PTA: A Chronological Timeline
Rearranging the footage of a film is an often used strategy with video essayists. Jumbling up a movie can be the perfect way to illuminate recurring motifs, locations or characters. This expertly argued video essay by Jeremy Ratzlaff uses the same modus operandi, applying it not to a single film but to a complete filmography.
Ratzlaff takes all seven feature films directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and puts them on a chronological timeline. Not in the order in which the movies were made, but rather ordered according to the time period in which each of the movies is set. This proves a great starting point for Ratzlaff’s ruminations on the recurring themes (family, the search for an authority figure…) in the work of PTA.
In addition, he uses a clever rhetorical device: he interprets all the main characters in the different movies as reincarnations of the same set of primal characters. This almost religiously inspired tactic is a nice fit for Anderson’s preoccupations with mortality and religion. At the same time it is a great example of how one can use a tried and tested narrative structure (in a way, this video essay is akin to the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas) to serve analytical goals.