Lightning Round: The First ‘Inherent Vice’ Trailer Unexpectedly Drops Into Our Lives
The first trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice dropped last night, without warning. But we’ve been waiting for it. Oh, how we’ve been waiting. Look, there it is, right above these words, ready to delight us again! Lightning round, go:
Alex Pappademas: “Looking forward to PT Anderson’s reboot of THE BIG LEBOWSKI,” the artist Coop wrote on Twitter last night. But that’s just, like, your opinion, man! And if this does end up being Anderson’s most Coen brothers movie, that’s only because it’s based on Thomas Pynchon’s most Lebowskian book. The real mystery of Inherent Vice the novel was whether Pynchon was aware of Lebowski‘s stoner-Chandler schwagthetic when he conceived the shaggy-dog story of SoCal detective and ’60s revenant Doc Sportello. I figured it was inadvertent; in the early ’70s, while writing the mammoth Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon really did live and eat burritos in then-downmarket Manhattan Beach, the presumed model for Vice‘s fictional Gordita Beach. Listen to the voice-over in this 2009 Vice book trailer, widely rumored to be Pynchon himself — dude was The Dude back when Jeff Bridges was still doing TV movies and Lassie guest spots, is what I’m saying. On the other hand, last year’s Bleeding Edge, full of references to H&M and Purple Drank, Britney Spears and Aki Ross, revealed that Pynchon (who now lives anonymously but not reclusively in New York City) was actually hyper-engaged with mainstream pop culture, at least as of the turn of the 21st century. As always, Pynchon is Schrödinger’s novelist — maybe he’s never seen Lebowski, maybe he’s a huge fan and goes to Lebowski Fest every year and signs in as “Dr. Hugo Splanchnick” and nobody ever gets it.
Either way, this movie looks great and I’m glad (judging by that shot of the policeman going out of his way to accidentally elbow Joaquin Phoenix on the way into the station house) Anderson seems to have put Sportello’s distaste for the po-po front and topically relevant center. From the book: “Yeah, but nowadays it’s all you see anymore is cops, the tube is saturated with fuckin cop shows, just being regular guys, only tryin to do their job, folks, no more threat to nobody’s freedom than some dad in a sitcom. Right. Get the viewer population so cop-happy they’re beggin to be run in. Good-bye, Johnny Staccato, welcome and while you’re at it please kick my door down, Steve McGarrett. Meantime out here in the real world most of us private flatfoots can’t even make the rent.” Typing all that out is my way of encouraging you to read the novel in the few months you have left to do so. It’s funny, it’s smart and sharp about the fog of disappointment utopias leave behind when they collapse, and it’s probably the quickest read in the oeuvre of a great novelist not known for being into the whole brevity thing.
Molly Lambert: It’s all right with me.
Chris Ryan: With this trailer, I keep coming back to the same thing I kept going back to in the book: the incredible square vs. hip, ’50s vs. ’60s culture clash between private dick Doc Sportello and the cop (who was a dick, to be fair) Bigfoot Bjornsen. I don’t honestly remember this scene from the novel, but after seeing it in the trailer, I have no real desire to go and find it. This is what it is now. In one little snippet of a scene, these guys are no longer part of my imagination — they belong to Paul Thomas Anderson; they are Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin. I’m just visiting.
That’s bittersweet, sure. I remember feeling weirdly melancholy while watching another Brolin-starring film adaption of a beloved book: No Country for Old Men. The Coens so completely rendered Cormac McCarthy’s story, it almost felt like an invasion. But if you’re talking about the Coens, or P.T.A., my door’s open. If anyone’s going to steal my imagination, it might as well be those guys.
Mark Lisanti: As someone who hasn’t read the book, I can come to this from the pure, giddy place of someone who works himself up into a spittle-flecked lather over the prospect of finally — and I say “finally” like TWO WHOLE YEARS is an interminable wait — getting a glimpse of Anderson’s follow-up to The Master, the best movie of 2012, if not the past half-decade. I don’t want to dwell on the potential Coen-ness of it all, if for no other reason than invoking Lebowski right now will conjure a blasphemous mash-up of Daniel Plainview, bloodied ten-pin in hand, informing Eli Sunday’s crumpled body that he’s marking it zero. Nobody needed to think about that. (Somebody please make that.)
And let’s allow ourselves a moment to take in this cast, because once you’re playing in Anderson’s rarefied league, assembling the names on your call sheet is like a fantasy draft where your team gets every pick: Joaquin, Brolin, Reese, Benicio, Martin Short in a wig from Phil Spector’s “Casual Menace” Collection, Jonah from Veep, and Sure, Owen Wilson for $1, Why Not? That’s not even counting Eric Roberts, who I was just about to refer to as “Presumed Tarantinoesque Reclamation Project Eric Roberts” before taking a scroll down his 370-entry IMDb page, which includes 65 (!!!) roles in 2014 alone. You don’t reclaim Eric Roberts, you beg him to slow down to the workload of a porn actor with a reputation for a superhuman refractory period.
I give us all permission to continue to be excited to a degree that will annoy even more-than-casual P.T.A. fans. You’re welcome, everybody. See you next trailer, with muttonchops on.
Sean Fennessey: I watch the trailers for Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies the way an irritated rabbit scratches with its hind leg, furiously trying and failing to assuage some imaginary affliction. I watch these trailers all the time, and think of them as their own little masterpieces. I could get close to the movies, they’re all on my shelf, but these 150-second promotional tools are my initial bond, my first love. This makes me sound sociopathic, and I accept that.
I have little idea how involved Anderson is in the editing, orchestration, or oversight of the trailers, but they nevertheless feel a part of what he’s done as a filmmaker, and what he’s trying to do. Few directors wallop and confound in equal measure. Likewise these things, which are often intriguingly opaque, but have recurring motifs. Take the operatic opening line, which you’ll find in Daniel Day-Lewis’s “[throat-clearing] Ladies and gentlemen” in There Will Be Blood, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s alluring “I’m in love. I’m in love, we’ve all been in love” in this teaser for The Master. Consider the late-trailer pop song incursion, as when Three Dog Night’s “Mama Told Me (Not to Come)” cascades into the Boogie Nights clip, or Shelley Duvall’s sweet “He Needs Me” creeps into the anarchic, odd Punch-Drunk Love trailer. Those songs cut in and out, records scratching, sometimes literally, before thrusting forward. Sometimes there’s the moment when that music cuts out, like when Hoffman’s “Shut shut shut shut!” outburst interrupts the Punch-Drunk trailer. Sometimes the trailers give away everything, as in Boogie; other times they’re little more than a series of flashing faces, like Magnolia. For The Master, there was a trio of teasers, and then two formal trailers. I prefer the teasers, chock with dialogue and images that do not appear in the movie. They are not so much Easter eggs as chicken droppings — pranks with no use that no one’s cleaned up. Did you know that Anderson transitioned from “P.T. Anderson” — last seen in the Punch-Drunk trailer — to his full Christian name in the trailer to There Will Be Blood? What does this mean? Nothing. But it’s true.
What will Inherent Vice be like, based on this clip I expect to watch until I’m dead? I don’t know, but I’m inclined to accept Anderson’s comparison to Airplane! largely because I like the idea of Paul Thomas Anderson watching and audibly laughing at Airplane! The sight gags come hard here, with Joaquin Phoenix pratfalling like some stoned Jim Carrey impersonator on Hollywood Boulevard. This one has all the hallmarks of a P.T.A. trailer, too — the obtuse explication of story; the flashing faces; the isolated yelling, here supplied by Josh Brolin, hollering in Japanese; the crash-pow intro, Sly & the Family Stone’s “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chants adrenalizing what will likely be a strange quasi-comedy. That late pop song moment is also here — this time it’s Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World,” a song that saves. Second verse, same as the first. The trailer for Inherent Vice is the newest member in a glorious tradition of commercials that rent space in my heart.
John Lopez: Listen, as a certified Pynchonista — not something to brag about outside an Internet message board circa 1999 and barely even then — I’m still collecting the scattered fragments of the cranium that popped when I found out anyone in Hollywood had read a full Pynchon book, let alone made a movie out of it. And the man to conquer that demented Mount Everest? Paul Thomas Anderson, arguably the best American director at the height of his creative powers, like right now, at this very moment. And now this trailer, from Warner Bros.!? Jesus, someone get me a Swiffer.
Judging by the font (and the New York Times teaser piece this weekend), it looks like Anderson might in fact have actually made a faithful adaptation of Pynchon’s hemp-shoe detective novel — whatever that means for the hyperkinetic, wiki-tailored verbalia that is Pynchon’s prose. But that opening shot could actually be the view down the back alley of where Pynchon lived in Manhattan Beach. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) And the surreal mix of slapstick and tension, the noir-by-way-of–Looney Tunes aesthetic feels spot on. And the quote dialogue couplet “good question, wrong answer” pops one of Pynchon’s famous Proverbs for Paranoids to mind: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.” Sure, this film’s family tree may hyperlink straight back to The Long Goodbye in the grand mini-tradition of the SoCal counterculture noir, but it still feels like pure TP. And pure PT, also. As much as there’s a Big Lebowski vibe, I also feel like I’m mainlining some sweet Boogie Nights insanity here. Maybe it’s the sight of Joaquin Phoenix with the gun, but I get flashes of Mark Wahlberg in the famous Jesse’s Girl scene. So what is this: Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Big Lebowski? Or Thomas Pynchon’s Boogie Nights? As titillating and enigmatic as the trailer is, only one thing’s for sure: wrong question, don’t worry about the answer.
There goes my head again. I’m just gonna give up till December.
Emily Yoshida: I’m gonna be Joannarolling fools with an isolated clip of that “Comin’ just in time for Christmas” kicker from here till … eh, Halloween, I guess. Newsom for the EGOT.