If you’ve ever spent time on the internet, or if you grew up on it like I did, you know what a meme is. From innocent cats doing things to Vine (RIP) compilations to the the far right co-opting a cartoon frog, there is no doubt that they are central to much of our lives without anyone really paying much attention.
At this year’s Woman With A Movie Camera summit at the BFI, Associate Editor at Little White Lies Hannah Woodhead led one of the more lighthearted and funnier talks about feminism, memes and cinema.
Originally coined by Richard Dawkins (aka “the edgelord of atheism” to quote Woodhead) back in 1976, the meme was defined as a “unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” It is something that can connect us across countries, borders and identities, that highlight aspects of culture and society. They are also hilarious.
Memes are a way we absorb and understand art. Think of the hundreds of ‘no context’ accounts on Twitter. From Louis Theroux to The Phantom Thread or First Reformed, we use these screenshots of memorable lines, or facial expressions to both show our love and appreciation for cinema and TV.
In the midst of the scandals and snubs that have dominated the conversations surrounding Best Picture nominees of recent years, Phantom Thread and The Favourite are two contenders that have drawn the most specific comparisons. Given that they’re both British period pieces at their cores, and are helmed by prominent directors — Paul Thomas Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos, respectively — these films seem just as primed for predictable Academy recognition as star-studded melodramas or Sam Rockwell playing racist characters a little too well.
But even as The Favourite and Phantom Thread have received well-deserved buzz and tick many of the boxes that often lead awards cycle domination, the general consensus remains: there’s something offbeat and singular about how these stories unfold. In spite of their lavish settings, the films seize upon social codes of the time to exacerbate conflicts between their characters, until the resulting atmospheres become increasingly confined and oppressive. This intentional, rather ironic claustrophobia helps the films to plumb deeper themes that arise from certain historical circumstances, moving the needle on what a “period piece” can explore.
By the time that Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) first encounters his lover and muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps) near the beginning of Phantom Thread, viewers have already been thoroughly exposed to the painstakingly choreographed rituals that dictate the designer’s opulent life. The film marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s first departure from the restless Americana of his seven earlier features, as he and the notoriously method-oriented Day-Lewis delved into the refined world of 1950s London couture houses.
Much more reliant on tradition than Paris — the other European dressmaking capital of the time — London fashion was predicated on the occasions of the city’s upper class. Scenes of royals and women of high society ascending the spiral staircase of the “House of Woodcock” to meet with Reynolds as Jonny Greenwood’s score swells carry an air of choreographed theatrics because they are meant to — these carefully manicured businesses are beautiful, but so steeped in privilege and British customs that they can easily turn suffocating if one steps out of line.
From the snarky title, you may think I hate this film, but I promise you, that is the opposite of how I feel.
Every film fan and film student loves it when a new Paul Thomas Anderson film comes out. He’s directed six critically acclaimed films (and Inherent Vice), and his style is so unique that you could tell he directed it by watching just a five minute clip with no context. Much like Scorsese, Tarantino, Kubrick and Spielberg, I consider Paul Thomas Anderson one of the great auteurs of our time, and I’m very happy I’m alive during a time when I can see his films in a theater.
Phantom Thread is the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a dressmaker well into his 60s, who has a very particular way of living and treating others. He is both eccentric and reclusive, giving off a sort of Charles Foster Kane vibe at times. His very strange way of living is challenged by Alma (Vicky Krieps), a French waitress he meets when going out for breakfast alone one day. From this interaction on, we see Reynolds and Alma develop a very beautiful, complicated, and at times twisted relationship, that is one of the most unique on screen romances portrayed in a very long time. Continue reading “Review: Phantom Thread: Who Better to Do Fifty Shades of Grey than Paul Thomas Anderson?”→