Paul Thomas Anderson has been called lots of things. Auteur seems to be the one he gets labeled with time and time again. His movies are personal, stylistic, and engaging. They change time periods, characters, and cover the gamut of comedy, drama, violence, and peace.
When it comes to being called an auteur, he says, "I’m very nervous about describing myself with a French word that essentially means psychotic control freak. But in English, I take that compliment, and it’s true that I have a single-minded dedication to what’s in front of me and each film that I make. I find that consumes an enormous volume of my life, so there’s no time for anything else."
But let's get back to Licorice Pizza.
PTA describes the idea for the movie coming from passing a school and the memories of an old friend.
"A very long time ago I was walking around my neighborhood, and I passed Portola Middle School. It was picture day, and I saw this very energetic teenager flirting with the girl who was taking pictures. It was an instantly good premise. What happens if you have a kid invite an older woman to dinner, and what if that girl against her better judgment says yes? That seemed ripe for humor. That didn’t go anywhere, but then I had a friend who grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He was a child actor who got involved in the waterbed business. And he told me all these stories, and each one was more wonderful than the last."
And the title of the film? Anderson explains the origins.
"Growing up, there was a record-store chain in Southern California called Licorice Pizza. It seemed like a catch-all for the feeling of the film. I suppose if you have no reference to the store, it’s two great words that go well together and maybe capture a mood. Maybe it just looks good on a poster?"
As his movie prepares for its debut, Anderson contemplates the theatrical experience as it sits now, coming out of a pandemic.
But he's very hopeful, saying, "I worry a lot less than I did five weeks ago. With each passing week, it seems like films are doing better. Venom 2 did well. James Bond did well. It seems to be clawing back. The bad part would be if we clawed back to right where it was and we’re making the same old shit and shoving it down people’s throats and they’re buying it again."
Anderson says he's always rooting for other filmmakers to succeed. It's a hard business and getting great movies keeps it alive. He's watching a lot, with four kids in the house and just his own voracious tendencies. So what is he watching lately?
"Shang-Chi was good fun. There’s a terrific energy about it, but I also live in a Marvel-obsessed household, so continuing the journey of these Marvel stories is exciting to us. I liked Venom 2. Titane is worth seeing. Proceed with caution: I have no idea how to recommend it, because it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t know entirely how I feel about it, but, my God, you are in the hands of a real filmmaker. I was holding on tight for dear life, and that is a terrific feeling."
It feels as if PTA has done everything across his career, but there are still a few things he's going to push toward as he continues to make films. Some of that is just working with the people he hasn't gotten a chance to make art with yet. So who are those people?
"Denzel [Washington]. There’s a white whale right there. That power, the scale of his movie-star power and range, that’s very exciting to think about working with. Olivia Colman, she’s an absolute powerhouse. Once I’ve worked with somebody, I really want to work with them again and again. I really want to work with every single person that’s in this film. I’m very anxious to work with Joaquin again. There’s a disproportionate amount of talent in the acting department and a lack of material that rises to their ability."
In such a tumultuous time for movies, it is calming to have another Paul Thomas Anderson movie coming out soon. It feels like that's what makes cinema real again. Not just the box office, but the people who love it having their films come out and reassuring us that everything cinema-related will be okay, as long as we keep going to the theaters.
Licorice Pizza will debut in U.S. theaters on Nov. 26, 2021.