Yesterday saw the world premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s trippy detective yarn “Inherent Vice.” It’s the centerpiece film of the New York Film Festival, and along with the press screening (you can read our review of the electrifying film here), we were treated to a press conference with much of the sprawling cast (seriously – there were like ninety people on stage) and Anderson himself. You can watch the video below, as we well as the ten grooviest things we learned from the press conference. (Oh and don’t expect anything from star Joaquin Phoenix – while the star was on stage he kept decidedly mum. Totally funky, man).
1.) PTA Relished Working With An Ensemble Again
One of the most noticeable things about “Inherent Vice,” as opposed to the last couple Paul Thomas Anderson films, is that it’s much more of an ensemble (“The Master” and “There Will Be Blood” were still expansive but the cast was relatively contained). This was clearly something that he relished (with some reservation). “It was great for the obvious reasons,” he said. “But the frustrating thing was working with most of these people for one or two days before they would leave for another movie.” The director then motioned to Phoenix: “I was stuck with him mostly.” Still, he summed up the experience thusly: “It was a dream come true.”
2.) Joaquin’s Look Was Partially Inspired by a Muppet
When an attendee asked about what it took to get into the period vibe of the movie (resulting in a longwinded and largely unhelpful explanation about costume choices from Owen Wilson), Anderson added that Phoenix’s look —dark glasses, a floppy hat, and an unruly tangle of hair— was inspired by a background Muppet from Dr. Teeth’s Electric Mayhem Band. “Zoot from the Muppets,” Anderson interjected. “He’s got that hat and those glasses. So that’s a good answer: Zoot from the Muppets.”
3.) Anderson Equated The Look of the Film to an Old Volvo Ad
“Inherent Vice” is a fat, flat movie —the aspect ratio is a chunky 1.85:1, filmed using non-spherical lenses. And when someone inquired as to why in that manner (every one of his films up until “The Master” was anamorphic 2.35:1), Anderson said that he “started shooting this way on ‘The Master.'” He then asked “ever seen that great ad for Volvo? They’re boxy but they’re good. That’s how I felt” (PTA is referring to a scene from “Crazy People“: watch it here). He also said that it was in line with the movie’s setting, adding “I thought it was good for the period.”
4.) The Movie’s Confusing Nature Was Inspired By A Classic Film
It’s well known that “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” largely inspired “There Will Be Blood,”” and when someone in the audience brought up this film’s resemblance to another Humphrey Bogart film, “The Big Sleep,” Anderson confirmed its influence and added an interesting element to why it was so inspirational. “I saw ‘The Big Sleep’ and I couldn’t follow any of it and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next anyway.” Many feel the same way about “Inherent Vice.”
5.) Those Long Shots Are Actually Easier In the Long Run
“Inherent Vice” is full of super long shots, usually of two or more actors just talking. The scenes are fascinating and wonderful to watch, containing an overwhelming power that borders on the hypnotic. But what was interesting to hear from PTA was that these sequences are actually easier in the long run, since he gets exactly what he wants and can just let the scene play out. “I think if it has a lot of dialogue and you have two really good actors who can do it together and anytime you can do that without cutting it’s always better and actually easier,” PTA explained (referencing a scene where Wilson and Phoenix banter). “And Owen and Joaquin are capable enough to do it. It’s really that simple.”
6.) Martin Short Is Still Really Funny
When a sheepishly small number of the cast raised their hands when someone asked how many of them had read the book, Martin Short (who plays a deranged dentist in the film) spoke up and said, “I had my assistant read it to me. That counts… from where I’m from.” The entire rest of the cast and much of the audience couldn’t help but laugh; he’s still got it.
7.) Joanna Newsom’s Character Helped Anderson Deal With His Fears Of Voiceover
In “Inherent Vice,” the beloved indie musician and hilarious “Portlandia” guest star, Joanna Newsom plays a kind of abbreviated version of a character in the Pynchon novel. While character in the book was more flesh and blood, in the movie she takes on the role of a kind of spiritual “goddess” figure and narrator for the film. In turn, the character helped Anderson deal with his fears of voiceover narration. “For a long time I was told if you use voiceover that’s a no-no,” Anderson said, still sounding somewhat guilty. “I think that the premise was that you ask your actors to do the work for you. But a lot of my favorite films use voiceovers. I was paranoid to do it, but there was so much she could do from the book and hopefully add. And it was great to work with Joanna.” She really does add to the movie, sprinkling a wonderful dose of feel-good energy even when the vibes threaten to turn sour.
8.) The Tone Is All Pynchon
When questioned about the wild juxtaposition of tone in the film, Anderson said “that’s Thomas Pynchon. I don’t want to say literary —because that’s a bad word— but beautifully written and profound stuff, mixed in with the best fart jokes you can imagine. We were doing an adaptation of the book. That’s where that stuff came from. Trying to be as faithful to the book as possible.”
9.) Michael K. Williams Thought That PTA Didn’t Like Him
After some of the other actors described the process of working with Anderson as “loose” or “chaotic,” Michael K. Williams, who plays an ex-con looking for retribution, said that was a relief to hear, because he thought Anderson just didn’t like him. “It makes me feel good to say that. Because I thought it was me. I didn’t think Paul liked me,” Williams said. He then described how the process was different from his other gigs. “Most of my credits are in television, where they crack the whip and it’s time, time, time. And I get to this situation and it’s like, ‘let’s sit down and talk about this.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ Joaquin was very generous. I came to it very intimidated. And to be put into a situation that was foreign to me, I just thought you didn’t like me.” Gradually, Williams felt okay about the situation: “I knew I was safe and I was in good hands and I had to trust. And I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to do this.” Afterwards, Anderson joked about not liking Williams and then said, “no… that makes me feel terrible.”
10.) Anderson Wants to Preserve 35 mm As Long As Possible
“Inherent Vice” has the unique distinction of being the only movie shown at this year’s New York Film Festival to be presented on 35 mm film. “We’re luckily able to keep that alive and keep that going. It’s something that we started to do at the beginning and keep that up and have a nice print to show,” Anderson said. He then impishly noted that the unpredictability of film adds to the fun. “Everything could break, which adds to the thrill of it all.” Still, Anderson wants to keep film prints in wide circulation as long as possible. “Just trying to keep it alive. Not to phase anything out, there’s room for everything. That should just be how it is. Nothing should go away.” And with that, the room erupted in applause.
Watch the full press conference below. “Inherent Vice” opens on December 12th. It’s a trip.