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Monday, August 20, 2012

Dreams in 70mm

This past weekend I was afforded another wonderful opportunity, facilitated by the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.  The theatre played host to a print of Paul Thomas Anderson's (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) newest film The Master (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in the titular role, and Joaquin Phoenix as a wayfarer that gets involved with his cult).  I didn't realize how special an opportunity it was until we got there and it was made known that this would be the only showing in Chicago for months (until the actual release of the film), and that we were some of the first people in the country to see the film, by the time it started, I was giddy with anticipation.  The Music Box is one of the fortunate few theatres in the city with the ability to screen films in 70mm, a format not commonly used (more on the subject later).  The film itself is marvelous, hypnotic, and beautiful.  From the incredibly striking opening image of the churning sea in the wake of a large boat, the water more turquoise blue/green than can be imagined, accompanied by Johnny Greenwood's haunting score, to the startling intimacy of the final frames, The Master is an expertly crafted piece of cinematic ecstasy, engineered by a man who is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest gifts to the world of filmmaking.  The film is about a wanderer, (portrayed by Phoenix) a drunk with no conceivable destination in mind, who finds himself aboard the boat of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher but above all else, a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, as he himself so boldly puts it.  As the film progresses, we find that he is the leader of a group (very obviously based on Scientology, Hoffman being the Hubbard character) and that he has taken Freddy (Phoenix) under his wing in the hopes of making him his protege.  The film it somewhat meandering, continually flashing back to events in Freddy's past, events that have either shaped him into what his is now, or events that have been shaped by what Freddy has always been.  The relationship between the two characters, Dodd and Freddy, and the effects of this relationship is what is at the heart of this film.  It is at once sad, lonely, distant, funny, heartbreaking and seemingly unreal.  For almost the entire two hours and twenty minutes of this film I forgot I was in a theatre, forgot I was watching a film with actors.  Instead I was drawn into this world, these two people and those that surrounded them, convincing me they were real instead of imaginary.  That is the sign of a true film, a masterful film, one that can make you forget reality completely, until you find yourself hopelessly immersed in the film, being released only upon completion.  But I dare say this film went further, even after the curtain was lowered and the house lights came up, I was still entranced, still in a daze as the film wound its way through my senses, leaving me pondering it even still, days after seeing it, eagerly awaiting another viewing.
Now, a word on the format.  Many people will not be familiar with the 70mm format, one often reserved for such monumental films as: Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and Baraka to name a few, but if you ever have the opportunity to view this film in 70mm, by all means take it.  You will be able to see a difference, as the owner of The Music Box theatre said in his speech before the screening, in response to someone asking if they would be able to tell a difference between this and 35mm, "If you can't tell the difference, you aren't looking at the screen."  The wide angle format and absolute depth of 70mm will draw you so far into this film, you will be lost in its wonder.
I am not entirely sure when The Master is scheduled for release and if it will return to Chicago in 70mm, but when and if it does, take advantage of the opportunity, you will not be disappointed.


  1. The newest addition has an article about this movie and director. i love Phoenix. I thought he had retired. He is a gifted actor.

  2. Sorry newest edition of Newsweek. The movie comes out on September 14th. Saw Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen!

  3. Oh, nice! It's great seeing old films in theatre. Phoenix didn't retire, but he did that whole thing where he become a rapper and what-not but that was for a film, it's called "I'm Still Here" directed by Casey Affleck (I haven't seen it yet though).