Paul Thomas Anderson might not have won an Oscar this past weekend for writing “Inherent Vice” — or for “There Will Be Blood” in 2008 (which is a shame), or “Magnolia” or “Boogie Nights” — but his day will come. He’s too good for the Academy to continue to pass up time after time. As a writer-director, he brings his unique voice to every film he makes, consistently delivering moving, character-driven stories that stand out in their ability to showcase situations and people infrequently depicted in mainstream cinema. (Speaking of his voice, be sure to listen to this interview PTA did with Interview Magazine about “Inherent Vice” if you’ve not yet done so.)
Even before Paul Thomas Anderson was a recognizable name, his knack for engaging, well-written dramas set in Southern California was already becoming a defining characteristic of his. For proof, look no further than Anderson’s 1993 short, “Cigarettes and Coffee.” The film is set in a diner and stars Philip Baker Hall as a sagacious man listening to a younger friend’s tale of woe. It’s an ensemble piece, jumping between and tying together multiple stories, all of which are simultaneously told in the diner’s booths.
As Open Culture reports, Anderson went out on an economic limb to make the film: “He gathered up his college fund, some gambling winnings, his girlfriend’s credit card, and various other bits and pieces of funding in order to commit this short story to film.” It was a risk worth taking. The short earned Anderson a spot at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab, which is where producer Robert Jones encouraged him to expand it into a feature. The result, “Hard Eight,” came out three years later and also starred Philip Baker Hall.
Watch the entire short below. Be forewarned that the quality of the video is less than ideal. It’s ripped from a VHS; so don’t expect HD or anything like that. Just saying.