NYFF: Joaquin Phoenix Trips Out in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Inherent Vice’

NYFF Paul Thomas Anderson Inherent Vice 7
Paul Thomas Anderson | Paula Schwartz Photo

From the stage of Alice Tully Hall, director Paul Thomas Anderson pointed to the New York Film Festival logo that reads, “Film Lives Here,” and added, “It does here. My film is in 35mm cinematography.”

“Inherent Vice,” the hotly awaited film adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel, had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival Saturday night, where it held the prestigious centerpiece slot. There were five screenings of the film, and Anderson went to each of them to thank the Film Society and introduce the film to the audience, reminding them that the gorgeous cinematography by Robert Elswit (“There Will Be Blood”) is in 33mm, with none of the scratches, dirt and other imperfections erased digitally.

“Inherent Vice” is set in the tail end of the psychedelic 60’s where the groovy times are about to slip away. The kooky characters in the California boho town of Gordita Beach, where the movie is set, disappear and reappear. Drugs, sex and money fuel the shenanigans. The local in the group is Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who has hefty sideburns and bushy eyebrows, and runs his detective agency out of a dental office, where he expends more energy smoking dope than solving cases.

On the red carpet, Phoenix rushed by quickly and quietly as did Benicio Del Toro, who also bypassed the press scrim. The good-natured Owen Wilson smiled and stopped to chat with a few television crews.

Martin Short charmed on the red carpet. He wore a conservative grey suit. He plays a cocaine-snorting dentist, who wears a purple velvet double-breasted suit. I told Short I was disappointed not to see him in the velvet suit on the red carpet. “No, no, not today,” Short laughed. “That’s for the party afterwards.”

Jordan Christian Hearn plays Denis – which is pronounced in the film to rhyme with penis – a stoner who is always high. In one scene he borrows Doc’s car and returns with only the steering wheel.

I asked Hearn what it was like working with Anderson. “He’s such a laid back guy and such a visionary. There was never a tense moment on the set.” As for the most surprising thing about his co-star, known to be a little flaky, he told me, “That’s why you gotta love Joaquin, because he’s wacky. He’s so brilliant and fun to work with that it’s just so off the cuff. You have to embrace it.” The zaniest thing about the actor? “He walks around barefoot a lot, and he puts cigarettes out on the bottom of his feet. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t get to that point.”

The ubiquitous Michael Kenneth Williams (“Boardwalk Empire,” “Kill the Messenger”) wore killer leather paints covered in zippers by Yves Saint Laurent. His black sneakers were by the same design house.

I asked Williams about working with Anderson. “He’s a beast. And I mean that with all compliments. His approach to filmmaking is very avant-garde, very different from what I’m used to. Television is, bang, bang bang, get the shot, couple takes, moving on, and with PTA you come into his world and his set, and he’s like, let’s discuss this, let’s figure this out. What happens is that his actors find these organic rhythms in the moment and that was foreign to me and something that I was very grateful to be a part of.”

Williams has an extended scene with Phoenix, and I asked him what it was like to shoot. “I don’t remember,” he laughed. “I was delirious. I literally came from this video set straight to that, so I hadn’t slept for over 24 hours and I was a little awestruck in being in Joaquin’s presence. Things are very blurry. I didn’t look at the clock. I lost track of time, seriously, and I just gave myself to the moment completely.”

Williams confirmed that Phoenix walked around barefoot a lot and put cigarettes out with his bare feet. “I think I noticed that,” he laughed. But the thing that surprised him the most about Phoenix was how kind he was. “He’s actually a wonderful, down to earth, one of the most generous people I’ve worked with. And he has a sense of humor. There’s an innocence to him, to who he is as a human being. That’s really refreshing in this whirlwind that we work in.”


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