Between its heralded US release in September last year and its arrival in a (very) limited number of New Zealand cinemas this weekend, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master seems to have been transformed from masterpiece and annointed Best Picture contender to also-ran, disappointing scores of local PTA fans in the process, many of whom were crushed that we weren’t going to see the film in the director’s preferred 70mm format. Turns out it was touch and go whether we were going to see it on the big screen at all.
Anderson’s previous film, There Will Be Blood, was a close-run second to No Country For Old Men in my 2007 pick of the year, and his back catalogue is as rich as anyone else of his generation – Boogie Nights, Magnolia and even Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. Like Blood, The Master is painted on a big canvas. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, an alcoholic and self-hating WWII veteran, stumbling between misadventures when he stows away on the San Francisco yacht commanded by academic, author and mystic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Dodd combines rudimentary psychotherapy with hypnosis to persuade gullible followers that their past lives can be used to transform their disappointing present.
It’s now Saturday morning in NYC and Telluride already seems like old news. Venice has just announced its prizewinners (The Master obv. – or not so obv.) and Toronto is in full flow. Still, I have one more day of my Telluride Film Festival experience to record and I’d better get it down before I forget.
The Monday of Telluride is a catch-up day. Most of the celebrities and honourees have departed and a lot of the programme is announced the night before, extra screenings of popular titles (or at least the films that most people were turned away from. This is an excellent plan and I was able to fill in quite a few of my gaps (though not all).
The first screening was the Q&A session for Sarah Polley’s new documentary Stories We Tell, a film that had generated quite a bit of buzz over the weekend. Polley – with gorgeous six-month-old daughter in harness – briefly introduced a film that at first intrigues, then surprises and finally delights. She has done a marvellous job of making what might have been an indulgent piece about her own personal dramas into something universal. I sincerely hope this gets a decent New Zealand release so I can review it at more length but I’m also going to hold back the details of the story so readers without access to Google might come to it as unsullied by spoilers as possible.