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The Point of the Pivot January 11, 2013

Posted by The Typist in film, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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I sat up late watching the movie Magnolia, fighting sleep but desperately attentive to the complicated plot, the interweaving of so many stories. It was so easy to miss something, something small and terribly significant.

Tom Cruise plays the role of the promoter of Seduce and Destroy, a misogynist self-improvement program for the trivialization and seduction of women. His stage presence is as mesmerizing as it repulsive, the serpent behind the snake oil, grabbing an imaginary ass from behind and working it as he speaks. The men in the audience hoot in delight. At the lunch break, he goes to a hotel room for a television interview, peels off his shirt to reveal a perfectly sculpted body. He drops his pants all the way down to his ankles as an assistant hands him a towel but he merely dabs at himself, stands their in his bulging briefs. The reporter is a woman and she calmly stares at him as he turns somersaults and rattles off about his success with women, his irresistible ability to seduce.

When he finally settles into the chair, she tells him he has missed a button putting on his shirt, and at that small and razor-edged maternal correction he slumps back in his chair, crosses his fingers on this chest. Two adversaries face each other. Not long into the interview comes the question, tearing apart his marketing mythos, his falsified biography, the carefully constructed and confident illusion of the master huckster. She shreds the nonexistent degree in psychology, pulls down the images of his imaginary family, holds up before him the small boy who cared for his dying mother after his father abandoned them.

Cruise freezes, refuses to speak, staring at her with burning intensity. Seconds drag by like hours in the long shot. It is then I notice the blemish , the bump on his cheek carefully blended by makeup into his skin, the smallest flaw in his curly-locked Herculean projection of perfection, the tiniest detail of theatrical composition of both the character and auteur Paul Thomas Anderson in over two hours of film. Following this moment the carefully constructed lives of all the characters begin to fall apart, their own masks striped away and their flaws revealed, and they begin to align themselves into a new coherence.

Perhaps it was not intentional but simply a blemish but in these days of digital production and over a hundred years perfecting film makeup I don’t think so.

The tiniest thing in the film’s complex web of interlocking plots, the point of the pivot, the detail of a master storyteller, something you can’t help but notice but miss the significance of until two days later staring at oneself in the mirror, a moment that the writer for the printed page would have to handle even more carefully than the director orchestrated his shot. This tiny, quickly forgotten bit of craft about which the entire story resolves is the signature of the master obscuring his hand among the actions of his puppets.