FRIDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: Scroll down for the first full reviews of "The Master" from Chicago.
On the strength of a sort of get-out-the-vote campaign started by Time Out Chicago's Ben Kenigsberg, The Windy City got a sneak preview of "The Master" last night, in director Paul Thomas Anderson's preferred 70mm format at the famed Music Box Theatre. Tickets for the screening, held as a benefit for Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation, sold out in under two hours and, in a weird twist of timing, the event coincided with the night that Rifftrax, the movie mockery performance troupe starring the former stars of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," held a live coast-to-coast screening of "Manos: The Hands of Fate," the notoriously awful film about a crazy cult leader named — what else? — The Master.
So did audiences approve? For the most part yes, and enthusiastically so. There were a few "I didn't get it" tweets, a bunch of "I'm still processing" tweets, more "It's great" tweets, and a ton of "It looks amazing in 70mm" tweets. I, in my fevered excitement for the film and my general inability to go to sleep at a normal hour, watched the reactions roll in on Twitter and collected as many as I could; I present them to you here in roughly chronological order and with very minimal editing. Of course, we should bear in mind these are snap judgments — and not all of them from critics, either. Then again, this wasn't an easy ticket to get — if these people were there, they were heavily invested cinephiles. Here's what they thought:
"'The Master' in 70mm was so gorgeous my eyes nearly exploded. And it is ripe with flawless acting. Also reminded me a lot of 'The Godfather.'"
"'The Master' is a beautifully crafted meditation on salvation, love, and art. It's a tad sloppy, but its beyond inspired."
"As of this moment, 'The Master' is the best movie of 2012. NOTE: 'The Expendables 2' comes out tomorrow.#musicbox #pta #themaster #expendables"
"'The Master' was beautiful. Amazing to look at. Anytime Hoffman and Phoenix are together the movie is phenomenal."
"Never realize how hungry your eyes are til you see something beauuuutifully shot & projected on film. #TheMaster @musicboxtheatre"
"Walking home to digest 'The Master.' Gorgeous piece of film. PTA may have cemented spot as the best of his generation #battleoftheandersons"
"I know that 'The Master' was about physical vs. spiritual, but beyond that, I've got nothing."
"When you guys buy tickets to 'The Master' next month, go ahead and buy 2. Like 'There Will Be Blood,' a second viewing will be mandatory."
"Hoffman. Phoenix. Adams. Anderson. ALL at their absolute best. Do not ask me about the film. NEEDS thought and 2nd viewing. #TheMaster"
"'The Master' was beautiful. What a wonderful experience in 70mm. No one does it better than PTA."
"'The Master' is not at all like PTA's other films. It's a bit of an enigma with detachment & intensity that I need to 'process' over time."
"'The Master' was good. Great performances. Lots to think over. 70mm looked amazing such detail yet softness. Felt like IMAX but small screen."
"'The Master' is profound and captivating, a real game-changer, and possibly Paul Thomas Anderson's best film to date."
"The acting and direction in 'The Master' are impeccable. No doubt about that. The story? Still wrapping my head around it."
"Basically, 'The Master' is 'Amnesiac' to 'There Will Be Blood''s 'Kid A.'"
"See 'The Master' in 70mm and then talk about digital as 'progress.' Yeah, didn't think so."
"I can't even express to you how amazing the 70mm picture was in 'The Master.'"
"'The Master' (A-) Addicting, aimless chaos, emoted with deranged precision by Phoenix. Electrifying cinema, aggressively cryptic storytelling."
"#TheMaster70mm should make all those who led the charge for digital filmmaking weep in shame."
"'The Master' at @musicboxtheatre is gorgeous. JP's frayed edges are an elegant counterpoint to PSH's perfectly pitched bombast."
"If you know what is going on the head of any of the characters in 'The Master,' then you are a better Thetan than I."
"Just saw 'The Master'… Not great entertainment, but possibly informative? Not quite sure what to say about it. Have to sleep on it maybe…"
"Characters in 'The Master' way more satisfied than the audience. Looked great though. Well-acted. Didn't care much though."
"'The Master' is one awesome, crazy mess of a movie. Can't wait for a second viewing!"
"I'm not at a level capable of reviewing what I just saw, but I know it was absolutely gorgeous in 70mm. #TheMaster @musicboxtheatre"
"I don't know what to say about 'The Master' at this point other than it is pretty, and the acting is superb."
"Going to need some time to mull over 'The Master.' I will say 70mm is gorgeous."
"#TheMaster70mm demonstrates a deep concern for its historical inspiration: readers of certain lore of personality may be amazed."
"Not a bit surprised that the immediate reaction to 'The Master' is 'I need to process it.' I'll take my first crack at a review in the morning."
"So 'The Master' is pretty good."
"Saw 'The Master' in 70mm at @MusicBoxTheatre. See 'The Master' in 70mm at @MusicBoxTheatre."
"A story about free will and discovering the constraints that hold us back. Wonderful. #TheMaster #ThanksMusicBox"
"It's almost criminal to want to review 'The Master' immediately before giving it a second viewing. A lot to process in one sitting this late."
"If you need me, I'll be at sea mulling over 'The Master' for the rest of the year."
Full Reviews of 'The Master' From Chicago:
"Easily the strangest and most esoteric picture Anderson has ever made — and frankly too much to unpack and digest in one viewing… One looks forward to seeing a visionary work like this again and again — not just to unravel its secrets, but also simply to bask in its aesthetic wonders."
"Prepare yourself for something special when you go to 'The Master.' It’s not quite like Anderson’s past work, but you feel the DNA of his style here."
"Between the allusions to L. Ron Hubbard and the birth of Scientology, the references to the shifting cultural conscience of America post-WWII, and the equivocal nature of the characterization, 'The Master' doesn’t make for lite watching—it does, however, make for easy watching, which isn’t exactly the same thing."
"Above all, I think, the movie’s power to arrest and unsettle comes from Phoenix — if you thought his 'I’m Still Here' stunt called for some psychoanalysis, you won’t be changing your mind after this one, because I’m not sure there’s any way a completely sane person could possibly build a performance of such delusional, deranged commitment and precision."
"The 70mm image, with its saturated colors and solidity, casts its own spell… As with 'There Will Be Blood,' Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood provides a percussive score that’s even more astringent."
"Populated by characters certain in their sexual and loving instincts yet stubborn in claiming responsibility for them, the film holds an unseen, persuasive force just off-screen to keep each on edge, never fully comfortable in their own skin."