A little movie within a big movie. A step back from the film within a film reveals its form, where the audience’s focus is directed to a smaller, isolated subject at the heart of the screen. Anderson’s first attempts at frames-within-frames remind us of the everyday poetry found in a wedding home video. 16mm, video, and old TV get mixed up among Anderson’s aspect ratios. They harken back to different times… primitive cinema; whether made on low budget or mimicking the era in which it depicts. But Paul Thomas Anderson also uses natural containers to capture his actors in frames within frames. Barry backs away when he wants to get out of an uncomfortable situation. As he does this, he gets smaller and smaller in the frame, but the camera moves closer. The effect is that he appears to move yet
also go nowhere. In this way, the framing expresses his character. Anxiety. Feeling trapped. Doorways also create perspective and narrow our gaze to a spot in the distance. Anderson invites us to remove ourselves from the action, in effect, size up what we are seeing. It spells the difference between exploding
out into the world, and the world closing in on the main character. Something curious happens to his characters when they are boxed up like that. The image becomes interesting to watch whether you are emotionally invested in the people or just looking at the shapes in the frame. The frames act like a canvas; home to a painting. If you notice it, it makes you think of more
than just watching a movie. Perhaps without the dialogue to distract us, we see how Paul Thomas Anderson calculates his moves arranging players in doorways that
define the space like a proscenium arch. Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera either takes us closer to or further from the people at the center of his composition. He asks us to consider these frames within frames as telescopic views of humans contained by their environment. As if we’re watching something found and
not constructed. As if by showing the person inside the box, he’s commenting on the very nature of that person’s purpose.