Monday, October 8, 2012

A master . . . any master . . .

I just finished sending off the afterward on The Master for Blossoms & Blood, which means that all new content for the book is complete. It came in right at about 4k words, which means that it will be less than half the size of the other chapters. This was partly for time reasons and partly because I just didn't go into the production history and critical reception, as I had with the others. In the end, its really just a lot of old-fashioned textual analysis, which is about the only framework which feels appropriate at this time. If I ever do a second edition of the book 10-20 years down the road, I will take advantage of hindsight and evaluate its larger historical context. But at the moment it all feels too premature.

I have to say that writing on The Master was an interesting throwback to (what I imagine as) the earliest days of scholarly film criticism--before videos and DVDs--when your only access to a movie was to just sit and watch it from start to finish, no rewinding, no freeze-frames, etc. It was both frustrating and exhilarating. I went to an early (11am) screening yesterday morning--my second viewing of the film--with the express intent of seeing anything I might have missed, as well as looking for specific details which fit the first draft I'd already put together. I ended up adding another 1k words yesterday afternoon, and spent this morning mostly polishing and proofreading. It was perhaps a good thing that I couldn't pause The Master, as then I probably would have written another 20 pages with all the details I left out/forgot.

It was actually liberating to write something under those circumstances, and with the understanding with UT that the length would be limited. It freed me to just focus on one or two key ideas, developing those as best I could, and then just letting go . . .

In truth, then, there was a great deal of sadness for me yesterday. For one, to know that this is finally the end of the book--not the end of the editorial process by a long shot, but the end of my new contributions to it after over two years of writing and another piece always just around the corner. For another, I know there's so much more to be said about the film than I got to in the afterward--but, as is life, one just keeps running out of time. Of course, so much as already been said too, and that may be part of the melancholia (at a certain point, I just had to block it all out to get the writing done). The material works better as an extension of the book than an analysis of the film on its own. But there was also a third reason--I've really, really, grown personally fond of Anderson's latest film. A second viewing really drew that out for me. Whereas the first time I watched it a few weeks ago, I was just anxiously trying to figure out what I could say about it--this time I was trying to fill in gaps in the argument but also just enjoying the film more without that anxiety since I knew the project was safely near completion.

Do I like the film more because I spent so much time thinking about it and trying to analyze it? Quite likely, but I have to say that I really noticed more so the second time through how much this movie speaks to me personally. That's ironic, of course, because of all of Anderson's six films, The Master is by far the one least interested in generating an emotional reaction from its audience, I think. Do I love it as much as Punch-Drunk Love? No. Do I think its as good as There Will Be Blood? No. But a lot of the ideas and themes and journeys in The Master have resonated softly and deeply in a way that has really taken me by surprise in the last month, and which my scholarly analysis does not really (explicitly) account for.

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