Toronto Star

Director trips back to the ’70s

Inherent Vice is Anderson’s celebratio­n and eulogy for an era


Paul Thomas Anderson’s groovy new movie Inherent Vice is set in the Los Angeles of 1970, which just so happens to be the year he was born. Coincidenc­e? “Total coincidenc­e,” the writer/director says from L.A.

“But not beyond me. I mean, I never look too closely at the year I was born. This gave me a chance to.”

And what a year 1970 was. The dawning of the ’70s, hard on the heels of the Manson family slayings the film references, marked the fading of the hippie peace and love vibe of the ’60s. The National Guard bullets that killed four student anti-war protesters at Ohio’s Kent State University in May 1970 drove home that sad reality.

Inherent Vice, Anderson’s take on the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, is thus both a eulogy for an era and a celebratio­n of it.

Joaquin Phoenix’s heavy-toking Larry “Doc” Sportello, the film’s hippie privateeye protagonis­t, knows that the times they are a-changin’ — and not in a good way.

But even with all the heavy social and cultural messaging in the background, it’s the upfront love story that really makes the film, which is currently playing in glorious 70 mm at Toronto’s Varsity Cinemas.

Doc’s on the trail not just of a missing billionair­e land developer, who has been busy ruining the California coastline, but also Doc’s beloved ex-girlfriend Shasta, played by Katherine Waterston, who beseeched his help just before vanishing herself. The movie is a love story as much as it is a riff (or spliff ) on detective procedural­s.

“You’re touching on something that came into my mind,” says Anderson, who has shot all of his seven features in his home state of California, beginning with Hard Eight in 1996 and also including Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood and The Master.

“And not just my mind. It was an element of working with everyone on this movie. There was so much in the book and so many directions you could have gone. Whenever we had meetings about it — asking ourselves, ‘What are we really doing, what’s the centre of it?’ — it would just be the love story, Doc and Shasta. You have all these zany antics and craziness and silliness going on, but the vessel in the centre of it, first and foremost, is Doc’s yearning and ache for Shasta.”

Inherent Vice is the second of Anderson’s films (after There Will Be Blood) to be adapted from an existing work, and his screenplay distils Pynchon’s digressive prose while remaining faithful to it.

Many critics have pointed to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye and the Coen Bros.’ The Big Lebowski as accessory influences for the movie, but Anderson said the homage wasn’t intended.

“Those are two of my favourite films, and obviously I love them and I know them. But the last thing I ever want to do is make those films. (Altman’s) Nashville was a huge thing for Magnolia and Boogie Nights, but this situation was the opposite.

“You don’t make a career just riffing off other stuff. That’s a dead end. I wanted to do Pynchon’s book, where we’re in this milieu and you just attack it head on and you do it. It’s about allegiance to Pynchon. You go, ‘What’s his story, what’s his take, why did he do this, why did he write this f---ing book?’ I wanted to get inside his book.”

Just as he discovered the romance within Pynchon’s shaggy-dog tale, so Anderson also ambled into the way he wanted the movie to look. He had a notion that he wanted to emulate the faded colours of 1970s film. Then he made a chance discovery in his garage.

“How do we make it all feel like a distant memory? I wasn’t desperatel­y trying to make it feel pastiche-y or striving to make it look like a ’70s film or something like that, but just taking the edge off things to make it feel antique.

“I had a can of film that I had in my garage that hadn’t been stored properly for 10 years. I said, ‘Let’s shoot some of this stuff and see what it looks like.’ And it came back looking like it was faded. The blacks were milky, not black, and all the colours were desaturate­d just enough that it felt like a faded postcard, like an old film. We stumbled into something and it became something that we could strive for.”

He couldn’t shoot all of Inherent Vice with that old stock, but a key scene with Shasta, set to one of the film’s two Neil Young songs (“Harvest” and “Journey Through the Past”), did make it into the final cut, as did another important scene near the end.

“That stuff looked so good we held onto it,” Anderson says.

“But here’s the trick. You didn’t know if anything was going to turn out because some of it was so damaged that you could film with it and you wouldn’t get an exposure.”

He fussed over the big details as well as the small ones. And the biggest detail of all was blowing the film up to 70 mm, Anderson’s preferred format, even though Inherent Vice was shot on 35 mm. His previous film The Master, which also starred Phoenix, was screened in 70 mm in many venues.

“What really got in my mind was, ‘Hey, look, we have all these projectors up and running for The Master and Chris Nolan has got them going for Interstell­ar, so why don’t we just do a blow-up, see how it looks?’

“And it really looks excellent. It’s a special-presentati­on feeling, which I think is a great thing to keep that going.”

He’s fully on board with Nolan and fellow celluloid enthusiast Quentin Tarantino (who is defiantly shooting The Hateful Eight in 70 mm) that the 35 mm and 70 mm film formats need to be not just preserved but promoted in these relentless days of digital projection.

“I’m firmly planted in that corner,” Anderson says.

“I’ll go down swinging with everyone else. Losing that fight is not an option.”

 ?? WILSON WEBB/WARNER BROS. PICTURES ?? Joaquin Phoenix, left, plays heavy-toking private-eye protagonis­t Larry “Doc” Sportello in Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
WILSON WEBB/WARNER BROS. PICTURES Joaquin Phoenix, left, plays heavy-toking private-eye protagonis­t Larry “Doc” Sportello in Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
 ?? WILSON WEBB/WARNER BROS. PICTURES ?? Inherent Vice focuses on the love story between Shasta (Katherine Waterston) and Doc (Joaquin Phoenix).
WILSON WEBB/WARNER BROS. PICTURES Inherent Vice focuses on the love story between Shasta (Katherine Waterston) and Doc (Joaquin Phoenix).

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