Film: Academy Awards: "There Will Be Blood"

“THERE WILL BE BLOOD” movie

THE STORY

Paul Thomas Anderson, a two-time Academy Award® nominee, has previously directed four films set in the West, though each has been its own entirely distinctive exploration of the territory. His first film, HARD EIGHT, was a crime thriller set amidst the casinos of Las Vegas.

This was followed by BOOGIE NIGHTS, a kaleidoscopic look at the adult film industry; MAGNOLIA an interwoven tale of one devastating and magical night in the San Fernando Valley; and PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, that rare fresh take on the romantic comedy.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD marks Anderson’s first journey into the foundational days of California’s lavish wealth and power, before movies, before high-tech, when oil was the driving force of the land and brought hungry, ambitious men Westward in search of fortune and a new future.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD began with Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil!, although the tale took off in its own cinematic direction from there. While in a London bookshop, a homesick Anderson spied the novel and its California-themed cover instantly drew him. Once he began reading, he was compelled by Sinclair’s view of the state in a time when tenacious, risk-taking oil prospectors were changing the then-rural landscape with derricks and oil fields.

“The novel is set in an area, Signal Hill, I know well and that part of California’s history has always been interesting to me,” says Anderson. “Reading the novel was quite exciting.”

Upton Sinclair, of course, is best known for his still widely read 1907 novel, The Jungle, a triumph of muckraking fervor set in the slaughterhouses of Chicago that forever changed the American food industry. Two decades later, he would write an epic intended to similarly probe the corruption and exploitation at the heart of the then-burgeoning American oil industry.

Set in California, Oil! follows the relationship of a millionaire oil tycoon named J. Arnold Ross – modeled after several of the nation’s wealthiest oilmen from the era, including Edward Doheny -- with the son he hopes will take over the family business. Instead, his son rebels against him and begins organizing oil workers in collusion with a dirt-poor family of holy-roller fundamentalists, which includes a charismatic and power-seeking boy preacher named Eli Watkins.

Paul Thomas Anderson was primarily inspired by the 500-page novel’s first 150 pages, wherein Sinclair delves in exquisite detail into the gritty, precarious lives of oil prospectors and oil workers. He was also drawn to Sinclair’s pitting of unbridled greed against unchecked spiritual idealism, each with their own insidious consequences. From that foundation of inspiration, he found his own characters of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday wending in their own directions, towards their own intertwined fates.

Anderson began to do further research – prowling through the oil museums that dot California – letting the era’s plentiful, richly atmospheric photographs further fire up his imagination. “You get giddy looking at all those amazing photos,” Anderson notes, “getting a real sense of how people lived their lives. There’s so much history in the oil areas around Bakersfield -- they’re filled with the grandsons of oil workers and lots of folklore. So we did an incredible amount of research and I got to be a student again and that was a thrill.”

In addition, Anderson read numerous books and was especially influenced by The Dark Side of Fortune, an acclaimed biography of Edward Doheny by Margaret Leslie Davis, which recounts Doheny’s rise from an intensely driven son of immigrants to a failed silver miner in Silver City, New Mexico to an icon of fame, power as well as corrupting greed as California’s first big oilman.

To further follow Doheny’s trail, Anderson made his own trip to Silver City, immersing himself in the old pictures and yellowed newspapers that fill the town’s libraries and museums. Ultimately a mix of history, landscape and the very nature of bringing this slippery, precious substance up from the ground became the propulsive force in Anderson’s screenplay, melding lyrical frontier dialogue with intensely visual sequences of escalating suspense.

Now, the research ended and, as Anderson says, “it was time to pick our heads up out of the books and get out on the road.” He did so in concert with his long-time producing partners, JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi. Sellar had known that, following PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, Anderson was looking “to do something completely different,” and was drawn in by the world he hoped to create in THERE WILL BE BLOOD, though she knew it would be their biggest challenge yet.

“Paul had sent Daniel Day-Lewis the script when it was about three-quarters of the way done and Daniel committed to it immediately, which was wonderful because I don’t know if Paul even would have made the movie without Daniel,” recalls Sellar. “Now we had a script and we had Daniel and the trick was to figure out creatively how to do this.”

Academy Awards Index

Film Home Page | Entertainment Magazine

© 2008 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.

Film Entertainment Magazine

Oil! (Paperback)

Author: Upton Sinclair

From Library Journal
Sinclair's 1927 novel did for California's oil industry what The Jungle did for Chicago's meat-packing factories. The plot follows the clash between an oil developer and his son. Typical of Sinclair, there are undertones here of socialism and sympathy for the common working stiff. Though the book is not out of print, this is the only paperback currently available.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

The New Republic
"He does his little bit of muck-raking. . . but the glorious story of the oil man and his son rushes on. It is a marvelous panorama of Southern California life. It is storytelling with an edge on it.

• Paperback: 560 pages
• Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (December 18, 2007)
• Language: English

There Will be Blood DVD (2007)

Unmistakably a shot at greatness, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood succeeds in wild, explosive ways. The film digs into nothing less than the sources of peculiarly American kinds of ambition, corruption, and industry--and makes exhilarating cinema from it all. Although inspired by Upton Sinclair's 1927 novel Oil!, Anderson has crafted his own take on the material, focusing on a black-eyed, self-made oilman named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis), whose voracious appetite for oil turns him into a California tycoon in the early years of the 20th century. The early reels are a mesmerizing look at the getting of oil from the ground, an intensely physical process that later broadens into Plainview's equally indomitable urge to control land and power. Curious, diverting episodes accumulate during Plainview's rise: a mighty derrick fire (a bravura opportunity that Anderson, with the aid of cinematographer Robert Elswit, does not fail to meet), a visit from a long-lost brother (Kevin J. O'Connor), the ongoing involvement of Plainview's poker-faced adoptive son (Dillon Freasier). As the film progresses, it gravitates toward Plainview's rivalry with the local representative of God, a preacher named Eli Sunday (brimstone-spitting Paul Dano); religion and capitalism are thus presented not so much as opposing forces but as two sides of the same coin. And the worm in the apple here is less man's greed than his vanity. Anderson's offbeat take on all this--exemplified by the astonishing musical score by Jonny Greenwood--occasionally threatens to break the film apart, but even when it founders, it excites. As for Daniel Day-Lewis, his performance is Olivier-like in its grand scope and its attention to details of behavior; Plainview speaks in the rum-rich voice of John Huston, and squints with the wariness of Walter Huston. It's a fearsome performance, and the engine behind the film's relentless power. --Robert Horton

Go Fandango!