“ANIMA” opens inside a subway car full of half-asleep passengers dressed more or less the same. Their heads loll back and forth in time to the rhythms and tremors of the car.
Then their heads start swinging back and forth in synchronized movements. Their arms start flailing around as well. You get the sense that none of these “dancers” are in control of their own movements, but are being jerked around by an unseen force. Oh, and one of the passengers is Thom Yorke of Radiohead.
A decade ago, “ANIMA” would probably have been four minutes long, because that’s how long music videos were to play on MTV – even long after MTV abandoned playing music videos.
But a side benefit of the rise of streaming content is that those constraints are gone. “ANIMA” is a 15-minute “musical short film” that premiered by surprise last week on Netflix.
“ANIMA” is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”), and although it’s not unheard of for big-time directors to make music videos (Anderson also did one for Haim’s last album), what’s different about “ANIMA” is that it’s billed as a true collaboration between Anderson and Yorke, an extension of the new album of the same name.
The story of “ANIMA” is pretty simple, reflecting the isolation and hunger for connection that pervades Yorke’s album. In the film, Yorke plays a Chaplin-like figure trying to return a lunchbox to a mysterious woman from the train. He struggles through a bleak landscape populated by those dancers (choreographed by Damien Jalet), who’s marionette-like movements suggest sleepwalkers moving through life. At times, the platform beneath Yorke’s feet tilts so it seems like he’s climbing up a steep hill, even though the camera matches the platform’s tilt, so it looks flat to the eye.
“ANIMA” follows Beyonce’s track-by-track “visual album” for “Lemonade,” and “I Am Easy to Find,” a 25-minute film by Mike Mills (“20th Century Women”) made in collaboration with the album of the same name by The National. (That collaboration was so close that Mills ended up producing the album as well.) And while Childish Gambino's "This is America" fit within the time constraints of a four-minute video, its thematically dense condemnation of racism in America (especially in entertainment) rewarded close multiple viewings.
Maybe MTV turning to "Teen Mom" and "Jersey Shore" was the best thing to ever happen to music videos.
Also on streaming: Of course, this weekend a lot more people will be tuning into Netflix to watch the third season of “Stranger Things,” premiering on July 4. Maya Hawke (daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) is supposed to be the standout new performer in a season that promises more monsters and more ‘80s callbacks, this time in the summer of 1985.
The indie distributor A24 didn’t seem to know what to do with “Under the Silver Lake,” David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up to his arthouse horror hit “It Follows.” It largely sat on Mitchell’s film after the initial trailer got a lukewarm response, eventually releasing it straight to video-on-demand aside from a smattering of theatrical screenings.
It’s now on Amazon Prime, and worth catching up on. It’s a hilarious, weird and unsettling look at toxic masculinity through the lens of old private eye movies (especially Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye”). Andrew Garfield plays an entitled slacker who woozily investigates the disappearance of a neighbor (Riley Keough) at his apartment complex, and stumbles into a kaleidoscope of bizarre conspiracy theories come to life. It’s as if he invents this world of death cults, secret codes and canine serial killers to avoid facing the fact that she’s just not that into him. It's one of my favorite movies so far of 2019.