Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” which had its first screening in Beverly Hills on Friday afternoon, is a complicated and peculiar romance.
But that’s not a review, because reviews of the film starring Daniel Day-Lewis are embargoed until December 7. Instead, it’s a description that came straight from Anderson himself, who did a Q&A after the first screening at the Ayra Fine Arts Theatre with stars Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps.
(At least for now, Day-Lewis isn’t doing anything that could be construed as campaigning.)
After saying that he considered the film a romance, because “what else would you call it?,” Anderson added, “It gets pretty complicated and peculiar, as love does.”
“Phantom Thread” is set in the world of high fashion in London in the 1950s, with Day-Lewis starring as Reynolds Woodcock, a haute couture designer (shades of Cristobal Balenciaga and a lot of others, said Anderson). Manville plays his fiercely protective sister and chief aide, with Krieps as the young waitress with whom Woodcock becomes enamored.
It is also a film about complete obsession, with Woodcock demanding the smallest details be perfect at every moment. Asked how much of himself was in his lead character, Anderson initially demurred.
“None,” he said. “I’m a movie director. I don’t know anything about control or obsession.” Then he grinned. “It was very easy to write a lot of that kind of stuff, obsession with the work.”
And speaking of obsession, Anderson and his cast made it sound as if Day-Lewis did his typically immersive job of preparation and characterization, researching every detail of Woodcock’s livelihood and remaining in character throughout the shoot.
Anderson and Day-Lewis were in constant touch during the writing of the script, the writer-director said. While Anderson did most of the writing, the two men simultaneously researched the world of couture in the ’50s over a period of two years, sharing what they learned as the script took shape.
In addition, Anderson said, “I don’t speak English, I speak American. So he was able to correct me.”
As the film went into production, Day-Lewis continued to have a hand in every piece of clothing, every set and every prop. “Everything in the house of Woodcock is so particular, and you have to involve Daniel in that,” said Anderson. “The costume designer, Mark Bridges, couldn’t go off and do his own thing – everything in that world has to come through Woodcock.”
And he means Woodcock the character, because that’s who was on set. Talking about the times when she’d have opinions and suggestions about her own costumes, Krieps was careful to point out that she ran her ideas past Reynolds Woodcock, not Daniel Day-Lewis.
“I would go to Reynolds for his opinion,” she said. “And if he said yes, I would go to Mark and say, ‘Reynolds said yes!'”
The film, added Anderson, was inspired by obsessive ’40s and ’50s dramas like “Rebecca,” “Gaslight” and “Vertigo,” and by more obscure films like the 1943 Joan Fontaine movie “The Constant Nymph.” But he was careful not to model his film after them: “You remember them and you idolize them,” he said, “but then you quickly try to forget them.”
“Phantom Thread” is considered one of the final major Oscar contenders to be unveiled; at this point, the biggest remaining question marks are whether Ridley Scott can actually finish his “All the Money in the World” reshoots that will replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, and whether the resulting film will muscle its way into the awards picture.
As for “Phantom Thread,” it’s something of a question mark, too – let’s just say that Anderson’s words complicated and peculiar are accurate. (The Academy didn’t really warm to “The Master” and definitely didn’t embrace “Inherent Vice,” the two films he’s made since his 2007 high-water mark “There Will Be Blood.”)
But an obsessive Daniel Day-Lewis in what he has said will be his last performance? That seems close to a lock to pick up some hardware over the next few months.
When Day-Lewis’ retirement came up in the Q&A, Anderson quickly said, “I would hope that he will reconsider.”
Added Manville, “Who knows? He could reverse his decision. If not, I’m glad to have snuck one in with him.”