I fell in love with Paul Thomas Anderson’s LICORICE PIZZA on first sight. But, as with much of that mysterious phenomenon known as romantic love, I find it hard to heave my heart into my mouth, or my two typing fingers, and explain why. I will say, because it may evoke some part of the quality of the feeling, that I got off the bus when I was only halfway home from Filmhouse, because I wanted a forty-five minute walk to continue to digest the film and to wallow in the state of mind it had produced. I absolutely can’t put into words how it made the world look different, but walking in a city at night (well, late evening, probably) seemed like a fresh experience. Had I been in LA no doubt the feeling would be even better.

The film was projected in all of its glorious thirty-five millimetres, on the celluloid. As it began, I started to recall how I’d come to feel that, though I miss film as a recording medium, there is a lot to be said for digital as a projection medium. The movie seemed to be actually flickering in a way that was not quite healthy. I could feel one of my temporal lobes going. But then it evened out, and I was glad to have the full film experience.

Lots to enjoy, including the traducing of Jon Peters (fully justified, according to every account of the man I’ve ever read). How did they get away with it, legally, though? Maybe JP is just a magnificently good sport. And the (hilarious) Julie Andrews joke? And yet, Sean Penn’s character, a seeming fusion of William Holden and Steve McQueen, is hidden behind a fictional name.

I haven’t read any of the books on Paul Thomas Anderson — I should try one, because I’m curious to see what a critic could make of them given enough time and space. Anderson himself doesn’t give much away, and the films seem to cloak their true intentions, if they have them. They dance away from the areas you expect them to land heavily on. THE MASTER, for instance, seems set to be an attack on the Church or Scientology, and it isn’t precisely NOT that, but by choosing as protagonist a character so damaged and toxic that you could hardly blame the Hubbard-substitute for failing to cure/reform him. So, fatuous bloviator that he plainly is, corrupt faker that he surely must be, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd isn’t offered up as precisely the hate-figure one would expect.

BOOGIE NIGHTS was easier to parse — the seventies nostalgia was sort-of uncomplicated, the stance on the porn industry seemed simplistically romantic, uncritical, when a producer turns out to be a child molester the regular porn folks are appalled, just as we would be, and so they gain even more in nobility. One of the stranger, to modern eyes, aspects of the seventies was the sense of paedophilia/ephebophilia nudging closer to the mainstream, which BOOGIE NIGHTS misses but LICORICE PIZZA gets. The fact that here it’s a 25-year-old girl involved with a ten-years-younger boy seems to slightly obviate the discomfort that for instance MANHATTAN justifiably causes, but the age gap is barely mentioned here — the subject of legality is raised ONCE, I think, and so, in a very PTA way, the audience is invited to make up its own mind.


A week and a half later, does the film stay in my mind? Mostly just a very pleasant feeling. It’s a film with just enough implied darkness to exert a grip, while being 98% warm and positive.

11 Responses to “Pizzagate”

  1. I haven’t seen “Licorice Pizza” yet and thnks to viewing this trailer I’m likely to give it a pass OTA is a skillful but fatally slick director full of pretentions he doesn’t desrve to exploit. Here’s my review f his egregious “Phantom Thread”, “Licorice Piza” was the name of a rather good record story in Santa Monica.

  2. According to Wikipedia, “Anderson received permission from Jon Peters to develop a character based on him, on the sole condition that Peters’s favorite pick-up line is used.” Please tell me Anderson also included my favorite Jon Peters put-down line (Peters was on the receiving end, from Kris Kristofferson): “If I want any more shit out of you I’ll squeeze your head.”

  3. I think you should try LP, DE. PTA has slick surfaces but the movies are peculiar underneath. Even your issues with Phantom Thread, which I sympathise with, are odd issues, since DDL’s character in it would hardly be less commercial were he gay — probably the film could have reached a WIDER audience.

    Alas, KK’s brilliant put-down is not present in the film. My respect for him rockets ever higher.

  4. All the men on which the character in “Phontom Thread” were based were gay. PTA made him straight because he’s CLELESS about the relationships gay men have with straight women. Thank goodness he wasn’t making a film abut Catherine Deneuve and Yves Saint Laurent. Their friendship was very deep and queite profound. Beyond PTA’s ken to be sure.

  5. There are three gay characters in Licorice Pizza, and none is a version of the lovelorn characters from Boogie Nights and Magnolia, so it’s an advance for PTA in representational terms.

  6. OK, I’ll check it out. Meanwhil, off topis Wally Sawn is the star of Woody Allen’s latet ! He defends him in this piece. I hope we get to see the film soon.

  7. I reeeaaallllllllyyyyyy don’t think that Jon Peter’s gay home help is a representational leap forward by any criteria, artistic or social. Blake Edwards and Mel Brooks in the 70s might have debated whether this performance was a tad de trop.

    After about two sentences I figured out that Safdie’s character was a closeted politico. I couldn’t figure out why, but I did. Did it strike you so almost immediately too?

    There’s a fun article by celebrity interviewer Helen Lawrenson in Esquire in the late 60s about her interminable frustrated agonies in trying to conduct anything resembling a human conversation with Julie Andrews who by that time has withdrawn into mannered aloof polite “nice”-ness

  8. If memory serves, PS Hoffman in Boogie Nights and W Macey in Magnolia were PTA’s previous two gay characters, and they’re kind of the same, so the fact of him including *different kinds* of stereotypes can be seen as some kind of progress. And they’re not stereotypes without some kind of real-life originals. Though it’s always preferable to move beyond the familiar.

    I think I immediately saw that the politico was being set up to be some kind of a disappointment, but then the weird stalker guy made me wonder if this was heading into Taxi Driver terrain, which I wouldn’t have appreciated. So it ended up being more interesting than I’d feared.

  9. […] Pizzagate […]

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