FunAstrologyLicorice Pizza Director Anderson: "I Like Simple Jokes You're...

Licorice Pizza Director Anderson: "I Like Simple Jokes You're Not Ashamed Of The Next Day"

The filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson on his role models Max Ophüls and Billy Wilder – and the question of why “Licorice Pizza” was able to succeed under pandemic conditions.

Paul Thomas Anderson, I haven’t seen a movie as good as Licorice Pizza in a long time. How do you achieve such quality in the middle of the pandemic?

It was scary, because there was no vaccine at first. We felt like we were planning a bank robbery together, something that’s terribly risky but worth it. For so long everyone had been working towards themselves with no perspective, something to work towards. Now we had to stick together and be very efficient and very thorough. And that’s why I hardly think that the same script would have made an equally good film under normal circumstances. But I can tell you it’s really exciting to be putting out a film that feels like this right now. God knows I’ve made more difficult and strenuous films, but I wouldn’t really like to show one like that right now. I wouldn’t like to release The Master right now.

I would love to see it anytime.

That’s right, it’s a great film.

Your new film is set in the early 1970s, an era very familiar to our generation of classic films; you quote many of them directly. How does a young audience react that doesn’t know these films?

I’m trying to remember my own youth. At the time, I really liked watching films that were set in the 1950s. I liked the fashion, the cars and the freedom that everyone carried in front of them, like James Dean in Because They Know Not What They Are Doing. And I liked the movies from the 70’s that were set in the 50’s like American Graffiti. My children are a bad example because I put them on a religious diet from old movies or period films. My house is a kind of compulsory film lover’s house. You have to look at all kinds of things there. But I’ll tell you what: my children and their friends were extras in many scenes of my film. And they loved the clothes and the music. And then this one backdrop with the many pinball machines. They felt really betrayed that this no longer exists in their time. They said: This is so unfair! you had something like that Is that real? I said: Sure, we had something like that. Were they angry! And because they weren’t allowed to have their cell phones with them, they had a wonderful time!

Did you include your own memories? You were just a little kid then. Or is it more like a movie?

That’s half and half. All the details of the story came from my friend Gary Goetzman who is 18 years my senior and was a child actor. We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles. My parents were in show business, and even though I was very young myself, I saw a lot. Nothing about his stories struck me as a mystery, I could understand everything immediately and see it very clearly in front of me. Even if it’s not my own story, it’s my feelings. I made up the relationship story, but it reminds me of some relationships I had with older girls as a teenager. And I had an older sister, so that has a lot to do with it too. Because of course she had friends, and you definitely want to be with them – they were beautiful and cool and had cars. And of course they didn’t want anything to do with you, because you were small and annoying. All of these things come from personal experiences, fictionalized if you will.

That fits with the feeling your film conveys to me, that certain innocence: like a child, full of curiosity, looking at the life of the slightly older ones.

I remember filming this scene where Gary and Alana are having a big argument without anyone doing anything wrong. I liked that so much while watching because they seem like an old married couple. Their relationship is past its peak and Alana starts a fight over nothing just because she wants out of the relationship. You don’t do that until you’re an adult. I thought, This is interesting, this microcosm of adult relationships where it’s all about ridiculous details and arguing about who’s cooler. But it’s so human.

Now we talked about the autobiographical references. The second level seems to me to be old films. Sean Penn plays a Hollywood star named Jack Holden who asks Alana out on a date. Isn’t that actually William Holden in his role in Clint Eastwood’s early film Breezy as the boyfriend of a much younger hippie woman?

Breezy is interesting. This Gary Goetzman who inspired the main character was actually dating actress Kay Lenz. They broke up, and then she got the lead role in Breezy. Hence the connection: I didn’t know the film beforehand, but then this scenario came to mind: Of course, she didn’t really date Holden privately. But I’ve always liked William Holden, he’s of my father’s generation. See: it starts with a true story. All sorts of comedic things can come out of that. And then the rest just tumbled out. I used whole sentences of dialogue from “Breezy” unchanged in the casting scene of my film. We call the film “Rainbow”.

Choreographed tracking shots contribute to the dreamlike impression of almost all of her films. I think you’re a big fan of the German-French director Max Ophüls, who mastered this stylistic device.

I think fan is too light a word. I would say I adore him. What is the difference between God and Max Ophüls? joke question! Max Ophüls is God. Whenever you move the camera, you try to do it as well as Ophüls. And he’s still the undefeated champion. And who doesn’t try it all. But after seventy years he is still world champion.

I hope you don’t take offense, but I also had to think of a certain set of not-so-regarded movies that Hollywood’s doyens were making in the late ’60s: Otto Preminger’s Skidoo, Vincente Minnelli’s All Desiring ( The Sandpipers) …

To person

Paul Thomas Anderson, born in 1970 in Studio City, California, works as a film director, screenwriter and producer. He has been nominated for an Oscar eight times.

With “Licorice Pizza” he now dedicates a light-hearted masterpiece to his childhood in the seventies. Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson’s late regular cast member Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays the lead role of a Hollywood child star. As a teenager, he already sees his star sinking and is constantly developing new business ideas – be it as a seller of water beds or operator of a hall full to the brim with pinball machines. The breeding ground for his creativity is courting his great love, a photo assistant ten years his senior. “Licorice Pizza” looks at the youth culture of the hippie era with the innocence of a child, interwoven with ravishingly selected songs, orchestrated in a dreamlike style of artful tracking shots. Similar to Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, it is a parallel narrative to film history and at the same time a declaration of love. Just a lot more tender. It’s hard to find better films these days.

“Licorice Pizza” will be released in German cinemas this Thursday.

Oh my god ( laughs ), I hope you don’t mean to offend me! There’s this subcategory of aging Hollywood directors who wanted to do something youthful again. Howard Hawks did this bizarre thing, I can’t get the title…

“Red Line 7000” …

Oh my God! No! This is so bad… Where have we ended up now? Tell me that’s not true…

I really didn’t want to insult you and compare your film with it, quite the opposite.

( Laughs ) But it would have been very funny.

You know what the worst of these aging directors’ hippie era movies is? Michael Powell’s Age of Consent. Please don’t ever make a movie like that!

Oh oh, this is so bad. It’s like the old men who can’t stop dying their hair and end up looking even older than they really are with their jet black hair.

Again, I just think that something of those uncool aging men is reflected in your characters, Sean Penn’s character for example. This desire to get involved in this new youth culture. That was also true of Clint Eastwood when he was shooting “Breezy”.

Exactly. There are photos of him from that time wearing moccasins, but he was just too old for hippie culture. William Holden, for example, was so recognizably a man from another era, he was always clean-shaven and turned down several films simply because they contained nude scenes. The only outward concession these men made to the new style was to grow longer sideburns.

Susan Sontag spoke of “American Surrealism” for the view of modern photographers like Diane Arbus on the odd in the normal. I think your films have a different kind of everyday surrealism: but it’s a friendly one, without the nasty irony.

That sounds good. I like everything without irony. Irony can be a great thing when it’s real and not malicious. I prefer fun things. I like the cheap jokes. But it has to be the right kind of simple humor, the kind you’re not embarrassed about the next day. I don’t like anything snippy. And I don’t like “clever” either. My favorite movies that I enjoy consistently are straight forward, funny and not overdoing it. And through their simplicity, they achieve something very special. I’m thinking of Billy Wilder in particular. His films are considered comedies, but they’re so much more, and built so lightly.

His role model was Lubitsch, let’s just take “Ninotschka”.

It was back on TV the other day and I thought, that’s just incredible.

Thank you for this conversation!

Thank you, and I promise you I’ll never make a movie like Girl from the Coral Reef.

Interview: Daniel Kothenschulte

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