Daydreaming with Paul Thomas Anderson

Two new music videos from Radiohead coincide with A Moon Shaped Pool.

There are Radiohead fans. There are Paul Thomas Anderson fans. Then there are those who love both: That is me. Some time around my late teenage years, I discovered the artistic relevance of these talents before I understood anything about artistic relevance. Because Radiohead lead guitarist, arranger, and synthesizer programmer Johnny Greenwood developed a close rapport with the acclaimed filmmaker Anderson, the thought of a video by him for the band has become a reasonable expectation. Finally, it has come true.

Radiohead always felt like beams of light in my darkest moments. This I scribbled before watching the music video for “Daydreaming” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Greenwood started his now steady collaboration on There Will Be Blood (2007). As a film scorer, Greenwood has developed a special capacity for composition that is demonstrated all over their latest album.

Clocking in at six and a half minutes, “Daydreaming” is a short musical in itself. Watch Thom wandering around from room to room, door to door, on a seemingly endless walk. Each frame has that PTA thumb print. It’s in the editing, the transitions, panning, and steady-cam. I could watch it all day long. And if you watch to the end, you’ll see how appropriate my scribbling was.

More about A Moon Shaped Pool in this album review.

I’m not sure what to make of this music video, however. Lets look to the words, Thom is singing more clearly these days, so its not terribly disputable — until the end.

Dreamers, they never learn. They never learn. Beyond the point of no return — of no return. And its too late. The damage is done. The damage is done.

This goes beyond me — beyond you. The white room by a window where the sun comes through. We are just happy to serve. Just happy to serve you.

The end of the video and song have been scrutinized by fans, since the video plays forward but the vocal plays backward, and it has been deeply pitch-time shifted. Nobody can say for certain what those words are, but the people at Slate published an edit of that ending to help work it out. Why this is so important is that the entire meaning of his wandering around through endless doors should be revealed here.

Discussion threads on Reddit go deeply into this. One can observe a pattern throughout Thom Yorke’s words, his climate change activism, and past music videos. There is elevation, a need to escape, floods and loneliness. The tunnel at the start leads to the tunnel at the end: one is industrial, one is on some snow capped mountain. It was observed that he walks through 23 doors. Apparently he was partnered up with Rachel Owen and their children for 23 years (the subject of their split up has recurred in many songs). But apparently also we can expect 2.3 meters of sea level rise with every degree of temperature increase Celsius. I just don’t think there is a conclusive theory to this video without hearing it directly from the filmmaker.

Another video came out in promotion of the new record, this one directed by Chris Hopewell is for the opening track of the new album, entitled “Burn the Witch.” It is true old school clay animation. Its jerky motion takes one right back to mid-twentieth century classics like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. But it actually references Camberwick Green, a British 1960’s BBC family program. Hopewell’s previous work with the band includes the brilliant hybrid animation video for “There There” (2003), in which you follow Thom through the forest where he visits animals and ultimately becomes a tree.

This one is not quite so cryptic, but there is some weird imagery. A business man, journalist, or bureaucrat of some kind visits a village where he is given a tour. The village proudly displays where they execute people, conduct rituals, and other strange things. Eventually he is led to a large and rickety wooden construction shaped like a man. They insist that he walk up the ladder and go inside the man, only it was a trick. They burn the statue with him inside. It reminds one of Burning Man, naturally.

The video ends with some good humor. He reappears shaken and dusty, but not dead. He seems to have escaped.

Stay in the shadows. Cheer the gallows. This is a round up. This is a low-flying panic attack. Sing a song on the jukebox that goes.

Burn the witch. Burn the witch. We know where you live.

Red crosses on wooden doors. If you float, you burn. Loose tongue around tables. Abandon all reason. Avoid all eye contact. Do not react. Shoot the messengers. This is a low flying panic attack. Sing a song of sixpence that goes.

Burn the witch. Burn the witch. We know where you live.

This song was developed as far back as the Kid A sessions, so it does not likely point to current events, as some have suggested. It’s a clever video that directly correlates to the lyrical content and I enjoyed each little scene involved, especially when he sees himself in the model village.

The secrecy that Radiohead has placed over every aspect of their latest release combined with the meticulous order with which everything has come out, I would imagine that if there are more music videos to come from this album, it will have nothing to do with what MTV or any other outlet does with them and entirely plotted out in secrecy. Wait and see.

Please watch and discuss in our comment section below.

Sean Ongley

By Sean Ongley

Co-Founder of THRU Media. A background in non-profit, music, and radio preceded my ambitions here. Now, I aspire to produce new media and publish independent journalism at this site and beyond.

2 replies on “Daydreaming with Paul Thomas Anderson”

I enjoyed the music video.. It’s pretty much what you would expect would come out of a coffee conversation with Thom Yorke and Paul Thomas Anderson haha. They have similar sensibilities in terms of expressing their art through a philosophical lens.. Visually it was exciting because so much of what I was seeing I could trace back to almost every one of PTA’s movies. The first shot remIinded me of what he was doing with Punch Drunk-Love, specifically the blurred figures in the background obscured by an almost blinding compositional white-out . We have the “camera-following-behind-a-character-walking-down-long-corridor” Magnolia-Boogie Nights shot that can be traced back to Scorsese’s Goodfellas and decades even before that if you take into account foreign films. Also, the handheld stuff that he’s been doing with Fiona Apple’s music videos is in there.. The biggest one I laughed at though was Thom at ocean shot midway . Colorwise it looked so much like The Master that it makes me think PTA never fully recovered from the time-washed beaches from his days working on that film Inherent Vice has a conceptual and visual fixation with the ocean as well… It’s kind of becoming a trademark for PTA. But I do think he goes to new places visually (especially towards the end with Thom and the ice and the fire, though that also called to mind There Will Be Blood close up’s of Daniel Plainview’s tormented stare into the night) and I’m not saying that he’s rehashing old tricks, because there’s a maturity with all of this, it’s like he that takes everything he has done and refined it in a way. So in that aspect I enjoyed it.

As for the overall meaning, I don’t know, like a lot of stuff I don’t get bogged down by the details too much which is both a blessing and curse. But everything you were saying in the post seemed plausible, with the exception of the “23” rooms theory. I see it more likely that the logistics of pulling off something like that off from the perspective of the Film Crew and whoever financed this video (because there’s definitely a sizable budget, but it’s expected due to who’s involved) created a situation where they may not have had the complete control with how much rooms they shot in. I think the “escaping” insight is solid though given what I would expect Thom Yorke’s creative input would be consider his previous preoccupations with climate change.

I’m curious to how much improvisation and spontaniety went into the making of this. PTA’s has seemed to manage to incorporate that sort of energy his entire career. Some takes of Thom walking through and interesting because it looks like he’s talking to someone off camera or responding to whatever is infront of him on the film set. …

I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s an intriguing, compelling and solid collaboration between these two creative nutballs.

I hope that someday I can read or hear about it from them directly. The 23 rooms is personal to me, because I’m one of those people with a 23 connection or obsession. Not so much lately, but in my late twenties I was all about that number.

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