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The Outtake Short Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

– by David Morgan-Brown

The new Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice, has recently been released on DVD and Blu-Ray here in Perth and it’s worth picking up, or maybe just renting if your local video store happens to still exist. The film may be available on one of the many movie-streaming services we have now, but what about the special features, namely the outtakes reel? For a number of DVD releases for Paul Thomas Anderson films, the deleted scenes segment is a bit more than what you usually get with these excised scenes. Rather than simply have them play one after the other (in a quality much less than that of the film), Anderson himself seems to assemble certain deleted scenes into one, semi-coherent short film.

On the Inherent Vice DVDs and Blu-Rays is one of these shorts named Everything in this Dream (pictured above), a five minute collection of outtakes and unused shots from the film, featuring mostly narration that I assume is taken verbatim from the Thomas Pynchon novel the film was based on. It’s a rambly short that, within its obscurity, makes a comment on the death of ‘60s idealism as the ‘70s came in, making this little interesting short very comparable to the unfocused nature of the feature film.

This was also done with Anderson’s previous film, The Master, but to a lengthier extent. Back Beyond (pictured right) is a less cluttered and slightly more back beyondstraight-forward short film that explores the part of the film where the L. Ron Hubbard-esque Lancaster Dodd unearths (literally) his new book in preparation to sell it, but rumour has it that “twelve people read it. Six committed suicide, four disappeared”. This adds to the humour that was present in this satirical film, and also brings up the rather serious question “can books kill people?” (which brings up a far more clichéd question). Back Beyond ends with the sort of outtake we may’ve seen before, Joaquin Phoenix and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffmann continuously effing up what’s supposed to be a simple take, causing the whole crew on set (and the viewer) to crack up.

vlcsnap-2015-07-20-17h52m33s879 Starting with the beginning of this odyssey of these shorts is the best of the bunch, Blossoms and Blood (pictured left). With bits and bobs taken from the rom-com Punch-Drunk Love (that is unlike any rom-com I’ve ever seen), shots and alternative shots have been taken from the film and revised in a much shorter, more vague, more experimental little love story. What really excels this piece of work is the art-work by Jeremy Blake, which was briefly glanced at at times in the feature film to convey the main character’s erratic and love-sick inner emotions. But they are more pronounced in this short, taking one of the key shots from the film (simply showing the couple holding hands) and with the power of Blake’s art-work supporting it, make it all the more endearing.

Outtakes from the scenes used in these films are something the viewers can find familiar, yet with different dialogue or different circumstances (not seen in the film) give these shorts a strange other-worldly feeling if you’d already seen the film. Combine these scenes with ones not seen at all in the films make this familiarity even more unusual, especially with the film’s score (and its own outtakes) laid over the top.

This goes to show that even with the unused remnants of a Paul Thomas Anderson film, you can put together a short film better than most of the ones out there. Anderson’s audacious and often abrasive blend of startling visuals and menacingly underlying music can become so chaotic and borderline avant garde, and this filmic sensibility of his is explored further in these shorts, giving us more than a glimpse into the slightly tangential areas of his wonderfully warped mind.

 

Picture credit: Everything in This Dream, Back Beyond, Blossoms & Blood

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