Then and Now: Ranking The Music Videos of Paul Thomas Anderson

While his feature-length films are synonymous with his name, PTA’s work in the realm of music videos offers a style unique to each artist.

PTA’s films are widely lauded for their staggering stories and examination of morality and toxic masculinity. Buoyed by the performances of actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Amy Adams, and Joaquin Phoenix, Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are full of philosophical riddles based in the human experience. But instead of lingering on these weighted stories, let’s take a look at how PTA transfers his cinematic eye to the music videos he has directed. Collaborating with the likes of HAIM, Radiohead, and Fiona Apple, among others, PTA transfers that same instinctual eye to these vignettes where music meets performance. Here, we’ll look at how his music videos have changed over the years, from his first in 1997 to his recent ventures in 2017.

14. Michael Penn – Try

Michael Penn takes us on a tour of what looks like hallways of various sets Anderson could be using for a larger picture. Instead, the confined spaces and constantly moving forward and pushing back write the video’s own narrative. With cinematography provided by frequent collaborator Robert Elswit, and an appearance by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, PTA crafts a moving, in the literal sense, music video for Michael Penn’s “Try.” In 1994, this was PTA’s first music video.

13. Fiona Apple – Across the Universe

We’ll answer since you’ve already asked. Yes, it is the cover of The Beatles “Across the Universe.” But Fiona Apple delivers a melancholic repose to the song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As Apple’s natural movement is capture, chaos reigns around her. Unaffected, Apple sings on, framed in a black and white world. Set in the diner used in Pleasantville, it’s a conscious act of juxtaposing calamity and calm. If you look closely towards the end, you can even spot John C. Reilly looting the diner’s jukebox.

12. Fiona Apple – Fast as You Can

Paul Thomas Anderson is known for his choice of camera. Partnering again with Robert Elswit and Fiona Apple, the trio go for a variety of looks in “Fast as You Can.” The music video was shot with a vintage hand-cranked camera using multiple lenses. Toying with speed and image clarity, PTA again gives Apple’s music a distinct look as she provides the sound.

11. Aimee Mann – Save Me

Shot during production on his film Magnolia, PTA directed Aimee Mann along with the ensemble cast for “Save Me.” The song would go on to be an Academy Award-nominee for Best Original Song. Placing Mann in the very world she is singing about, it’s like she is a specter reinforcing the theme rather than observing the story.

10. Fiona Apple – Limp

“Limp” has a far more stylistic and cinematic feel than Anderson’s previous collaborations with Apple. The red and blue lighting and mansion set leave a backdrop for Apple to roam and become the center fixture.

9. Fiona Apple – Paper Bag

It’s an homage to the musical numbers of the classic Hollywood period that’s in store with Fiona Apple’s “Paper Bag.” The grand setting and costuming make it, while the subdued tune that Apple provides offers a croon rather than a boisterous rendition of some tap-dancing bit. Featuring 20 young men spinning around Apple, “Paper Bag” is quite a show stopper.

8. Fiona Apple – Hot Knife

Compared to their first music video collaboration in the mid-90s, “Hot Knife” molds music video and song as one playing off of the other. In a sort of mimicry, split frames featuring Apple appear across the screen with color schemes of warm hues and black and white juxtaposed back and forth. With the song playing Apple’s voice on various parts, the music video hops between each line, even showing them off all at once. In the past, Apple was at the center of various sets, background colors, and wardrobe. Here, Apple is the singular feature.

7. Joanna Newsom – Sapokanikan

Newsom and PTA first worked together in the 2014 film Inherent Vice. With Newsom’s music career getting mainstream attention and critical acclaim, they partnered for two music videos, “Sapokanikan” being the first. Some of the best moments in this five-minute video highlight Newsom in shades of red, as fire trucks happen to be in the background while the camera is rolling. Like Newsom’s voice, there’s a winsome innocence to the video as we skip along with the singer/songwriter through the city of New York in the winter time.

6. Joanna Newsom – Divers

Newsom’s “Divers” is an intense work of art. Collaborating with PTA and nebulous imagery artist Kim Keever, every frame is a painting of cascading clouds, fine-tuned with the ethereal voice of Joanna Newsom. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears.

5. Radiohead – Daydreaming

PTA has a budding partnership with Radiohead. Jonny Greenwood famously wrote the score for PTA’s recent film Phantom Thread. Prior to the film, the director and band fused their talents for a slew of music videos. Here, we follow Thom Yorke through a series of doorways leading to an unknown destination, PTA’s collaboration with the band expands the unknowing unconsciousness of “Daydreaming.” Moving from room to room, doorway to doorway, with no apparent destination.

4. Radiohead – Present Tense, Jonny, Thom & a CR78

Forgoing anything flashy for warm intimacy, PTA directed the subdued music video featuring Greenwood, York, and a CR78. Almost like Apple’s “Hot Knife,” the fixture here is the voice and musical styling of the pair. With the songwriters bathed in warm hues, the music video doesn’t call for anything more.

3. Radiohead – The Numbers

When removing the quintessential of a music video, stripping the façade away, you get “The Numbers.” Here, even the dolly is visible as the camera slides forward, documenting every moment of Yorke and Greenwood as they create their music.

2. HAIM – Valentine

The band HAIM are their own brand of cool. Nothing solidifies that more than the effortlessness of the music video for “Valentine,” comprised of songs “Right Now,” “Something To Tell You,” and “Nothing’s Wrong.” With slow, graceful camera movements, PTA captures the artistry of the trio as they record a seamless track. The video is full of passion even when the style of it is pulled back.

1. HAIM – Little of Your Love

An homage to line dancing? Probably unlikely, but “Little of Your Love” is the latest music video from 2017 Paul Thomas Anderson directed for the band HAIM. If the in-studio “Valentine” showed off the women’s skills and passion, “Little of Your Love” is a fun romp where PTA captures HAIM and a group of dancers. In neon lights, they dance a choreographed bit to “Little of Your Love.” From his first video in 1994 to this latest in 2017, PTA has shown his partnerships with singers/songwriters are two-fold: an opportunity to visually stylize a song, and a collaborative effort that brings music and film together.

Julia Teti: @jltet14 An entertainment writer, with work featured in multiple places. Loves movies and television almost as much as her cat.