core of that flashback but I'm starting to feel its importance. You don't lightly introduce something as jarring as flashback, in a film like TWBB and at a moment like that without some serious consideration.

...so I just went and looked at it and firstly there are two blinks (yes this is what I mean by a delicate balance to the onscreen performance) which make me wonder whether the 'moment' preceding the flashback may have been strictly choreographed. There is something about the deliberate framing of the flashback itself that makes it  seem like it was filmed for  a purpose (the wide, to the 2 shot of HW and Daniel, followed by Daniel walking off to the drill). Furthermore there is a jump cut in the middle of the shot a split second before it seems like Daniel is about to spank H.W (look at how Daniels mood suddenly changes from seemingly playful to angry in the last two or three frames preceeding the cut). Is it no coincidence that Mary "Daddy does hit you anymore, does he?" Sunday is present. It could just be a talented steadicam operator and a loose bit of improvisation that needed a cut to save time

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #13 on: April 25, 2008, 02:07:19 PM »
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So. We've only morsels to go on when trying get to the core of Daniel Plainview and what core there is to get to is diminishing with every minute of the films runtime. The slight sense of guilt or remorse evident when he sends H.W. (the one character he has any kind of relationship with, a child) away is completely extinguished by the time he disowns him. What little sense of relief he feels with his brothers arrival is destroyed by an imposter and his opinion of humanity is further vindicated. Is there a core to get to or is it just pretty simple?

It's still pretty simple. At the beginning we understand Daniel is driven by egotistical motives to conquer all as a businessmen. We also understand he was actively exploiting H.W. to promote his business efforts. H.W. was never his son and Daniel never felt compelled to tell him until the very end. It also seems Daniel never felt sympathy to tell his illegitimate son the truth before that. We also learn he left Wisconsin with little idea of returning or keeping in contact with his family. As his supposed brother proves, he still has family back there.

With the situations that happen in There Will be Blood, we understand Daniel does feel remorse over these subjects. That's it. We don't understand how he came to legitimize the years of lying to H.W. and also how he felt zero need to keep in contact with his family over the years even though he does believe in the great importance of his bloodline. The dramatic events in There Will be Blood just beg more questions, but they aren't even good ambigious questions because we have zero evidence to really guess much of anything besides the fact he believes in personal aristocracy to the point he only believes in his self importance.

A much more interesting portrait of Daniel could have been painted besides rendering his character with dull nuances that put him in standard dramatic situations to get standard emotional reactions. There could have been deeper questions about the nature of his character.

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Re: A Bloody Mess
« Reply #14 on: May 21, 2008, 07:17:17 AM »
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Sorry for the big delay in replying, GT. I’ve been really busy lately, and to be honest Xixax is way down my list of priorities at present. You do deserve a response for all the time you’ve spent formulating replies, but I’m afraid I’m not going to go into detail here on every individual point about the film that we disagree on. That would take forever, and would cause the debate to spiral out in a million different directions, probably with little valuable argumentation actually getting done as a result.

Instead, I want to return again to a main difference I see between the way we look at films in general – the question of form and content. I want to do this both because hopefully this will make it a little clearer why and how I value There Will Be Blood, and also because I think it would be a more useful and interesting thing to argue about than our personal interpretations of individual scenes or characters…

Before I get into my main point, though, I just want to touch briefly on one thing that again relates to the basic way we look at films: You say that your particular method of appreciation of films isn’t romantic, and then you immediately come out with this:

Art should symbolize inner feelings one can have.

This is one of the most succinct summaries of romanticism’s aesthetic dictates that I’ve ever come across. Of course I’m not saying that films have to be about YOU in order for you to like them (as you suggest I argued), but this comment just confirms that the critical schema you’re operating on is a romantic one that demands that art moves you and lets you relate to it personally. That in itself is cool I guess, but by the same token that schema also states (as you do later) that great art is universal, and should be able to move everyone, because feelings are above and beyond culture and ideology:

those comments relate to very basic feelings all humans have. You made the analogy how my feelings can't be the same as your friends across the world. That has to relate to experience, not basic feelings.

This conception of feelings (and their stimulus in art) as being asocial and apolitical just flat out isn’t true, I think, but it’s not the main thing I want to talk about – it’s just indicative again of how different our points of view on art are.

The main thing I want to discuss can be basically encapsulated by this sentence from the other thread:

Interpreting standard business scenes from the camera angles is probably looking too much into what is just a lot of standard scenes.


You have consistently objected to the fact that the only thing people have been able to praise in There Will Be Blood (myself included) is its ‘form’, not its ‘content’, and your entire argument basically stems from your belief that its ‘content’ isn’t actually very impressive.

You essentially separate ‘form’ and ‘content’ as different considerations by implicitly suggesting that ‘content’ is something you start with (the script, presumably? In fact, many of your problems with the film might be said to in fact be problems with the script), and that this alone is what provides the themes, the characterizations, the “great intellectual ideas” you crave. Then, your way of thinking implies, ‘form’ is just placed on top of it, and must try to do its best to communicate what is already there in the ‘content’, and that – if what is there isn’t up to scratch – then nothing in the ‘form’ can make it a good film. As you say:

Content and style are equal in my book, but that goes with specifications. […]

You might say you believe content and style are equal as far as There Will be Blood is concerned, but I'm trying to point out how the content is severely lacking in the film.

I on the other hand would actually now like to go further than my previous comments about how closely linked ‘form’ and ‘content’ should be considered to be, and suggest that in a film, form IS content.

Obviously, the only way we have access to a film is through how it has been made – that means how it’s shot, framed, cut, lit, and everything else that usually constitutes ‘form’. In fact, all that we are experiencing when we watch a film is the result of ‘form’, and everything that we might be tempted to call ‘content’ is only communicated to us THROUGH form, so how can we possibly separate the two?

You object above that I’m overinterpreting a “standard scene” by understanding it to a great extent through its camera angles – and that this constitutes privileging form over content. But I would counter that there IS no scene without the camera angles. For one thing, since we would not see the scene in the first place had it not been filmed (that is: it wouldn’t exist as a scene at all), we absolutely have to look at HOW it was filmed to account for our experience of the scene. Next, the camera angles are a major part of what makes that scene THAT scene, and to look at them separately, as if they are somehow tacked-on and irrelevant to the meaning of the scene and how we understand it, is thus nonsensical. A scene is equal parts camera placement/ movement as it is dialogue, staging, acting, décor, sound, lighting – everything. All these things are what make a film a film, and where we get a huge part of our meaning of the film from.

I looked in detail at the camera set-ups and framings of a number of scenes in the film because it is in large part through these things that There Will Be Blood (and any other film) actually MAKES its meanings, not just COMMUNICATES the meanings that already exist in the script. That is why I bring up the nuances of Day Lewis’ performance in the brothel scene, or the framing of the pipeline in the scene when H.W. returns, or the consistent marginalizing of the social world into the background. Equally, it is why I give so much importance to the elisions and ambiguities in the storytelling. These ‘formal’ elements are at LEAST half of the way it creates its ‘content’ – and the rest of the ‘content’ (inherent in the script) is only able to communicated to us through these devices.  If all we want to talk about is what is in the script, then we should be ‘script fans’ or ‘script critics’ – but we’re not: we’re film fans and film critics, and that means appreciating the fact that films create their significance – and acquire their value – (and indeed ARE films) because of how they are made, not how they are written.

You say that:

The fact that Daniel says the things about himself later that he does hate people separates him, but it's one of the very few actions that distinguishes the personal Daniel from the businessman. The film shouldn't be reliant on pieces of dialogue to distinguish the animosity he feels from his ability to glad hand local citizens.

You’re right that a film shouldn’t just rely on dialogue to communicate its meanings – and There Will Be Blood doesn’t: it does it through the narrow point of view it establishes via its narrative and narration, and through its camera angles, framings, movements, not to mention its music, its acting – everything that you might call elements of its ‘form’, but which is in fact in equal parts its content. You say later that to have Daniel flat out say that he hates people is a lazy way to get across that meaning, and if it was the only way that this is done then I might agree, but it isn’t; as my entire essay is dedicated to showing, it is doing this (and many other things that I haven’t had time to go into) in a multitude of other (non script-related) ways throughout.

In a chapter called “’How’ is ‘What’” in his brilliant book Film as Film, Victor Perkins says that:

“Asserted meanings cannot be ignored; but equally they should not be overvalued. What matters is the extent to which these bold statements are refined by the pattern of detail built over and around them. In any [good film] we find subtlety and complexity not (where it’s nonsensical to look for them) in the initial scheme, but in the organization of details whose relationships simultaneously complicate and clarify the movie’s viewpoint. At this level of coherence significance is locked into the picture’s form. […..] Synthesis, where there is no distinction between how and what, content and form, is what interests us if we are interested in film as film.”

This is a perfect description of what happens in There Will Be Blood: the ‘asserted meaning’ that Daniel hates people is refined in many ways: by the ironies that this creates with the position of social reformer we have seen him enact previously, with what this then means for his relationship with the social world around him, and through the complex way the story has been told 'formally'. You also say elsewhere that the film should have started making itself about Plainview’s isolation and misanthropy earlier than it does:

Most of his dealings with the townsfolk are too business ordinary to be self reflective of him. The film could speak more about his personal isolation if it decided to devote more study to his deeper conflicts from the outset, but it does not.

But my point is that it already HAS done this through its construction. The “pattern of detail’ of all the things I've been pointing out in its 'form', and more, is what makes this film THIS film, and it is this that we must assess if we are to assess the film AS a film. I felt that there was something very strange and very wrong going on with this character long before he came out and announced it later on, and – looking back – I can plainly see why this was and what it was, and can see the intricateness and the richness with which this was already being communicated. This is what makes the business scenes more than just ‘standard scenes’, because they are not just what is written, but also what is filmed, and what is filmed is telling us a great deal more than you allow for. Each scene creates its significance, and its meanings, and its themes, in many more ways than are accounted for by the words on a page from which they grew. And, as I have repeated now ad nauseam, what these 'formal' properties create is not in fact just ‘style’, but the very content of the film itself.

There Will Be Blood’s characterizations, its themes and its intellectual properties (what you might call its ‘content’ – all the things you say you want from it) are all intimately wrapped up with its form – as is the case with all films, or at the very least all good films. We should thus look to its 'form' to determine its full significance, its richness, and its value. The fact that it repays such scrutiny, that its ‘form’ holds such rich ‘content’, is what makes it, for me, a great film.
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