A History of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Music Videos, Ranked By Their Virtuoso Tracking Shots
From Haim’s “Right Now” to Radiohead and Fiona Apple.
There are few directors who have a better feel for music than Paul Thomas Anderson. He has said that 1999’s Magnolia was a direct consequence of his friendship with Aimee Mann, whose music he tried to”adapt” into film—”like you would adapt a book or a play.” Today, Haim released the first glimpse of their sophomore album with a P.T. Anderson-directed video for “Right Now,” their first single off of Something to Tell You, and it combines two of the filmmaker’s longstanding obsessions: Southern California singers and a masterful tracking shot. (See his virtuoso opening to 1997’s Boogie Nights, which pays homage to Martin Scorsese’s famous behind-the-shoulder shot of Henry Hill entering the Copacabana Club through the kitchen in Goodfellas.)
The slow cook and gentle choreography of the long shots in “Right Now,” though, aren’t meant to dazzle. They speak more to a master at complete ease with his craft. But in music videos in the past—of which there have been only a couple handfuls (many of them with Anderson’s ex-girlfriend, Fiona Apple)—the director has really stretched his legs with his camerawork. Here are the most tracking shot-forward P.T. Anderson music videos, ranked from Haim to Radiohead and Fiona Apple.
7. Haim, “Right Now,” 2017
It makes sense for the Haim sisters to ease their way back into the spotlight, after a four-year-hiatus following the star turn of their debut album. The production of their first single from the upcoming Something to Tell You is stripped bare, and there is nothing jarring here—only Anderson’s steady, confident gaze at Este, Danielle, and Alana, as if to say, Here, get reacquainted.
6. Aimee Mann, “Save Me,” 1999
Similarly, there are no jaw-dropping camera moves in Aimee Mann’s video for “Save Me,” a song that is inextricable from Magnolia, which was released the same year. The tension is in the slow push-ins on Mann’s still form during her performance. Major bonus points, though, for having Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, and even Tom Cruise as props, essentially.
5. Joanna Newsom, “Sapokanikan,” 2015
No Steadicam here. The video for “Sapokanikan” speaks to Anderson’s looser vibe in 2014’s Inherent Vice, which Newsom stars in and narrates, as Anderson’s handheld camera dances joyously along with Newsom through downtown Manhattan. It’s really impressive how they navigate twirling in one door and out the other of that Gray’s Papaya clone in Greenwich Village late at night. There were probably a lot of drunk NYU students to avoid.
4. Michael Penn, “Try,” 1997
The packed, randomly peopled hallways in Anderson’s first major video, made the same year he released Boogie Nights, has the breakthrough film’s same energy and constant revolving cast of characters, all of whom manage to get in the way, somehow.
3. Fiona Apple, “Paper Bag,” 2000
If there’s anything more elating than an expertly staged and shot dance sequence, it’s one with little kids in adult suits, which is what Anderson gives us with his ex, Fiona Apple, as a cabaret singer in this video for the second single off of her 1999 album When the Pawn... (The video is in part an homage to 1976’s Bugsy Malone.
2. Radiohead, “Daydreaming,” 2016
There’s a nice, slow burn to our watchful eye on Thom Yorke, as he drifts through a series of hallways. The camera trails him languidly as he opens doors to office buildings, laundromats, beaches, and even the mountains at night. It’s like Birdman, without the cocaine.
1. Fiona Apple, “Across the Universe,” 1998
This Anderson-Apple collaboration may be one of the most enjoyable. Often, her jazzy, irregular rhythms don’t invite his finest Steadicam work, but this delightful cover of the Beatles (for the soundtrack to the film Pleasantville) marries Anderson’s sure hand with utter mayhem, expertly choreographed of course.
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