Why Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead Are the Perfect Match

Despite how much they complement each other, it’s surprising that there aren’t many interesting partnerships between filmmakers and musicians. There are some exceptions: Martin Scorsese has worked his cinematic magic on the likes of The Band in The Last Waltz, Bob Dylan in No Direction Home, and The Rolling Stones in Shine a Light, all of which have provided many memorable musical moments in the auteurs feature films. David Lynch has an extremely creative partnership with Angelo Badalamenti: who has composed music for Blue Velvet, Mullholland Drive, and most notably Twin Peaks. Yet there aren’t many modern examples of musicians and filmmakers that collaborate so well together that they have defined each other’s output. Except for Paul Thomas Anderson and his work with Radiohead.

Anderson, who has directed iconic films like There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and The Master, is well known for cultivating creative relationships with his many collaborators. Actors that have worked with him more than once include talents like Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Inherent Vice), Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood, for which he won his second Oscar, and the upcoming Phantom Thread), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, Magnolia), and his most treasured muse, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, and The Master).

With There Will Be Blood, Anderson began a creative relationship that would impact every film he’s made since then: working with Radiohead guitarist and composer Johnny Greenwood. Until 2016, Greenwood and Anderson worked exclusively on Anderson’s projects. That was until Radiohead released 9th studio album Moon Shaped Pool. Anderson directed all three of the music videos that accompanied the singles, taking responsibility for the band’s visual style concerning the album. It’s through these three music videos that we can see the evidence of this fruitful creative partnership, how both ban and director benefit from working together in this medium. To investigate this let’s look closely at Daydreaming.

At firs, Daydreaming seems bewildering, a simple set of actions that have a vague, even opaque meaning. The video follows Thom Yorke as he passes through a variety of locations: houses, hospitals, garages, with little to connect them. It’s when we look closer, at both the details that Anderson has in a frame, and the themes present in his own body of work, that the meaning becomes clearer.

When looking at Anderson’s body of work, particularly his films, there are two recurrent themes: fatherhood and its many dimensions, and a character, usually a man, who gets devoured by his own dreams of success. There ~Will Be Blood is a story about a man who becomes a titan of the oil industry only to destroy the relationship he has with his son, and murder his surrogate son. In Magnolia Tom Cruise’s motivational speaker, Frank Mackey, is a motivational speaker for Pick-Up Artistry who has become a parody of himself thanks to the fractured relationship with his father. In Boogie Nights both Dirk Diggler, and Amber Waves have their lives ruined by the Porn industry, with Amber losing her child. With these themes in mind, Daydreaming becomes much clearer.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Radiohead has been one of the biggest bands on the planet for 20 years. The weight of that success, the responsibility of it, is one of the things that Yorke is singing about. Daydreaming is about the responsibilities that Yorke has to his family, and to Radiohead, a balance that isn’t easy to maintain. The pressure of being a rock star can have adverse effects on the people you love. Yorke himself had separated from his long-term partner: the mother of his two children, who tragically passed away not long after Moon Shaped Pool was released. Again, the themes of fatherhood, and the power, and consequences of success are what define Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, so it’s not out of the realms of possibility that Johnny Greenwood requested his services considering these themes reverberate through Moon Shaped Pool.

Daydreaming is a superb music video that showcases the strengths of everyone involved. It’s constructed like an existential journey, with Yorke passing through family scenarios with Radiohead references everywhere: signifying the duality that defines his life. With Anderson behind the camera, both director and band have created a realistic journey of the soul, which may sound a little pretentious, but is shot in a realistic way. There is little special effects, just editing tricks: a simple distillation of what makes this partnership so powerful. Let’s hope Radiohead have another album in them so we can experience more.


Contributor: Andrew Border

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