There Will Be Blood: a promising subject, but terribly weak results

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Better late than never: We review the reviewers [See also The Aviator (2004)]

Prefatory Note: In keeping with our notion that “received wisdom” [including history] is not to be accepted without careful examination, and that, when found wanting or distorted it must be exposed as such, we have inaugurated this section focusing on cinema and other arts in which we review the reviewers and –when necessary –overturn the critics’ rationale to hail (or damn) a particular work.  

When it opened in selected houses across the nation, the motion picture under re-examination in this case, There will be blood (2007), was acclaimed by most critics as a masterpiece comparable to Citizen Kane.  While the movie has merit, and we are impressed with the work of Daniel Day Lewis, who, as usual, delivers a memorable performance in the lead role of the maniacally driven and complex (eventually unfathomable) Daniel Plainview, the overall film is in the final analysis underwhelming and intellectually lazy—if not dishonest— in the presentation of a topic rich in possibilities for the edification of the American audience. What might have been a haunting meditation on the demons of runaway individualism and religiosity torturing the soul of America is wasted in the hands of director Anderson, who settles for an impressionistic, manipulative approach in which moments of sheer brilliance never quite make up for a lack of seriousness in the examination of the main characters’ motivations and their social environment. —P Greanville

By David Walsh | [print_link] WSWS chief cinema reviewer
6 February 2008

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

“He never did succeed in understanding, all his life long, how people could fail to be interested in other people.” – Oil!, Upton Sinclair

Histrionic, fatally confused and socially evasive, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is all the worse for its touching upon important subjects, oil and religion in American life. Putting the best interpretation on it, Anderson is simply way in over his head, with ultimately disastrous artistic consequences.

The filmmaker (born 1970) has chosen to tell the story of a fictional American oilman, set in California in the early part of the twentieth century. The film’s publicity variously suggests that There Will Be Blood is “based on” or “inspired by” Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil! Anderson himself says that Sinclair’s book “was a great stepping-stone…. [I]t’s only the first couple hundred pages that we ended up using…. We were really unfaithful to the book.” (www.avclub.com)

Anderson has the right to make any film he chooses, but it seems light-minded in the extreme to invoke Oil! as inspiration or even a “stepping-stone” while creating a work that only makes passing reference to a few sequences in the original novel, and radically transposes or alters those, sometimes to the precisely opposite effect.

There Will Be Blood is morbid and gloomy from its opening silent sequences, which, nonetheless, hold one’s interest. We first see Anderson’s Daniel Plainview (an impossibly portentous name, as opposed to Sinclair’s simpler “J. Arnold Ross”) mining for silver, on his own, in New Mexico in 1898. In the process, he comes across oil.

Plainview’s single-minded physical determination and individualism are emphasized from the outset. In one shot, clearly meant to be significant, we see the prospector (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) squatting, alone against the desert in the early evening, with something of a mad glint in his eyes. This fanaticism will only grow larger as the film progresses.

Several years later, having set himself up in the oil business, Plainview works away at one of his first operations. Threatening music (by Jonny Greenwood) plays over the images of the oil workers, filthy and menacing. By one means or another, Plainview ends up with an infant, whom he apparently adopts and brings along on business trips as an advertisement of his status as a “family man.”

By 1911, Plainview has become one of the most successful oilmen in California. A young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), appears one evening and offers to sell him information about a property, his family’s farm, where oil is seeping out of the ground. The tip proves a good one, and Plainview eventually purchases the farm, not without some tough bargaining from Paul’s twin brother, Eli (also Dano), an aspiring evangelical preacher. Plainview buys all the available adjoining plots of land.

The new operation uncovers an “ocean of oil,” but Plainview’s son, H.W., loses his hearing when the liquid violently bursts forth from the ground.

This first portion of the film bears some vague relationship to Sinclair’s novel. Oil! is not a great work of art, but it is lively and observant. It was published, in 1927, during one of the richest periods of American fiction writing. Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer and Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith were published in 1925; and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises the following year.

At times, Sinclair’s writing does rise to considerable artistic heights. The opening chapter of Oil! is a quite lyrical tribute to the automobile and the open road, from a young boy’s point of view.

It is worth noting some of the differences between the novel and the film—differences not bound up with the changes that inevitably arise from adapting a work to a different medium, but with distinct and even opposed artistic and social purposes.

Sinclair’s oilman, Ross, is an affable individual, a caring father, slightly overweight, largely uneducated although a shrewd businessman, thoroughly pragmatic. Sinclair introduces the one major speech that Anderson retains in the following manner: Ross “faced them now, a portly person in a comfortable serge suit, his features serious but kindly, and speaking to them in a benevolent, almost fatherly voice.” He “dressed like a metropolitan banker,” we are told, and had “the calm assurance of a major-general commanding, and the kindly dignity of an Episcopal bishop.”

Anderson’s Plainview is a different sort of animal: paranoid, unfriendly, secretive, a lone wolf—the director’s is a far more “radical” (and, frankly, trite) vision of a prospective oil baron. The film’s portrayal, however, throws the emphasis on Plainview’s personal monstrosity, while the novel matter-of-factly establishes that Ross lies, cheats and performs various corrupt and even brutal acts, not from personal wickedness, but as an inevitable result of the socioeconomic situation in which he finds himself.

Indeed, Ross remains likeable to the end of the novel, and continues to enjoy his son’s affection throughout, even as the latter becomes a “social reformer.” The older man’s defense of his misdeeds, when challenged by his son, is that there’s a “difference between a theoretical and practical view of a question.” As for bribing an influential politician or powerful man behind the scenes, it is simply “a natural consequence of the inefficiency of great masses of people” in a democracy; a corrupt official, on the other hand, “provided that promptness and efficiency that business men had to have, and couldn’t be got under our American system.”

Sinclair’s novel, in fictionalized form, takes in the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s (in which oil magnates bribed the Secretary of the Interior to allow them to lease public land for drilling). When Ross Jr. discovers that his father is planning to enter into a scheme to bribe government officials, he says, “It’s such a dirty game, Dad!” His father replies, “I know, but it’s the only game there is.”

Oil! is nothing if not expansive (perhaps too expansive) in its ambitions. The title of the book is somewhat misleading, as it seeks to make a more general survey of American political and social life in the first quarter of the last century. Sinclair’s Ross is loosely based on Edward Doheny (1856-1935), the oil tycoon, at one point reportedly the richest man in the US and one of those involved in the Teapot Dome affair.

The career of Eli Watkins is designed to bring to mind evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, whose Foursquare Gospel church gained an enormous following in the 1920s. Even the long-term relationship of William Randolph Hearst and actress Marion Davies is hinted at in the novel.

Sinclair, a socialist, attempts to bring to life the great political debates and controversies of the time. He treats the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the attempts by foreign governments to overthrow the workers’ state (at some length), as well as the ideological struggle between social reformists and revolutionaries. To Sinclair’s credit, although he was not a revolutionist, he provides the pro-Bolshevik elements with ample opportunity to make their case, and it is by no means entirely clear on which side the novel comes down.

Anderson’s Paul Sunday (again, an overly significant last name, presumably a reference to evangelist Billy Sunday, one of the models, along with McPherson, for Eli) makes only a brief appearance in There Will Be Blood, in order to sell out his family’s interests for $500. In Sinclair’s work, Paul Watkins, an extremely high-minded youth, innocently reveals the presence of oil on his father’s farm; he goes on to become a militant labor activist, a member of the early Communist Party and a political martyr, killed by a right-wing mob.

But then everyone (with the possible exception of Plainview’s son and the latter’s future bride, who have minor roles) takes a turn for the worse in the film as compared with the novel. The genial Ross, who merely believes that “practical” men like himself are obliged to bend the rules, becomes the misanthropic Plainview, who proclaims that “I see the worst in people,” whose life seems to be an accumulation of pointless hatreds and who murders two men in cold blood.

Details in the book are turned upside down for the sole purpose, apparently, of making the characters more malicious and their behavior more irrational. In the novel, for instance, moments before Ross’s operation begins drilling on the former Watkins’ farm land, the oilman goes out of his way to introduce Eli—whom he considers an outright fraud and a plague to “the poor and ignorant”—to the assembled crowd and encourages the preacher to give his blessing. Why wouldn’t the oilman desire friendly relations with an increasingly powerful evangelist?

In Anderson’s film, as the day when drilling will begin approaches, Eli asks Plainview if he may be permitted to bless the operation. At the eventual opening day ceremony, however, Plainview snubs the preacher—out of sheer perversity or ill will—in favor of Eli’s younger sister, Mary. Bitter feeling between the two men, not rooted in any obvious psychological or social facts, will only deepen over the years.

The labor process and the oil workers themselves undergo a transformation from novel to film. Sinclair’s attitude, as much as he criticizes the depredations of the private companies, is essentially sympathetic toward the discovery and production of oil. Ross’s son thinks to himself: “What could be more fun than a job like this? To know what was going on under the ground; to see the ingenuity by which men overcame Nature’s obstacles; to see a crew of workers, rushing here and there, busy as beavers or ants, yet at the same time serene and sure, knowing their job, and just how it was going!”

The men, too, as hard as they work, are not downtrodden and crushed. Sinclair describes the “young fellows in blue-jeans and khaki,” perched on top of trucks as the equipment is moved from one locale to another: “They sang songs, and exchanged jollifications with the cars they passed, and threw kisses to the girls in the ranch-houses and the filling-stations, the orange-juice parlors and the ‘good eats’ shacks. Two days the journey took them, and meantime they had not a care in the world; they belonged to Old Man Ross, and it was his job to worry. First of all things he saw that they got their pay-envelopes every other Saturday night…moreover, you got this pay, not only while you were drilling, but while you were sitting on top of a load of tools, flying through a paradise of orange-groves at thirty miles an hour, singing songs about the girl who was waiting for you in the town to which you were bound.”

In the film, the oil workers are nameless, faceless drones, ominous and interchangeable. This, again, is considered the “radical” view of things these days. In fact, it represents a diminution of life.

It is worth noting, for the historical record, that Anderson abandons the novel’s storyline entirely just prior to the first of two bitter oil-field strikes.

In any event, after that, the work is the filmmaker’s own creation, and it goes seriously off the rails, as Plainview rises to prominence in the oil industry, at the expense of his personal happiness, including his relationship with his son.

(It is best to draw a veil over the entire last sequence, set in 1927, which is disturbingly and thoroughly misconceived. Daniel Day-Lewis attempts to make up for the absurdity of the events, which come largely out of the blue, by sheer force of will, with ever diminishing results. The over-acting here is in inverse proportion to the emotional and social authenticity of the drama.)

Plainview’s growing lunacy simply goes unexplained. Very wealthy individuals may go entirely mad, like Howard Hughes, or not, like Warren Buffett. An artist makes it very easy for himself if he or she simply implies that the acquisition of wealth and power in and of itself is enough to drive someone insane. The lack of concrete connection between Plainview’s social existence and his mania tends to conceal, rather than lay bare, any mentally devastating social processes that might be at work.

Critics foolhardily compare There Will Be Blood to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. The bracketing of the two works could hardly be less apt. Kane is an extraordinarily talented man, with many attractive qualities, whose misfortune it is to be immensely wealthy. Given another set of social circumstances, he might have done truly great things. He is hemmed in and ultimately destroyed by monstrous social relationships. Can anyone seriously make the same claim about Anderson’s protagonist?

The social structure into which Plainview enters may be monstrous, but insofar as it is, it only suits and encourages his own essential deformities. The social relationships are rotten in There Will Be Blood because men and women are rotten, the film implies. This is simply wrongheaded and disoriented.

This is where social and political evasiveness, aided by historical ignorance and a blind faith in a “largely intuitive” creative process, enter the picture.

What could have been a scathing assault, through a reworking of Oil! or otherwise, on corporate America and fundamentalist religion is no such thing, despite the claims of various “left” critics and wishful thinkers. Of course Anderson is under no obligation to launch such an assault if he doesn’t believe one is necessary, but choosing Sinclair’s novel and then systematically declawing it seems an almost provocative act. It suggests that the filmmaker recognizes the significance of oil and religion in contemporary America—whose establishment, after all, has launched a brutal, neo-colonial war over Middle East energy resources—but then hasn’t the commitment or seriousness to see the process through.

His comments to various interviewers reveal some of this. Fashionably, Anderson chooses to distance himself from any concern with making a social critique. Asked how aware he was of “the film’s subtext about class, religion and money,” Anderson replied: “Well, aware of it to know that if we indulged too much in it, or let that stuff rise to the top, that it could get kind of murky. And it’s a slippery slope when you start thinking about something other than just a good battle between two guys that kind of see each other for what they are, just trying to work from that first and foremost and let everything that is there fall into place behind it. I would be wrong—it would be horrible to make a political film or anything like that. Tell a nasty story and let the rest take care of itself.” (www.thedeadbolt.com)

But bitter experience teaches that “the rest” never does take care of itself, not without the conscious, deliberate intervention of the artist. No one has any use for a “political film” that is didactic or pat, or knows all the answers, but Anderson is excluding the possibility of an artistic, spontaneous and insightful examination of social life as a whole, the possibility of presenting the big picture.

Asked by another interviewer whether he had been thinking about “modern-day strong-arm capitalism and mega-church religion” while writing and shooting his film, Anderson said, “I was thinking that we’d better be very careful not to do too much of that.” Why? In any event, Anderson succeeded. He didn’t think too much “of that” and hence the film, despite some interesting and intelligent moments in its first two thirds, is neither genuinely radical nor thought-provoking. It’s a great mess, in fact.

Consciously or not, the filmmaker avoided a head-on criticism of American capitalism and its ideological defenders among the fundamentalists that would have brought attacks on him from the media and perhaps damaged his career.

Filmmakers are going to have to reorient themselves and learn to think about a host of important, complicated matters. It’s a difficult process and it involves struggle and sacrifice, but the future of the art form depends on it.

David Walsh is a senior editor and chief cinema critic with the World Socialist Web Site [WSWS], to whom we extend our thanks. 

7 comments on “There Will Be Blood: a promising subject, but terribly weak results
  1. Some awfully good stories on Cyrano’s these days! Frankly I was somewhat disappointed in the There will be blood review. At the end of the article the writer made some strong points which however had they been included would have made a different film. What I suppose he legitimately wanted was a Socialist film which the filmmaker had no intention of making. Not the ideological part of the article but the two-thirds of the article that concern the comparison of book and film and the film’s deviations from the book bothered me. Moravia, many of whose books became films, always insisted that the novel and the film are two different genres and that the filmmaker could do anything he liked with his (Moravia’s) books.

    NOTE: G. Stewart is Cyrano’s correspondent in Europe and a senior editor at Cyrano’s Journal Online.

  2. Re David Walsh’s criticism of Anderson, There will be blood’s director, I think that this is a question that can be tackled from many angles. (Our esteemed colleague John Steppling was not happy with Walsh’s review either, and must be wondering if I have gone soft in the head to run such articles. So you’re in good company. He’s thinking of filing a rebuttal. I would look forward to that.)

    Walsh is first of all a Trotskyst, and probably a purist, rather rigid, at times some would say neurotic, in his tendency to argue for an explicit socialist content on most forms of art. Like all critics, Walsh is someone with whom we may often agree (I speak for myself) but also disagree. In this case he’s concerning himself with motion pictures, perhaps the most powerful medium we have today to inoculate specific visions and understandings of reality to huge numbers of people (some of whom get ALL their notions about reality from movies and TV). So his concern is legitimate, perhaps even imperative for a revolutionary intellectual. The artist’s temperament, on the other hand, which tends to be anarchistic, libertarian, narcissistic, even, rarely does well under any kind of “guidance” or “requirement”–the tensions build up rather quickly.

    I speak of extremes because both points of the spectrum have validity. You can’t “order” art any more than you can will love into being. It must happen. On the other side, the socialist project, or, better, the anti-capitalist project is about the restoration of a common context, the repairing of so much that is self-indulgent and disconnected from the larger social good that any society, if it is to avoid toxicity, must constantly fortify. Bourgeois excess in art, art for the sake of money, or fame, or combination thereof; art as a brattish whimsical manifestation…art for “art’s sake”–the ultimate defense for many…which we see plenty of in our time–almost always produces decadent, putrid art, if we can call it that. (Think of Sex and the City, the movie, for example.) So “freedom” from political content, from a political conscience, hardly insures good art in the mass audiovisual sphere, and, in fact, may act as a powerful dislocator of the direction in which society should be traveling to reach higher moral ground. Second, if one of the criticisms we hurl at “bad art” is that it doesn’t convey or honor truth (admittedly subjective, complicated waters) then it does matter that a person as powerful as a big movie director should have a healthy respect for it. In that sense, while Moravia is perfectly entitled to his opinion, I do believe that not all works of literature should enjoy such an ample “letter of transit” as they make their voyage to film. In the case of pieces of literature that were born with an acute intrinsic political message, especially one that is clearly and demonstrably progressive, to dilute or negate such message is questionable at best. And I’m not being oblivious to the inevitable obstacles that exist in translating one vision in one medium to another. Same thing applies when an “artist” invokes immunity from criticism in depicting a major social or political figure. See for example, Walsh’s take on Scorsese’s The Aviator, which inaugurated this series. [ http://www.bestcyrano.org/cyrano/?p=916 ]

    In fact I’ll settle for honesty in an artist. Truth, whatever that is, is too heavy a mandate. That’s why we can say that Birth of a Nation, totally distorted in terms of morality and “truth” is nonetheless a seminal film, an epic film many stratospheres above another “epic” film, such as Cameron’s Titanic.

    Again: why do we trouble ourselves with movie criticism? For the reason adduced above, the medium is too powerful (almost as much as television in our time) to be ignored as a legitimate subject of political analysis. The Lord and propaganda often work in mysterious ways, and film and tv are today’s main vehicles for the dissemination and propping up of a criminal zeitgeist that is choking the life out of this planet, collecting lives by the millions, and ensuring the perpetuation of hell on earth, candy-coated, of course, at least in the developed metropolis.

    I’ve been meaning to start a discussion of art and socialist/bourgeois esthetic for some time, and this may give us all the incentive to think about such topics and maybe file something worthwhile in the near future. As always we’ll be keenly interested in the comments and possible contributions from our readership.

  3. If I read this correctly no one here is advocating a return to socialist realism, state censorship, etc., but merely the (valid) position that artists have a social responsibility to the furtherance of egalitarian systems and truth in the depiction of the human condition. The latter I think is all-encompassing.

    However, true art is clearly not something that can be made to fit anyone’s ideology. There’s plenty of bourgeois art that is solid in its accomplishment (Gauguin, Monet, Dali, in painting, Bresson, Huston, Lean, Truffaut, Clouzot, Hitchcock, etc., in cinema) without being self-consciously political, let alone Marxian in any way. At the same time, there has been no persuasive demonstration that a more political attitude would have damaged such work, in fact, it might have made it that much more compelling and inspired.

    This is a discussion I’ve been waiting for, and I do hope that you will give it the time and space it demands.

    You publish a great site!

    I.E. Branford, Stamford, CT

  4. The problem with a lot of leftist cultural criticism (especially Trotskyist) is the demand that art be instructional. Art must spread an ideological position. Art must morally inform, even. This sort of reductive and quite narrow perspective would disquality an awful lot of the western canon. Maybe a critic like David Walsh thinks that would be alright. I have often admired a lot of David’s writing, but the review of There Will Be Blood is not such a case.

    First, the review is of the film Walsh wants Anderson to make, not of the film he did make. The Sinclair novel is source material, but it’s clear that the director’s intention was never to faithfully follow the book — and indeed, I suspect this was a smart choice. But no matter, the movie is what we are talking about. It’s interesting to note the changes Anderson made….and they are so large as to render it barely at all an adaptation —not even an *inspired* by. There are certainly great films that have been made from bad books……and a few from great books. The problem is that adaptation is often, maybe neccessarily, a rewriting of the novel in question. Yes, there are exceptions, but in general books such as Wise Blood, Crime and Punishment, The Sheltering Sky, or Moby Dick are simply too complex and interior to transfer, as is, to film. The narrative is simply not filmic.

    One can ask in what way the narrative is not filmic, and I think this question is a hugely complicated one, but part of the problem resides with both the duration (which is perhaps only a formula convention) of film, as well as it’s deeply cooperative aspects. But I want to stick to the subject at hand, which is David Walsh’s review of There Will Be Blood. The essential problem, and it’s a problem shared with trot proles like Louis Proyect, is the idea that an artwork must advance socialist ideals, or somehow further the cause of the revolution. Walsh claims that Plainview’s madness goes unexplained.– how can a critic of Walsh’s intelligence say such a thing? The entire point of the film, I might argue, is that we are watching what Capitalism creates as its ideal — Plainview’s madness is exactly what is required for his success. He is, to my mind anyway, not without Dick Cheney like qualities. Walsh asks if Plainview can be imagined as a great man (like Welles vision of Kane) if social forces had not destroyed him. Well, the answer is that Plainview would not even exist as he is if it weren’t for those forces. His madness is our madness —- he is painted as the proto-early capitalist, and I can imagine many in the audience (in the US anyway) coming away from this film with the belief that Plainview is a great man, flawed, but heroic. This is because he is such a perfect expression of the ruthless and compassionless mania that an endelss drive for aquisition creates.

    One of the best moments in this film is when Plainview is being shown a map of the region where he owns most of the land. He points to a square that he doesn’t own, and interrupts the speaker with *why don’t I own this?* He must own everything. What causes the final dementia for Plainview? On one level it’s the fact that he can aquire and hoard no more. On another level, of course, it’s because he cannot find any reason for having spent a life acquiring such things. The near gothic, or operatic vision of this film (and it’s a terrific score) is one where the Purgatorial landscape becomes the outward manifestation of Planview’s inner psychic pain. I think it’s a near masterpiece, and I think Lewis is simply majestic.

    A comment above suggests artists have a responsibility ……and I fear I have no idea what that means? No they don’t. They have, if they are authentic voices, a responsibility to try and express the truth — but it will be their truth. Art is NOT philosophy, nor is it propaganda nor [is it] even ideological. It sometimes serves as these things, but usually as an aspect of its failure. Among my favorite directors are Robert Bresson, Rainer Fassbinder, and Pasolini. Bresson was a devout obsessed Catholic with little interest in politics, as we are speaking of it, and yet I would argue his films are deeply political by virtue of their purity and absolute refusal to conform to accepted patterns of presentation. Fassbinder was more overtly political, in the sense that he was a voice for those so marginalized that they usually had no public voice, and yet again, it was his ruthless lack of sentimentality and his purity of purpose that gave him a subversive feel. Pasolini was most certainly political — and yet a film like Saló is not to be found as an instructional bit of directorial strategy.

    And what of John Ford, a reactionary in most senses, and a film like The Searchers? Art is complex. Art is not about communication, it’s about awakening. It’s not PR or agitprop.

    In an era when studio product is so co-opted by the hegemonic labor relations of Hollywood, one must view the product from many angles — and the entire debate becomes lengthy to be sure. This is only a small comment to suggest Trots widen their vision — as Marcuse said *The petrification of concepts falsifies the class structure of monopoly capitalism…* Most left critics use this pre-fab vocabulary, and by extension its rigid and dogmatic content, to attack that which does not conform to some vision of *labor* as defined one hundred years ago.

    Art is part of what a culture does to advance its consciousness….otherwise all would be just Dark Knight, or sit coms. But art is not one-dimensional, and There Will Be Blood captures the emotional truth of capital, of that predatory psychic affliction of men like Rockefeller or Carnegie. Or today’s version, Cheney or Maurice Templesman or Donald Trump.

  5. Add on:
    Art must be a negation — first —-but to suggest somehow that a Sinclair is MORE radical, or whatever word one wants to use, than a film like TWBB, is, I think, a mistake. It’s not a question of art for art’s sake…..which I feel is a bit of a red herring………..it’s about what art does…..what the dialectical relationship is with society. It’s also about personal awakening. Art is not a political movement……..and a film like Sex and the City is simple an advert — period. Honor and truth end up being quite difficult to define…….and this brings me back to this negation question. What was Genet doing? Or Villion? OR Bach for that matter. Bach is not a radical………….unless one analyses what he did vis the vis the conventions of contrapuntal music of that era. Genet simply refused to accept ANY program, any bourgeois institution as having meaning……he eroticized authority’s fetishes, and by virtue of his great refusal, he created work that deeply transfigured western culture. Now, TWBB is not in that class. But it is a quite compelling vision of a collective capitalist unconcsious —- and I think it matters very little what he did with the Sinclair book. Somehow that feels very mamby pamby to me…..as artuad said, No More Masterpieces !

    Again, this would bring us into a really complicated dicsussion of form and content. And that is beyond the scope of this thread I fear.

    In the end, TWBB is still a bourgeois studio product…..and will age in that light as the years pass. But it should not critiqued because of a failure of fidelity to Sinclair, or because it didn’t advance OVERTLY correct political messages.

  6. I never thought that a movie review could pack so much depth in terms of ramifications. I must say that, although I have read a huge amount on this topic (intersection of politics, art, censorship, individualism, etc.), took art and film classes at NYU, I have seldom come across a post with so many lively educational insights. They almost make the post itself less important!

    Thank you for a great read. I’ll be looking forward to more from these writers. I’ll watch movies with a different eye from now on.

  7. Mr Steppling makes some good points, but one doesn’t need to be a Trot to find plenty of reason in Mr Walsh’s perspective. In particular I find his criticism of the film as it concerns the final third totally on point. The movie disintegrates in the closing segment and yes, it is evident that Day-Lewis is struggling to hold the project together by sheer artistry, but the script has by then imploded. That, IMHO, is the director’s failure. And this would hold whether or not Anderson used Sinclair’s book as a platform.

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