“The Master” by Paul Thomas Anderson is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and iTunes today. This marks a new chapter in the life of a movie I’ve been watching with great interest.
The journey began at the Venice Film Festival in August. The Michael Mann led festival jury was punch-drunk with love for the movie. They awarded it prizes for directing and acting. And, according to The Hollywood Reporter, they would have awarded the movie the festival’s top prize, had a rule not prevented any one movie from receiving more than two awards.
The success rolled into September when the movie opened in limited release. The first weekend box office numbers were explosive. In response, the Weinstein Company decided to expand to wide release the next weekend, earlier than planned.
But interest soured. The per theatre average plummeted from $147,262 to $5,572 overnight.
Did the wide release happen to soon? Was the competition to steep? Or were the endless stories about the movie’s connection to a certain religion off-putting? Whatever the reason, the movie washed up with only $26 million worldwide at the box office, shy of the movie’s rumoured $30 million budget.
Harvey Weinstein, the movie’s distributor, recently spoke to the New York Times about his experience with “The Master”:
I probably could have marketed it better. I probably should have prepared the audience. We opened up to the highest per-screen average ever, but I think the audience had trouble with the movie and needed to be guided and eased into it. I was so enamored with the film that I didn’t think the audience would have that trouble.
The New York Times goes on to explain that Mr. Weinstein saw “The Master” as a postwar movie, rather than a movie about the founder of a Scientology-like cult:
Maybe if I’d explained the movie in those terms, that it was more of a spiritual quest for a veteran who had seen action and got lost, people might have responded differently. I’d told Paul that was my attraction.”
The filmmakers appear to be strengthening this interpretation on the Blu-Ray: included on the “extras” is a 1946 documentary directed by John Huston called, “Let There Be Light” about the psychiatric treatment of WWII veterans.
I consider Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights”, “There Will Be Blood”) to be the most exciting working filmmaker. He certainly takes the most risks. Whether or not “The Master” is a successful movie is debatable. However, movie lovers with a taste for originality will appreciate it. As will anyone interested in filmmaking.
To get a sense of the incredible craftsmanship involved in the production, check out this wonderful series of “Making the Master” articles at Cigarettes and Red Vines.