Twenty bucks. I've put it off for a while, but it's time to just cough it up and get Magnolia on DVD already. My VHS copy is, officially, dead; vague and wheezy, it's been watched into oblivion. When I first saw Magnolia at age 19, the experience was nothing short of revelatory; watching it yet again last weekend, I realized how massively writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's film has impacted me ever since.
Screening all of Anderson's feature-length films in order was something I'd never done, but in anticipation of his latest, There Will Be Blood, I started with Hard Eight (1996), then hit Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), and Punch-Drunk Love (2002). The underappreciated Hard Eight is a hell of a start: Tight and sharp, it's half low-fi character study and half modern noir, and it introduced us to one of Anderson's chief talents—getting incredible performances out of anyone he casts. Boogie Nights is weird, though—while it's Anderson's worst feature, it'd be the highlight of almost any other director's career. Exhilarating and terrifying, it's a sprawling, stylized portrait of America's '70s and '80s, told through intersecting lenses of pornography and failure. Here Anderson's pushing himself, and it's stunning, but the depth and grace he'd later demonstrate in Magnolia leaves Boogie Nights in the dust. Bold and devastating, Magnolia accomplishes nothing less than using an ensemble of has-beens to sum up the entirety of modern existence. (Plus, there's that plague of frogs.) And then there's Punch-Drunk Love, which harkens back to Hard Eight's streamlined narrative: Intense, beautiful, and creepy, Punch-Drunk's also an unapologetic and hilarious romantic comedy.
The extent to which Anderson's films—all of them gorgeous, unique, and harrowing—have changed American cinema is huge. But I'm selfish: I'm more concerned with how they've changed me, and my thoughts about film, music, and life. Ever since I first saw Magnolia, I've come to anticipate two things: The next Paul Thomas Anderson picture, and the possibility, however remote, of frogs suddenly falling from the sky. One of those things is now here.