Even three years ago, it was already quite obvious that the collaboration between filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood was one of the most special and exciting partnerships in contemporary cinema. Back then — and after they had already worked together on “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master,” and “Inherent Vice” — it probably would have seemed inconceivable that the best was yet to come, or that the chemistry between them was combustible enough to essentially generate a movie from scratch. But, on both counts, it was. It really was.
In February of 2015, Anderson got a phone call inviting him to hop on a plane and spend three weeks inside a massive 15th century fort atop a hill in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. Anderson said yes even before he learned what he would be going there to film: Greenwood and Israeli poet-musician Shye Ben Tzur were recording an album together in the towering Mehrangarah Fort, and they wanted him to document the process.
And so Anderson — along with Greenwood, Tzur, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, and almost 20 musicians from different Hindu and Muslim traditions — ascended the towering Mehrangarah Fort, and began to capture the creation of an album unlike any other. Shooting digital for the first (and presumably last) time in his life, Anderson embedded himself in the makeshift studio for the duration, creating a vivid portrait of musical pluralism that’s as vibrant and alive as the music itself.
While “Junun” was inevitably received as a mere curiosity in the director’s canon of work, Anderson’s only documentary has since come to earn its rightful place alongside the likes of “Magnolia” and “Phantom Thread.” Like all of his films, this euphoric cine-devotional tells a story about people from different worlds, the unexpected collisions that bring them together, and the strange and beautiful reverb that resonates from their chance encounters. The only difference is that the reverb from this movie makes you want (or need) to get up and dance.
Lucky for us, “Junun” was as fun to make as it is to watch, and the core group of musicians involved — once dubbed The Rajasthan Express, but now simply going by Junun — have continued to play together. Not only are they opening for Radiohead’s current tour, bringing ancient Sufi and Qawwali traditions to arenas across North America, but they also paid a visit to the Alamo Drafthouse in Downtown Brooklyn. Following a rare screening of the documentary (and just before a jaw-dropping live performance from the Junun band), I was fortunate enough to lead a conversation between Anderson, Greenwood, Tzur, Godrich, and the brilliant nagara player Nathulal Solanki.
Read the full Q&A from the event on the next page.