By Aditya Savnal. Posted on October 20, 2015
From Hard Eight to Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson has come a long way as a filmmaker. But what has stayed with him in all these years is his obsession with steadicam shots which forms an instrumental part of his narratives.
A video essay by Kevin Lee for the Sight And Sound magazine does a fabulous analysis of the Steadicam shots in Anderson's films and how he uses it to make his narratives richer and engaging. Interestingly, Lee also gives us a visual breakdown of these shots and the camera movement. More than often, Anderson uses steadicam shots to introduce his characters and set up the narrative.
In his debut film Hard Eight, the camera tracks Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) as he makes his way from the casino entrance to the craps table. And as Sydney walks to the table, Anderson uses this opportunity to establish Sydney's character and the surroundings in which the story takes place.
Similarly the much celebrated opening scene of Boogie Nights uses steadicam to establish as many 8 characters and the seedy atmosphere of the American Porn industry. One must also appreciate the manner in which Anderson introduces these several characters. The camera establishes their presence as they walk into the frame including Mark Wahlberg - a waiter at the club and the unlikely protagonist who catches your attention when you least expect him to be noticed.
Despite several characters occupying the frame, the camera never loses focus of them and ensures that every character gets their moment of glory. While the steadicam shots in Punch Drunk Love sees a marked shift in Anderson's approach and establishes him as an auteur with a unique style of filmmaking to boot.
Despite directing just 7 feature films in a career spanning over 2 decades or so, Anderson has been hailed as one of the most important and influential filmmakers of our times. And this video clearly tells you why.