Paul Thomas Anderson is an indispensable part of the conversation once again after the recent release of his latest creative endeavour Licorice Pizza, a project that has been receiving glowing reviews and heady award season excitement. The movie, Anderson’s treatment of the coming-of-age genre, is an exploration of what it was like to grow up in the San Fernando Valley during the early 1970s. The film marks his return to feature filmmaking after a long hiatus during which Anderson primarily focused on making smaller projects like music videos.
However, Anderson’s magnum opus remains his 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood which was labelled as “the Citizen Kane of our generation” by many fans and critics. Starring the endlessly talented Daniel Day-Lewis as a ruthless oil baron who capitalised on any opportunity he could find, Anderson’s film is an incisive critique of the hyper-capitalist history of America that haunts the country and the rest of the world to this day.
Partially based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, Anderson had to write the screenplay himself because he felt that there wasn’t enough in the book to warrant a direct adaptation. For such a monumental undertaking, Anderson had to partake in extensive research about the American oil industry in the early 20th century. The director’s complete immersion in that world was what drew Day-Lewis to There Will Be Blood, convincing him that Anderson knew what he was doing.
However, one film that inspired Anderson more than any other cinematic work and maybe even more than Sinclair’s novel was a western classic by none other than John Huston. Titled The Treasure of Sierra Madre, the film chronicles the journey of two destitute men who set out to turn their fates around by trying to find gold in Mexico. Humphrey Bogart’s portrayal of one of those men became Day-Lewis’ go-to source of inspiration for his own rendition of Daniel Plainview.
Over the course of the marketing campaign, Anderson cited The Treasure of Sierra Madre multiple times as the chief driving force behind his artistic vision. He also confessed that everyone around him was sick and tired of hearing him talk about the Huston classic, claiming that he was in love with the film because it helped him come out of a writer’s block during the drafting of the screenplay for There Will Be Blood.
In an interview, Anderson described the film as “someone go slowly insane, over ninety minutes—and what could be better?”. He was mesmerised by the film’s strong writing and called it a heavily dialogic film which relies on the fascinating dynamic between the three characters in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. He claimed that the way Huston chose to tell that interesting story was what convinced Anderson to follow in his footsteps.
Anderson explained: “[The film’s] traditional straightforward storytelling was what I was influenced by, and it was something that seemed to apply when trying to make a big story on a limited budget.” Indeed, many of the descriptions that Anderson used for The Treasure of Sierra Madre can also be used for There Will Be Blood which is now rightly known as one of the definitive cinematic masterpieces of the 21st century.