Must Watch: Examining Five Tracking Shots from Paul Thomas Anderson's Films

The following video created by Kevin B. Lee for "Sight & Sound" takes a close look at five specific tracking shots from five of director Paul Thomas Anderson's films -- Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and There Will be Blood.

Lee adds commentary to each as they play along with an animated representation of the camera movement in the lower left hand corner of the screen as the scene plays in the upper right hand corners. He brings up one of the criticisms I've heard against Anderson's Magnolia, which is the camera was working more to show off what it could do rather than telling the story and it also begs the question, "What's more difficult, the long tracking shot moving great distances or the one that only pushes along over a matter of just a few feet?"

I haven't watched Anderson's films enough to have picked up on it before, but the back-and-forth movement of Adam Sandler's character in Punch Drunk Love as seen when he's on the phone in the video below mimics the exercise Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) put Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) through in The Master. I haven't taken the time to consider the similarities in the characters, and I would want to watch both films again before doing so, but I'm certain it opens yet another door for discussion.

Check out the video below, you won't be disappointed.

  • Xarnis

    Wow, that was immensely intriguing. I love tracking shots in film, and this video was a great analysis of P.T. Anderson's use of them.

  • loxmang

    This is awesome. I love analyzing specific scenes and why certain shots were used by a director. I think the Boogie Nights one was prob the most impressive use of light and camera movement, but the Punch Drunk love one was extremely interesting.

  • Mason Williamson

    That was a great little video. Not sure that I agree with his analysis of the 'Magnolia' tracking shot as I found that to be an efficient manner of moving a number of separate character progressions through the scene. Nevertheless, a fascinating examination.

  • Jordan B.

    I thought the opening shot in Boogie Nights was absolutely fantastic when I first saw it and it stands out as one of the best sequences in the film.

    Aside from Boogie Nights, his only other film I've seen is Punch-Drunk Love, which left me absolutely floored. Brad, I would love for you to take the time to analyze some of PTA's characters, I really think it'd make for a great article and conversation piece among the RoS community.

  • Criterion10

    Excellent video! Thank you for posting. I've always been a fan of P.T.A., and the camerawork in his films has always stuck out to me. Interesting analysis.

  • Yaz

    Awesome. Great find! That Boogie Nights opening shot is SOOOOO sick - just love it. Though I totally admire how that tracking shot in There Will Be Blood works - seems so simple, but it's doing so much. That's the genius of it. Just wonderful stuff.

  • theJackal

    It's features like this that keep me returning to RopeofSilicon, Brad. Thanks for posting this fascinating look at tracking shots, and more importantly, the works of P.T. Anderson. I'm glad they referenced Marty's, Casino, when discussing the Boogie Nights tracking shot.

    Gus Van Sant is another director who utilized the tracking shot to great effect in his 2003 Masterpiece, Elephant. The film about a seemingly ordinary day at a nameless highschool is essentially a series of steadicam tracking shots. At first quite uninspired (a jock across a football field, a girl walks to the library); by films end they turn horrific. You can catch the final tracking shot (3:06 min) on YouTube:

    Thems the facts

  • RagingTaxiDriver

    PTA definitely has a knack for tracking shots, each one of his films has a great tracking shot; especially TWBB and The Master.