Let the joyous news be spread that Paul Thomas Anderson's next project is officially set to roll cameras this June, fully funded and with subject matter, as far as anyone can tell, in tact. Just last September, I was on here wringing my hands wondering if we had just seen a potential masterpiece slip through our fingers. A world in which the guy who made There Will Be Blood doesn't have carte blanche to do whatever the Hell he wants is no world that I want to live in, and now, thanks to the Weinsteins, it looks like I don't have to.
And yet, as thrilled as I am that moneyed interests couldn't silence PT's hot button story of a man forming his own religion, honestly, I'm equally thrilled that he's working at all. It seems to be so easy for major filmmakers to lapse into these extended periods of not working that once begun can stretch on into the better part of a decade. It happened to Anderson once before when he took five years to follow up Punch-Drunk Love, and although it was more than worth the wait, it worries me to see such an important filmmaker settling into such a Kubrickian pace of productivity.
I much prefer the Robert Altman/Martin Scorsese school of knocking out a film every two year or so - three tops. Sure that makes them more vulnerable to the occasional dud, but it also opens them up to all the interesting follies and surprise discoveries that wind up being as treasured as their major masterpieces. Marty would never had produced anything as odd and discomfiting as King of Comedy if he has been moving at the glacial pace of a Terrence Malick, and the cinematic landscape would have been poorer for it.
And that goes for Quentin Tarantino's recent announcement that he had finished his new script, a western about an escaped slave called, "Django Unchained".
The news has been greeted with a flurry of sniping and wailing from those questioning whether Tarantino should be handling such racially loaded material, to those wondering whether Tarantino had anything left in him beside genre riffs. Meanwhile, all I can think is thank God he's working. I'd love another project as mature as Jackie Brown too, but let us just be glad he's not falling into another six year period of dithering like the one that preceded Kill Bill. (And for the record, if it's a genre riff as goddamned awesome as Basterds, I say bring it on.)
And everything I said goes double - triple - for Alexander Payne who is finally releasing The Descendants this year after an excruciating seven year hiatus. Payne was on course to be this generation's answer to Preston Sturges, directing masterworks at a terrific rate - Election, About Schmidt and Sideways all in a five year period. No one was making adult comedies within a mile of him and then - poof - gone. He up and left us high and dry for the length of a presidential administration.
Never again, sir. Please, never again.
Of course the flip side of that coin are the Woody Allen's of the world, mechanically turning out product like and assembly line worker, even if the muse hasn't visited since Clinton was in office. But ya know what, I'll still take Allen's way of doing things - Jade Scorpions and all - since it meant that when Allen was in his prime he was cranking out enough beloved films to make up for the late career slumps of himself and two other filmmakers just like him.