Sunday, January 21, 2018

Phantom Thread

Written, directed, and shot by Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread is the story of a fashion designer who finds his muse in his need to design clothes for women during period of couture in 1950s London. The film is an exploration into the world of fashion and a man’s desire to create the perfect clothing for women as well as dealing with the women in his life who want what is best for him. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville. Phantom Thread is a ravishing and evocative film from Paul Thomas Anderson.

The film follows a fashion designer who creates clothes for some of richest and most powerful women in London during the 1950s as he finds a muse in a waitress from the British countryside as he has her modeling clothes for her as well as have help create these dresses. Along the way, the character of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) deals with his need to create the perfect dresses with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) looking over the business and ensuring everything goes well. Even as they deal with the new presence in their house in Alma (Vicky Krieps) who would work sewing these dresses as well as be a model. Yet, Alma wants to do more not knowing about Woodcock’s routines as it’s something he needs in his time to create. Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay doesn’t just explore the obsession and need to create perfection in these dresses but also the need to feel appreciated for his work as he often works for some of the most important women in Europe.

While much of the film’s narrative is told from Alma’s perspective as she tells the story of how she met Woodcock one day when he goes to the country. It also establishes the world that Woodcock lives in as he spends much of his time during breakfast sketching ideas for dresses with Cyril sitting by silently knowing not to make any noise during that time. It’s something Alma would eventually understand as she would also realize she isn’t the first person to become a muse for Woodcock as they come and go. Her simple beauty and naiveté is what would attract Woodcock to her as he takes her to his country home after dinner to have her try on a dress with Cyril making notes of her measurements. She wouldn’t just be a muse/seamstress for Woodcock while working with other seamstresses but also someone who appreciates what he does when a dress he makes for one of his rich clients is treated with disrespect that angers Woodcock.

While much of the film’s narrative is straightforward, it’s Anderson’s study of the characters that are unique where he establishes them as who they are and the role they play into this very demanding world of high fashion. Woodcock is the artist who takes his time trying to create these gorgeous dresses as he would spend days to weeks trying to figure out the right material and measurements. Cyril’s role is in the business as well as making sure everything is in place where her brother isn’t distracted though she has to remind him of the people he’s working for as they pay for the house they live in. Though Cyril is a bit wary of Alma’s presence, she is welcoming to it to ensure that her brother can get ideas but warns Alma of disrupting routines and to not create any kind of chaos that could be surprising. Alma is someone who does follow the beat of her own drum as she wants to be more than just a collaborator to Woodcock. Yet, she would become frustrated as it would occur late in the second act through a simple act as it would play with Woodcock’s own state of mind and later his own emotions that would come to play in the film’s third act.

Anderson’s direction does bear elements of style in terms of the compositions he creates but also display an air of simplicity in the way he presents this very posh world of couture fashion. Shot largely on location in London and various parts of Great Britain along with bits of Switzerland, Anderson would display this world with a meticulous approach to his close-ups in how dresses are sewn as well as the great attention to detail in the measurements as well as the type of fabric that is needed. While there are also some wide shots for some of the film’s locations and a few of the dramatic scenes in the film. Much of Anderson’s direction emphasizes on close-ups and medium shots to play into the interaction with the characters as well as these elements of precise movements of how people come into the Woodcock house. Even as Anderson establishes the importance of Woodcock’s routine from the moment he gets out of bed, the clothes he decides to wear for the day, doing his sketches during breakfast, and working with his seamstresses on the dresses as he treats them quite fairly.

Also serving as the film’s cinematography, Anderson would try to capture every bit of detail into the look of the film including the way dresses are presented under natural lighting as the photography kind of harkens back to the days of Technicolor of the late 1940s/early 1950s. For the scenes in the countryside, it is presented in a much more different light where Anderson goes for something that is more natural as it would emphasize the growing tension between Woodcock and Alma. Notably in the third act where despite their fondness for each other, their differences in age and social backgrounds would come into play such as a New Year’s Eve party sequence is where Alma fits totally right in with Woodcock feeling out of sorts. Anderson’s usage of wide shots and tracking camera shots play into Woodcock’s own confusion that would eventually force him to contend with changing times that would emerge in fashion during the 1950s. Still, Anderson focuses on the relationship between the creator and his muse and the role they play for each other with Alma playing a role that is bigger than she realized. Overall, Anderson crafts an intoxicating and rapturous film about the mind of a fashion designer and the muse who inspires him.

Editor Dylan Tichenor does brilliant work with the editing as it display elements of style in its approach to jump-cuts and dissolves while knowing when not to cut during some of the film’s dramatic moments that includes some tense scenes in the third act. Production designer Mark Tildesley, with set decorator Veronique Melery and supervising art director Denis Schnegg, does amazing work with the look of the Woodcock home in London as well as the house in the country and some of the places he, Alma, and Cyril go to. Costume designer Mark Bridges does incredible work with the costumes from the look of Woodcock’s suits and clothes that he wears to the gorgeous dresses that he creates as it looks and breathes color where they act as characters of their own as it’s a major highlight of the film. Makeup designer Paul Engelen does fantastic work with much of the film’s minimal makeup that play into the style that women wore during the 1950s.

Special effects supervisor Chris Reynolds and visual effects supervisor Marc Massicotte do terrific work with a few of the film’s visual effects as it mainly consists of set-dressing for a few of the film’s locations. Sound designer Christopher Scarabosio and sound editor Matthew Wood do excellent work with the sound from the sparse approach to how objects sound during breakfast which would annoy Woodcock to some of the quieter moments in the film. The film’s music by Jonny Greenwood is phenomenal for its rich orchestral score with elements of lush string and piano pieces in the film that add to the elegance of the times while the music would include some classical pieces as well as some of the pop standards of the time before the arrival of rock n’ roll.

The casting by Cassandra Kulukundis is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Camilla Rutherford as Woodcock’s muse early in the film, Lujza Richter as the Belgium royal Princess Mona Braganza, Gina McKee as one of the Woodcock’s rich clients in Countess Henrietta Harding, Silas Carson as a rich man in Rubio Guerrero, Harriet Sansom Harris as a rich woman that is marrying Guerrero only to take poor care of the dress that Woodcock created, Emma Clandon as the picture of Woodcock’s mother, and Brian Gleeson as Dr. Robert Hardy as a young doctor who comes in to look over Woodcock as he befriends Alma. Lesley Manville is remarkable as Cyril as Woodcock’s sister and business manager who runs everything as well as ensuring that her brother’s routine keeps on going while being sympathetic to Alma’s needs in wanting to loosen things in his life.

Vicky Krieps is radiant as Alma as a young waitress who becomes Woodcock’s new muse/collaborator as she helps run bits of the household and does what she needs to be done as it’s a performance that has this mixture of naiveté and curiosity of a simple woman in a world that she’s new to but understands her role but wants to do more. Finally, there’s Daniel Day-Lewis in a tremendous performance as Reynolds Woodcock as this fashion designer that is intent on creating the best dresses for some of the most important women in the world. It’s a performance that has Day-Lewis provide bits of humor into his performance but also this air of obsession to achieve perfection with great care as well as displaying something has him be aloof in small moments. Day-Lewis would display amazing chemistry with Krieps and Manville in the way he deals with them while also showing vulnerability in the scene where Woodcock talks to Alma about his mother and her wedding dress which is something he cares so much about. If this performance is to be the last performance that he ever does. At least he is going on top.

Phantom Thread is a spectacular film from Paul Thomas Anderson that features great performances from Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, and Lesley Manville. Along with its gorgeous visuals, breathtaking costumes, intricate sound design, and Jonny Greenwood’s sumptuous score. It’s a film that explores a world that is unique in its time and a man’s willingness to create something special with the help of a young woman from another world. In the end, Phantom Thread is a magnificent film from Paul Thomas Anderson.

P.T. Anderson Films: Hard Eight/Sydney - Boogie Nights - Magnolia - Punch-Drunk Love - There Will Be Blood - The Master - Inherent Vice - Junun - Licorice Pizza

Related: The Short Films & Videos of P.T. Anderson - The Auteurs #15: Paul Thomas Anderson

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Alex Withrow said...

Excellent review. So happy you were able to see this one and liked it so much. Everything about it was damn near perfect. So happy you mentioned the sound design as well. It was such a necessary component to the movie.

Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I just watched this myself, and while I think you liked it more than I did I agree with a lot of what you had to say.