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From Radiohead to Haim: The six best music videos directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

As a director, Paul Thomas Anderson needs no real introduction. He is one of the most celebrated auteurs of the modern era, and given that he’s only released nine feature-length flicks to date, this gives you a clear indicator of his status. 

He kicked off his career with 1996’s crime thriller Hard Eight, a compelling introduction into the dense mind of one of Hollywood’s most unmistakable filmmakers. After that, in 1997, Anderson delivered us the masterpiece that is Boogie Nights, effectively constructing Mark Walhberg’s acting career in the process. Magnolia followed, as did other classics such as Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood. A stylistic master, Anderson is the contemporary lord of the period piece, in an age where the likes of Ridley Scott continue to deliver stagnant versions of the past. 

Whilst Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood were set in two completely different time periods, 1970 and the early 20th century respectively, Anderson’s films have an authentic quality, no matter when they are set. This speaks volumes of his creative viewpoint. Anderson is acutely aware that for a movie to be artistically valid, he has to get the wardrobe, script and cinematography right. He understands each element’s role within a film, giving them a multi-faceted essence in what is a real rarity for modern cinema.

Another medium in which Anderson has shown his genius is the music videos he’s directed. Whilst a sporadic trend, Anderson has directed some iconic visuals for some major artists. His feature-length films always lean heavily on their soundtracks, so there’s no real surprise that he’s mastered the music video too. If anything, it’s a shame he hasn’t directed more. 

Like with the actors he hires for his movies, Anderson has a tendency to work with the same artists multiple times, but this is wonderful a thing. Understanding what the music needs to be brought to life, Anderson’s music videos are one of a kind. Join us then, as we list Paul Thomas Anderson’s six best music videos.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s six best music videos:

‘Daydreaming’ – Radiohead (2016)

‘Daydreaming’ makes a strong claim for being Anderson’s top music video to date. Nearly six and a half minutes of total bliss, the footage and Radiohead’s swooning single intertwine in the most emotive of ways. Evoking the heady implications of the title, this really is a piece of art.

The camera tracks Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke as he walks through many different settings, including the stark vista of a snowy mountain. The video is like the spiritual successor to Punch-Drunk Love and Inherent Vice, utilising bright colours and Anderson’s vintage lens flare with real skill.

‘Paper Bag’ – Fiona Apple (2000)

Classic Fiona Apple, vintage Paul Thomas Anderson. The third single from the New York singer-songwriter’s iconic album When the Pawn… it’s safe to say that the ideas Anderson tried out here would make it into Punch-Drunk Love and become its defining features. Comprised mostly of tracking shots, we watch Apple dance around an art-deco ballroom, singing into the camera. 

Apple sings, “I thought he was a man, but he was just a little boy”, as she dances with a troupe of little boys dressed like men, a thinly-veiled illusion to the many faults the males of the species have. Beautifully choreographed and shot, the end scene where Apple leaves the boys behind, backed by a vibrant Michael Mann-esque blue light, is just exquisite.

‘Save Me’ – Aimee Mann (1999)

‘Save Me’ by American songstress Aimee Mann is something of a forgotten gem. Released for Anderson’s Magnolia, Mann wrote the soundtrack for the film whilst reading the script and keeping the characters in mind.

In the video, we see Mann sitting in the same rooms as the characters, as she sings about freaks and love. An interesting inversion of the movie soundtrack music video, this is Anderson at his most ingenious.

‘Try’ – Michael Penn (1997)

Another iconic video was for Michael Penn song ‘Try’, the husband of Aimee Mann. Penn scored the soundtracks for both Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, and the ‘Try’ video references the latter. The video was shot with the crew and certain members of the cast while the film was in post-production. Shot in one take, it was filmed in the longest hallway in North America, which stretches over a quarter of a mile long. 

The late Philip Seymour Hoffman appears twice in the video. He hands Penn his guitar and microphone the first time, and the second time he holds a boom mic for the singer. Famously, Hoffman wears a Planet of the Apes T-shirt and a jacket that references Boogie Nights with the words ‘Angels Live in My Town’ printed on it. 

‘Summer Girl’ – Haim (2019)

Another tracking shot special is ‘Summer Girl’ by Haim. An upliftng summer anthem, this is the band’s riff on Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. The video is vintage Anderson.

Hazy and featuring the sonorous streets of his native L.A., you’ll have it on repeat after watching. The video centres on Danielle Haim and her sisters as we see them go about their daily live’s followed by an unknown saxophone player. In one of his most recent music videos, Anderson shines.

‘Across the Universe’ – Fiona Apple (1998)

Another entry comes from Anderson’s old flame, Fiona Apple. A languid cover of the iconic Beatles track, it makes a claim for being the best cover of the original out there, even surpassing that of David Bowie’s 1975 version. Monochrome and slowed down, the video captured the sentiment of the song in the best of ways.

Apple wears headphones as the world descends into chaos around her. She’s spun around, watches fights and general violent abandon, but nothing’s gonna change her world. A stunning music video, it makes us wish we could go back to 1998.