Hands up, I lied! The title is a little misleading. This article isn’t a debate about who is the better or most successful director. The two Paul Anderson’s (They were both originally credited as Paul Anderson) are a good representation of two extremes of filmmaking.
Both directors, now in their 40’s made their feature directing débuts in the 1990’s when they were in their 20’s. during that time Paul Thomas Anderson has made 6 films in 18 years. He is noted for his innovation, encyclopaedic film knowledge and long thoughtful films. He has been nominated for 5 Oscars and his films have ratings of between 79% and 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Paul W.S. Anderson has made 14 films(two of them made for TV) in 20 years, makes dumb, fun action movies with midsized budgets, his Rotten Tomatoes scores range between 10% and 43%, he as yet has not being nominated for an Oscar but his films do tend to make a profit. So is one of them a better or more worthy director? No.
Here is the crux, I have seen every one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films: Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012). I have enjoyed, admired and liked every one of them, but the interesting thing, Boogie Nights is the only one I have seen more than once. I have seem most of Paul W.S. Anderson’s movies and have seen the following ones on more than one occasion: Shopping (1994), Event Horizon (1997), Soldier (1998), Resident Evil (2002), AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), Death Race (2008) and The Three Musketeers (2011).
The difference, Paul Thomas Anderson makes films, Paul W.S. Anderson makes movies. To put it another way, Paul Thomas Anderson is an artist who makes films that have artistic merit, Paul W.S. Anderson makes trashy genre movies. The important thing, I don’t use the words trashy or genre in a derogatory way. If you read the reviews for his latest movie Pompeii you will see a trend, something like “it isn’t very good but I enjoyed it”.
This isn’t the first time I have written about Films v Movies, and probably won’t be the last. What is the definition of the difference between a film and a movie I’m not sure there is one, the character Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) in the movie True Romance (1993) had a go: “They ain’t plays, they ain’t books, they certainly ain’t movies, they’re films. And do you know what films are? They’re for people who don’t like movies. “Mad Max”, that’s a movie. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, that’s a movie. “Rio Bravo”, that’s a movie. “Rumble Fish”, that’s a fuckin’ movie.”
The best analogy I can use is music. Is pop and rock music any less relevant than classical music. Take for example Rod Stewart’s Maggie May that was recorded in just two takes and was never actually perfected. Or The Beatles debut album Please Please Me, most of which was recorded in one 13 hour session with singer John Lennon suffering from a bad cold. Both Please Please Me and Every Picture Tells a Story (the album Maggie May appears on) feature in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The fact people are still listening to them around half a century later demonstrates their lasting appeal. Or to put it another way, a good burger is better than a bad steak!
What conclusions can we draw from this? I think we need to draw our own conclusions. For me the measure of a film/movie isn’t how much money it makes, how original it is, how artistic it is, but how much I enjoy watching it and how much I want to see it again. By this measure Point Break and Die Hard are amongst the “best” films ever made and Event Horizon and Resident Evil are as good as or better than any Paul Thomas Anderson movie.