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Sight & Sound February 2018 Sight & Sound February 2018

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Paul Thomas Anderson on Daniel Day Lewis and their extraordinary London gothic romance Phantom Thread. Plus the making of Nick Park’s Early Man, Alexander Payne on his eco fantasia Downsizing, Steven Spielberg’s The Post and the crusading political drama, and Ingmar Bergman’s Faith Trilogy in our age of uncertainty. Paul Thomas Anderson on Daniel Day Lewis and their extraordinary London gothic romance Phantom Thread. Plus the making of Nick Park’s Early Man, Alexander Payne on his eco fantasia Downsizing, Steven Spielberg’s The Post and the crusading political drama, and Ingmar Bergman’s Faith Trilogy in our age of uncertainty.
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In our February issue we sit down with one of the major directors in the world today, Paul Thomas Anderson, to discuss his brilliant and characteristically singular eighth feature Phantom Thread, which draws from the deep well of the gothic romance to tell a tale of the tainted love between an obsessively exacting couturier and a young woman who refuses to be simply another disposable muse, set amid the sumptuous world of high-end fashion and polite society in 1950s London. Anderson talks to James Bell about the attractions of working in the gothic romance mode, his love of mid-century British filmmakers such as David Lean and Michael Powell, the challenges of navigating the complex rules of the English class system, and about the experience of working with Daniel Day-Lewis on what the actor says will be his last film.

If Anderson’s film finds the rigid codes of English society to be perfect terrain for the explosive secrets and dark passions of the gothic romance, Nick Park’s Aardman Studios have instead always found the foibles of British life and culture ripe for gentle mockery, something they look to continue to do in their latest feature, Early Man, in which a group of cavemen cut off in a remote village are forced to challenge their Bronze Age invaders to a football match to win back their freedom. Nick Bradshaw visits the Aardman’s Bristol studios to see the painstaking work that goes into making an Aardman animation, and speaks to Nick Park about the influence of Ray Harryhausen in creating the film’s prehistoric world, working with Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne, and spotting the gap in the market for the underdog prehistoric sports movie.

Also working in miniature is Alexander Payne, who has been working up his Lilliputian parable Downsizing since the days of his Sideways in 2004 – and more pertinently George W. Bush’s re-election as US president. “We waited so damn long, but now, with Trump in power, there are certain images in the film that have more potency than they might… None of the elements of the film is new, but a couple of them, particularly the idea of Mexicans living behind a wall, have a certain resonance that they might not have had previously,” he tells Philip Horne, in a discussion that covers political injustice and satire, different depths of irony and his regrets around the film.

More on the nose is Steven Spielberg’s The Post, a rousing replay of how Daniel Ellsberg and the Washington Post broke the Pentagon Papers story that proved US government duplicity and illegality in the waging of the Vietnam War, starring (inter alia) Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradley and Meryl Streep as his publisher Katharine Graham. “What could be more pungent, more magnifying, in this our bloodshot year of caveman power grabs, alternative facts and renewed media relevance,” asks Michael Atkinson? Except – for all our rich lineage of muckraking newspaper films and true-life political exposés, how much has the awareness and outrage they inspire actually changed anything, asks Atkinson? “Is Spielberg’s emphatic visual palette and swelling music and inspiration cant ironically intended? Or is the film just as naive as we all were those many decades ago, thinking that publishing something in the newspaper would change the abuses of state power all by itself, instead of needing us to understand and then to act on the information as a citizenry?”

Moving from the secular and profane to a doubt more sacred, we revisit the spiritually wracked cinema of Sweden’s master melancholiac Ingmar Bergman, whose star has waned since the days when, as Leslie Mallory wrote in 1958, “You can get tickets for My Fair Lady more easily than for the summer-long season of Bergman’s films now running at the National Film Theatre.” As Catherine Wheatley follows up, “It’s hard  to imagine that the forthcoming BFI Season marking bargeman’s centenary will be outselling Hamilton; still, it’s possible that contemporary audiences might find a poignancy in Bergman’s idiosyncratic brand of existentialism, and in particular its concern with what to believe in after the death of God.” Comparing at Bergman’s sometime-mocked Faith Trilogy – Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence – and its implacable turn towards the “metaphysical fallout of the end of Western values” with a renewed sense of cultural anxiety about our loss of connection, meaning and purpose, Wheatley proposes that “with the age of irony withering”, perhaps Bergman’s earnestness might have a renewed resonance.

In our February issue we sit down with one of the major directors in the world today, Paul Thomas Anderson, to discuss his brilliant and characteristically singular eighth feature Phantom Thread, which draws from the deep well of the gothic romance to tell a tale of the tainted love between an obsessively exacting couturier and a young woman who refuses to be simply another disposable muse, set amid the sumptuous world of high-end fashion and polite society in 1950s London. Anderson talks to James Bell about the attractions of working in the gothic romance mode, his love of mid-century British filmmakers such as David Lean and Michael Powell, the challenges of navigating the complex rules of the English class system, and about the experience of working with Daniel Day-Lewis on what the actor says will be his last film.

If Anderson’s film finds the rigid codes of English society to be perfect terrain for the explosive secrets and dark passions of the gothic romance, Nick Park’s Aardman Studios have instead always found the foibles of British life and culture ripe for gentle mockery, something they look to continue to do in their latest feature, Early Man, in which a group of cavemen cut off in a remote village are forced to challenge their Bronze Age invaders to a football match to win back their freedom. Nick Bradshaw visits the Aardman’s Bristol studios to see the painstaking work that goes into making an Aardman animation, and speaks to Nick Park about the influence of Ray Harryhausen in creating the film’s prehistoric world, working with Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne, and spotting the gap in the market for the underdog prehistoric sports movie.

Also working in miniature is Alexander Payne, who has been working up his Lilliputian parable Downsizing since the days of his Sideways in 2004 – and more pertinently George W. Bush’s re-election as US president. “We waited so damn long, but now, with Trump in power, there are certain images in the film that have more potency than they might… None of the elements of the film is new, but a couple of them, particularly the idea of Mexicans living behind a wall, have a certain resonance that they might not have had previously,” he tells Philip Horne, in a discussion that covers political injustice and satire, different depths of irony and his regrets around the film.

More on the nose is Steven Spielberg’s The Post, a rousing replay of how Daniel Ellsberg and the Washington Post broke the Pentagon Papers story that proved US government duplicity and illegality in the waging of the Vietnam War, starring (inter alia) Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradley and Meryl Streep as his publisher Katharine Graham. “What could be more pungent, more magnifying, in this our bloodshot year of caveman power grabs, alternative facts and renewed media relevance,” asks Michael Atkinson? Except – for all our rich lineage of muckraking newspaper films and true-life political exposés, how much has the awareness and outrage they inspire actually changed anything, asks Atkinson? “Is Spielberg’s emphatic visual palette and swelling music and inspiration cant ironically intended? Or is the film just as naive as we all were those many decades ago, thinking that publishing something in the newspaper would change the abuses of state power all by itself, instead of needing us to understand and then to act on the information as a citizenry?”

Moving from the secular and profane to a doubt more sacred, we revisit the spiritually wracked cinema of Sweden’s master melancholiac Ingmar Bergman, whose star has waned since the days when, as Leslie Mallory wrote in 1958, “You can get tickets for My Fair Lady more easily than for the summer-long season of Bergman’s films now running at the National Film Theatre.” As Catherine Wheatley follows up, “It’s hard  to imagine that the forthcoming BFI Season marking bargeman’s centenary will be outselling Hamilton; still, it’s possible that contemporary audiences might find a poignancy in Bergman’s idiosyncratic brand of existentialism, and in particular its concern with what to believe in after the death of God.” Comparing at Bergman’s sometime-mocked Faith Trilogy – Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence – and its implacable turn towards the “metaphysical fallout of the end of Western values” with a renewed sense of cultural anxiety about our loss of connection, meaning and purpose, Wheatley proposes that “with the age of irony withering”, perhaps Bergman’s earnestness might have a renewed resonance.

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