“all artists beg/borrow/steal from one another. Jarmusch has a good quote on this…”
Picasso also has a good quote on this:
“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”
PTA on Kubrick:
“We’re all children of Kubrick, aren’t we? Is there anything you can do that he hasn’t done?”
“It’s so hard to do anything that doesn’t owe some kind of debt to what Stanley Kubrick did with music in movies. Inevitably, you’re going to end up doing something that he’s probably already done before. It always seems like we’re falling behind whatever he came up with. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) in A Clockwork Orange (1971) – that was the first time I became so aware of music in movies. So no matter how hard you try to do something new, you’re always following behind.”
More Malick than Kubrick imo. The oil derrick scene is reminiscent of the lotus scene from Days of Heaven.
Kubrick casts a long shadow, from the Coen Bros. on down.
I think the pacing and steady cam as well as hand held shows some influence.
I think there is not much similarities among them.
I feel like the comparisons to Kubrick are just people’s yearning for another master of cinema like the great Stan. I love PTA and I can see some nuances of Kubrick’s style in some of his films, but he always seemed more in line with Scorsese and Altman to me. Boogie Nights is very Scorsesean and Magnolia is a blatant homage to the great Altman(especially Short Cuts). Kubrick would have definitely been a fan of PTA, no doubt, but i think the comparisons, especially the ones for TWBB, are thin at best.
Definitely strongly Kubrick-influenced scenes! Plus if I understood correctly, wasn’t one of his early derricks named the Discovery?
Thematically it matches up very well with 2001. In 2001 Kubrick was basically saying that each time mankind has gained new technology it has always been subverted by those in power toward warfare and toward controlling and pacifying the populace (up until Bowman’s final evolution beyond technology at the end of course). In fact one of Kubrick’s prevailing themes throughout his filmography has been the way those in power become corrupted and use that power to gain more power by crushing those beneath them. TWBB is basically a portrait of an American oil tycoon – showing the type of men who often rise to the positions of greatest wealth and power – ruthless and even murderous (shades of the general in Paths of Glory – and the same kind of man as Jack Torrance). But just as the porn industry in Boogie Nights was sort of a caricatured microcosm of Hollywood with its ridiculous wealth, drug use, rampant infidelity, corruption and giant egos – TWBB is actually more a portrait of the oil industry itself, or even for Big Business/Big Banking.
I agree with your post. To add to your post, aside from Plainview, Eli also seeks the power and influence. He even becomes more spoiled by it than Planview. While Daniel prefers owning his monopoly and isolating self in his house, Eli goes on to create a sect and capture as many blind believers as possible across America. Both of them desired power, but for different purposes.
The first several times I watched TWBB, I thought it was a pure masterpiece. Now, I still believe it is Anderson’s best film to date (looking forward to The Master to take this title), but his borrowings from other films, particularly of Kubrick’s, led me to believe that the film is far from to be considered anything original. Yes, major themes and characters are magnificent and drive the whole film. They are perhaps the most enjoyable part of the film and stand out among many other films these days. However, the execution of the film still stretches from Anderson as a student, rather than a master. This film is one of my top favorites, but it cannot come close to be a classic, even after a decade or two (when Anderson will probably release even more masterpieces).
YES!! High five BTP!!
I think this is the first time anyone has really agreed with me on Mubi, and I gotta say, it feels pretty good!! Especially considering the fact that many people disagree about the themes of 2001.
I don’t see any similarity.
I like those observations about 2001, and I think I would agree with them—although I suspect the film covers more than what you’re describing.
But just as the porn industry in Boogie Nights was sort of a caricatured microcosm of Hollywood with its ridiculous wealth, drug use, rampant infidelity, corruption and giant egos – TWBB is actually more a portrait of the oil industry itself, or even for Big Business/Big Banking.
But what about Plainview’s desire for a family? How does that factor in to your reading of the film? To me, Plainview’s desire for his family the way the loses this—because of his quest for success—is a big part of the story. Because of this, I see him in the mold of Charles Foster Kane and the film following closely with CK. At the same time, the way the film also touches on religion makes me think the film also wants to be about America.
Oh, I didn’t mean what I wrote above as a complete statement about TWBB, and I agree with what you say. There’s definitely a bit of Kane in him (Citizen Kaneview?) ;)
The main difference I suppose being that Kane was thrust unwillingly into wealth as a child while Plainview seems to have been a preternaturally driven man from the beginning.
Family – it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, and I have possibly the world’s worst memory – I don’t remember anything about a wife or a woman in his life, and he always seemed to choose his business over his son. Maybe he WANTED a family, but he didn’t seem like a family man to me – too driven. He was married to oil I think. Or to his own success anyway, oil being the means for that.
About America yes – at least about the way the church and the oil industry have grown and changed since the early 20th century. In the beginning both Plainview and Eli SEEMED like good honest civic-minded folk – but that seems to have been only a surface veneer in both cases hiding a calculating if not monstrous interior, which was kept under wraps until they became powerful enough to let their disdain for ordinary people show.
I tend to feel this is a negligible difference. Kane is just as ambitious as Plainview—both aggressively seek after something and lose sight or fail to capture what matters to them most—and what mattered most related to family or childhood.
Maybe he WANTED a family, but he didn’t seem like a family man to me – too driven.
Therein lies the tragedy—as it did with Kane, I think. He didn’t have a wife, but he adopted the boy, HW. He does this initially for business purposes, but he later grows to genuinely care for the boy—but he loses him in the end. Another indication of Plainview’s true desires is the scenes with his long-lost “brother.” The guy is a stranger, but at some point Plainview confesses to the guy how important he is to him (if I’m remembering this correctly).
In the beginning both Plainview and Eli SEEMED like good honest civic-minded folk – but that seems to have been only a surface veneer in both cases hiding a calculating if not monstrous interior, which was kept under wraps until they became powerful enough to let their disdain for ordinary people show.
Imo, that’s too simplistic a reading—at least of Plainview. I don’t think he’s completely monstrous. He’s a man searching for something—a connection, love, etc.—but he’s also searching for oil, money, power. (At one point, I think he genuinely gives Eli’s religion a try—even if it’s small attempt.) He gets the oil, money and power, but loses the other things.
Jazz, I think your reading of the film is much more nuanced than mine. You seem to have picked up on some things I missed – for one thing I didn’t remember if he had actually adopted the boy or if he just told him that to hurt him later. I just remember at one point there was a baby there and we weren’t shown where it came from.
Also, after writing my last reply above, I realized – maybe the reason we feel more empathy for Kane is because we were shown a happy time in his childhood and we see no such thing in TWBB.
I’ll trust your reading over mine – I’m not much of a people person and don’t seem to have much of an ability to read people’s motivations or feelings, at least when it comes to relationships. In that regard people are pretty opaque to me. Plus I often need to see a movie twice before I can really get a handle on it.
At some point I need to re-watch it with your points in mind.
I still remember those claims that TWBB is a rip off Citizen Kane made by few early reviews when film just came out. But, as for me, I honestly thought the character of Daniel Plainview bears very little resemblance to Charles Kane. I would proceed to say that, in spite of only some mere similarities of how their lives shaped, the characters themeselves are very different from each other. Plainview was more of a thinker, a rational person, who had faith, a strong faith that no religion would cast doubt on – a faith in his will and hard work. He was a realist with goals. He was a workaholic above all. He was not a monster. He was just different. While majority of common Americans at that time would fall for the worship or false hopes as the determiners of their fates (the film’s theme, as well), Plainview viewed only himself as a sole ruler of his own luck and path. He believed in his ambitions and decisions, in his wants and means. He was a very knwoledgeable man both in terms of oil drilling and business conduction. He also had a very strong personality, a very bold individuality. He might have wanted to appear as a family man, since, especially during those times, it was one of the key definers of living life properly. Every man had to have family, had to have roots and descendants. And, he might have wanted that. But, subconsciously, beneath his values, his natural self wouldn’t let that happen. Besides, I remember reading PTA initially had Plainview as an impotent in his script. But, this was never mentioned or implied in the film itself. I am not sure whether I would agree with Jazz about his interests in HW. To me, in the very beginning, when he adobts HW as a baby, he appears as a man who wants to love, who believes every man has to have a family and so does he now. It’s only in the next scene, years later, Plainview demonstartes he can use HW as a tool for his deals to be signed. He still maintains some emotion for the boy, but not as much, since the son is growing and becoming an adult. I actually believe that, even if HW didn’t become deaf, his relationship with Plainview would end on a very tense note. They both seemed like very different personalities. HW was more kind and humanist than Plainview could ever think of to be. He is more emotional and warm-hearted, and thus takes pain close to heart. Yet, Plainview prefers to wash it all down with his alcohol abuse and focus on practical matters, particularly his business. It’s evident the boy needs far more than just continuous thoughts of drilling and dealing. Note, I am not saying Plainview is not kind. He is generous in his own way and he shows it also in his own manner. He just prefers to keep everything close to himself. That’s why, as the film progresses, he begins to express negative emotions at others around him. He cannot control his emotions, because he is not used to them and tries to escape from them. He believed his feelings are a trap for his success. He was not really well aware of understanding self, although he knew what he wanted and how to achieve that.
This is just my take on Plainview.
However, Kane is a different type of a protagonist. Firstly, the film tells far more about his lfe than TWBB. We get to know Kane from the sayings of those close to him. We get to see him as a young boy, then as an adult, and finally as an old man. We are told of Kane’s life from its beginning to the middle to the end. Maybe, this is not done in a very chronological form, but the story sheds more light on Kane than what we observed in TWBB, which rather relied on subtlety. Kane himself is a far more extrovert and emotional person than anything what Plainview could be. Yes, both end on a similar note of a recluse, self-captivated in a huge mansion with butler as the only other human being. Both are also highly ambitious, but in a differnet way. Plainview did not want to be President or Governor. In fact, he cared little about politics, as long as it would not come close to his business, to the source of his living. He didn’t need power and influence either. Eli was after that, but not Daniel. If Kane dreamed of ruling a country, for Plainview it was enough to have his enormous monopoly in the oil. He wanted to own, not rule. His final goal was to escape from every person on the planet. He wanted to make enough money to be away from others. This was not the case of Kane. The man not only continuously expanded his newspaper publication, but also intentionally married a President’s niece, manipulated public for the Spanish American War, and even organized a whole promotional campaign for the office of the Governor. All that speaks a lot about a man, who saw no limits to his ambitions. One of the big differences between him and Plainview is that Kane was driven by emotions, lacked realistic and more down-to-earth goals, and also made many mistakes for his own self-proclamation. He was having hard time to cope with his emotions, as these were driving his life. He even invested a great amount of his fortune in his second wife’s career as an opera singer, ignoring her own opinion. On the other hand, Plainview, could still suppress his feelings, although not so well in his later years. It is very amusing how both, quite different in their characterization, would still end up in a similar position.
“I thought it would be fun to drill for oil”
And Billy, I think you’re right. Your post sounds even smarter than Jazz’s. Why am I starting to feel like Brett in Alien?
But, as for me, I honestly thought the character of Daniel Plainview bears very little resemblance to Charles Kane.
I think I agree with some of the differences you’re mentioning, but do you think these differences make the films so dissimilar that the comparison isn’t valid? I don’t think so. Basically, both characters are powerful characters wtih big egos and big ambition, and in their quest to realize their material ambitions, they nevertheless end up profoundly unhappy.
My memory of the film is hazy at this point, but I was fairly confident that HW meant quite a bit to Plainview, although not initially. They may have differences when HW grew up, but HW was still very important to him. (A parent still loves his/her child even though the child can be a different person.) Also, you’re not taking into account the man who pretends to be Plainview’s brother. There’s a scene where Plainview makes clear that the brother, despite being a stranger, is really important to Plainview. Obviously, when Plainview discovers the man is a fraud, then that changes everything. Nevertheless, we hear his genuine feelings about family and how important that it is to him. But he loses HW in the end, someone who I really think mattered the most to Plainview as he could fulfills Plainview’s desire for being part of a familly. Like Kane, his life work gets in the way or destroys the thing that matters to him most. I don’t know if Kane’s ambition and life work destroys his life, so much as he loses his way, that his pursuits fail to bring him the happiness and fulfillment that he really wanted.
" His final goal was to escape from every person on the planet. He wanted to make enough money to be away from others"
In other words he is a sociopath/misanthropist. Does that make him more or less complex than Kane? I think an argument could be made either way.
I also think making the preacher out to be a ‘fake’ was a bad move on PTA’s part. It renders his death meaningless. and to me took a lot away from the impact of the film. unless the ‘death’ actually occurs in his mind, then it’s a different story perhaps.
But for me there needed to be more than just him losing HW for me to give a shit about a man that was such an asshole.