From his film festival debut Hard Eight to ambitious studio epics Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s unique cinematic vision focuses on postmodern excess and media culture. In Blossoms and Blood, Jason Sperb studies the filmmaker’s evolving aesthetic and its historical context to argue that Anderson’s films create new, often ambivalent, narratives of American identity in a media-saturated world.
Blossoms and Blood explores Anderson’s films in relation to the aesthetic and economic shifts within the film industry and to America’s changing social and political sensibilities since the mid-1990s. Sperb provides an auteur study with important implications for film history, media studies, cultural studies, and gender studies. He charts major themes in Anderson’s work, such as stardom, self-reflexivity, and masculinity and shows how they are indicative of trends in late twentieth-century American culture. One of the first books to focus on Anderson’s work, Blossoms and Blood reveals the development of an under-studied filmmaker attuned to the contradictions of a postmodern media culture.
Introduction: White-Noise Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson
Chapter 1. I Remembered Your Face: Indie Cinema, Neo-noir, and
Narrative Ambiguity in Hard Eight (1996)
Chapter 2. I Dreamed I Was in a Hollywood Movie: Stars, Hyperreal Sounds of the 1970s, and Cinephiliac Pastiche in Boogie Nights (1997)
Chapter 3. If That Was in a Movie, I Wouldn’t Believe It: Melodramatic Ambivalence, Hypermasculinity, and the Autobiographical Impulse in Magnolia (1999)
Chapter 4. The Art-House Adam Sandler Movie: Commodity Culture and the Ethereal Ephemerality of Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Chapter 5. I Have a Competition in Me: Political Allegory, Artistic Collaboration, and Narratives of Perfection in There Will Be Blood (2007)
Afterword. On The Master
Sperb is a lecturer in the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
“Blossoms and Blood offers informative readings of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films and appropriately situates them in a historical condition ubiquitously termed as postmodernism. With Anderson’s Thomas Pynchon adaptation Inherent Vice (2015) in sight, Sperb’s book speaks to admirers of the filmmaker as well as those interested in understanding the ways in which research into the production histories of American independent cinema reflect broader dynamics of the American film industry.”
—Emre Caglayan, New Review of Film and Television Studies
“Sperb has written an excellent, solid book. Not only does he do a fine job of analyzing Anderson’s work—fully conscious of its many flaws—but he does an excellent job of placing the figure within the complex workings of the business of making movies at the turn of the twentieth century.”
—Robert Kolker, Professor Emeritus of English, University of Maryland; Lecturer in Media Studies, University of Virginia; and author of A Cinema of Loneliness; The Altering Eye: Contemporary International Cinema; Media Studies: An Introduction; and Film, Form, and Culture
“Jason Sperb is not a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s something much better—an intelligent critic trying to discern what’s valuable and what’s not in Anderson’s body of cinematic work.”
—David Luhrssen, Milwaukee Express
"Sperb has complete mastery of the critical reviews and industrial histories of the films, and it would be easy to take the films up with a more theoretical view, based on what is offered here. Major themes (masculinity, media culture, random chance) are established and pursued, chapter to chapter, and readers come away with a thorough understanding of Anderson's films. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates to faculty; cinephiles."
—R.P. Kinsman, independent scholar, in Choice
"Blossoms & Blood, Jason Sperb's very strong new book, doesn't so much argue the case for PTA's greatness as show, slowly and methodically, how he moved through and within the ranks of American filmmaking—a case study of how even the most self-determined directors are always borne aloft by cultural events."