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Esquire article on PTA

Marty McSuperfly · 7 · 2678

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Marty McSuperfly

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on: September 17, 2008, 11:37:56 AM
From: Patrick Goldstein's Big picture blog

Who knew that in high school, Paul Thomas Anderson was president -- and for all we know the only member within hundreds of miles -- of the Yoko Ono Fan Club? That's just one of the tantalizing nuggets John Richardson unearths in a nice bit of journalistic sleuthing in the new October special 75th-anniversary issue of Esquire magazine. Though the magazine's glory days are long gone, it's still good for the occasional surprise -- and this is one. For years, Anderson has largely been mum about his youthful days growing up in the San Fernando Valley, where his father, Ernie Anderson, was a successful voice-over artist whose circle of friends included TV comedians Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. (Even Anderson's Wikipedia entry has next to nothing on his childhood years.) Early on, Anderson discovered his dad's cache of pornography, which apparently helped inspire an interest in the porn world that came to fruition in "Boogie Nights," PT's breakthrough 1997 film.

Esquire doesn't  have a link up to the story yet, so let me offer a few highlights, culled from Richardson's interviews with old Anderson friends and teachers, which offer an intriguing portrait of an enigmatic but wildly ambitious artist as a young man. Most of Anderson's pals speak freely, since the filmmaker has largely severed relations with all his old friends. The most telling remark of all comes from Carole Stevens, a former teacher, who recalls sending word to her prize pupil that she'd love to see him after "Magnolia" had been released. She says the answer came back, "Paul doesn't go back."

Richardson doesn't exactly figure out what sparked Anderson's intense creative drive, although he makes it clear that Anderson had huge conflicts with his mother, who doesn't come off well in a thinly disguised role as Dirk Diggler's mother in "Boogie Nights." Anderson was movie obsessed from an early age, using an early Betamax video camera his father gave him to tape anyone and everyone. He bounced around from one private school to another, attending Buckley, John Thomas Dye and Campbell Hall before ending up at Montclair Prep. He was an indifferent student, always ducking out of school to run off to make movies with his pals.

His schoolboy films included a "Miami Vice" parody called "Brock Landers" (the name he gave Mark Wahlberg's porn detective in "Boogie Nights"), a "Terminator" parody called "The Legend of Garth," a mockumentary called "The Spastic Olympics," and "The Dirk Diggler Story," an obvious prototype for "Boogie Nights" that he shot when he was barely 17, using his father's voice-over talents and a borrowed steadicam. His friends recall that Anderson religiously read the trade papers and always figured out a way to sneak onto studio lots. Through his friends, who included Robert Conrad's son, Shane, he made enough contacts to land crew and production assistant jobs working for everyone from Peter Guber to Alan Parker, who'd just done "The Commitments."

There's tons more great color and anecdotes in the piece, but for me, the story is a great reminder that showbiz success is always a combination of both genuine talent and unbridled hustle. It's uncanny how reminiscent Anderson's get-ahead strivings are of the young Steven Spielberg, who also made amateur movies with his boyhood friends and conned his way onto the Universal lot as a teenager, using a janitor's closet as his office. No anecdote better captures Anderson's mad desire to succeed than the one in which he crashes an event at USC film school and pursues Parker, desperate to give him a video of his "Dirk Diggler" short.

As Parker recalls: "As I pulled away, I could see in my mirror a young man chasing after me, waving a videotape. He ran alongside, banging at the window. I stopped, wound down the window and he thrust the videotape through the window, saying he'd made a short film and really wanted me to look at it. ... I looked at it and thought it was quite brilliant." Of course, the fringes of Hollywood are full of thousands of crazed-with-ambition young filmmakers, all with a short film under their arm (or nowadays, up on YouTube), but as this story nicely captures, every once in a great while, one of them actually turns out to be brilliant.

Does anyone have any scans of this article?


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Reply #1 on: September 17, 2008, 04:57:52 PM
I bought a copy of Esquire yesterday and am trying to scan it.  It has interesting stuff about PTA, and I know that most people want to literally know as much as possible about him, even the mundane stuff from his childhood/teenage years.  I thought the article was pretty sad though, talking about how his old friends were left confused and hurt that PTA never tried to contact them again once he made it into the business, even his best friend from high school who he used to make mock films with.  I guess once you go from being seen as a loser who can barely finish high school to a world-renowned auteur that it might be hard to go back and revisit your old life, but yeah, still pretty sad.  Really wish that the article atleast had a small interview or maybe some news of what he's doing next, though...


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Reply #2 on: September 17, 2008, 11:26:38 PM
he may be through with the past.


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Reply #3 on: September 18, 2008, 01:33:58 AM
but the past is not through with him.

Marty McSuperfly

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Reply #4 on: September 18, 2008, 04:30:10 AM
I got my hands on a PDF of the article but have no way of posting it. I've forwarded it to Cigarettes and Red Vines, so hopefully they'll post it in the next day or two.

It's a bit disappointing really. Some nice colour about his early film-making and school days, but it barely touches upon his relationship with his mother and what exactly when down between them. 

Yeah, I know that's a bit private, but his "mom issues" are so apparent in his film-making I really wish he's open up about it a bit more.

Maybe he's saving it for the autobiography...


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Reply #5 on: September 19, 2008, 06:14:30 PM
Seemed like a pretty cool dude when he was younger.  I could definitely see how Burt Reynolds character could be modeled after his father.  Even if he was well off, he had to hustle the shit out of whatever he could.  So...what's his next project? 
"look hard at what pleases you and even harder at what doesn't" ~ carolyn forche


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Reply #6 on: September 23, 2008, 06:08:49 AM