Archive for the ‘Punch-Drunk Love (2002)’ Category

blu-ray-coverSpine #843

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 15, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 34.77 Mbps

Notes: A DVD edition of this title is also available from Criterion, and is also available in various DVD editions from Sony Pictures Classics. This new edition from Criterion is superior to these earlier releases. 


“I wasn’t writing the script and then thought of Adam [Sandler]. I actually wanted to write a movie for Adam—something I thought he would have fun doing.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (BBC, February 07, 2003)

Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an Adam Sandler film. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film that subverts the Sandler persona while humanizing it. Let us take a very quick look at three prototypical Sandler vehicles:

In Happy Gilmore (1996), the titular character is a wannabe hockey player forced into professional golf in an effort to buy his grandmother’s house when it is repossessed. Happy is given to violent outbursts of rage when the game isn’t going his way.

The Wedding Singer (1998) finds Robbie Hart jilted at the altar, and this sends him spiraling into a breakdown. His repressed rage and self-loathing surfaces while performing at a wedding. While giving a self-pitying speech, he explodes into a tantrum, insults the guests, and even threatens to strangle someone with his microphone wire.

The Waterboy (1998) details the rise of a mentally challenged water boy named Bobby Boucher who discovers that his violent bouts of rage give him the edge on the football field when properly channeled.


Angry Adam: Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and The Waterboy.

These are only three examples, but Sandler’s career has been built on portraying similar characters. All are basically decent and kind hearted underdogs who are prone to emotional outbursts of violent rage, and Paul Thomas Anderson was obviously aware of this pattern. In Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan is a lonely man suffering from social anxiety and a lifetime of small emotional wounds that have accumulated over time. His suppressed emotions manifest themselves in—you guessed it—fits of destructive rage. However, this isn’t played in broad comic strokes for cheap laughs. It is all too clear that these problems are keeping Barry from happiness. There is a poignancy to Barry’s outbursts, and his loneliness is palpable.

However, Anderson isn’t finished yet. He understands that by giving his audience a laundry list of unexplained but interesting details about Barry, he is simultaneously raising twice as many questions. Characters can give a story a remarkably strong drive when a storyteller is skilled, and the creator of Punch-Drunk Love is one of cinema’s best contemporary filmmakers.

Why, for instance, is Barry so eager to take advantage of a promotion that offers a ridiculous number of frequent flyer miles? Barry’s obsessive drive to accumulate as much pudding as he possibly can so that he can earn frequent flyer miles is confounding to an audience because it is established that he doesn’t even travel. Interestingly, this particular element was inspired by a true story.

“There is an engineer in California, who in fact bought $12,000 of pudding to get these frequent flyer miles.  But it went even further: There was a promotion of seven or eight South American airline companies that wanted to advertise their flights between North- and South America.  If you would fly on these airlines within a specific timeframe, they would promise you one million frequent flyer miles.  This guy really did it.  He was in twelve countries in four days.  He now had something like five million frequent flyer miles.  But I have no idea if he had violent outbursts, or what kinds of suits he wore.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (Spiegel, April 13th, 2003)

Anderson’s mention of suits at the end of this quote alludes to the bright blue suit worn by Barry throughout the film. It is yet another interesting but unexplained detail that sets the character apart from everyone else. More interesting than the suit, however, is his interest in an old harmonium that has been left on the side of the road. Barry might feel compelled to rescue the harmonium because it is unwanted and abandoned. It seems reasonable to conclude that Barry might see the harmonium as a sort of symbol for himself. He certainly feels driven to rescue it and he has a mystifying fascination with the instrument (as does the audience).

Roadside Harmonium.jpg

The lonely man meets the unwanted harmonium.

Even hints at Barry’s backstory seem to raise as many questions about our misfit hero as are answered. It is more than apparent that he is an outsider in his own family, and his sisters obviously look down on him. Their reminders of painful moments merge with insult in the guise of incidental small talk: “Remember when we used to call you gay boy and you’d get all mad?” Such small talk is common in families, but they betray an unpleasant past in which Barry has been made to feel separate from those closest to him. Furthermore, it is clear that this alienation has followed him into adulthood. He doesn’t engage with others.

 Of course, he wants and needs to feel a connection with someone, and this basic human need motivates him to call a phone sex hotline. As this initially awkward phone conversation progresses, anyone with misguided notions that they are watching a stereotypical romantic comedy will probably assume that a romantic relationship will form with this phone sex operator. Unfortunately for Barry Egan, this is nothing like a stereotypical romantic comedy. In fact, she calls him the next morning in an effort to blackmail him for money.

The film’s romance is instead launched soon after this when one of his sisters introduces him to the lovely Lena (Emily Watson). Lina seems to offer him hope for happiness—but only if he can overcome his own anxieties and put an end to the chaos in his life. It should be mentioned that the aforementioned harmonium comes into play again here, because—whatever it represents to Barry—it seems to symbolize equilibrium (or “harmony”) in the film context of the overall film. Barry needs to find balance and peace of mind in order for his relationship with Lena to be successful. This has been written about elsewhere, most notably in Cubie King’s essay, “Punch Drunk Love: The Budding of an Auteur.”

 “The root word of harmonium is harmony. The harmonium, like Lena, appears suddenly in Barry’s life; when things are going poorly for Barry, the harmonium is somehow mysteriously ripped, and like his new relationship Barry must learn to find its harmony… After returning from Utah, Barry grabs the harmonium and physically brings it to Lena’s apartment door, thus combining the two elements that bring him joy. It is as if Barry has suddenly recognized their connection, a surreal moment…

…In the final shot of the film the puzzle is solved. Barry plays the exact notes from Jon Brion’s score for Punch-Drunk Love, playing the harmonium almost concurrently with the music that plays over the scene. The diegetic and non-diegetic music playing together is a moment of cinematic harmony; Barry, Lena, and the harmonium are now in sync.” –Cubie King (Senses of Cinema, April 2005)


Barry Egan and his harmonium.

There is plenty of visual support for this theory, as the harmonium is often seen placed in the background between Barry and Lina in Anderson’s miseen-scène. His use of composition and color is actually of paramount importance to one’s reading of Punch-Drunk Love, and his color scheme was discussed at length in King’s essay.

“Anderson also uses colors as key indicators of Barry’s psychological battle; blue, red and white being the most prominent. Blue is largely seen in Barry’s workplace and home; it is also the color of Barry’s suit that he curiously begins wearing the day the film begins. Barry is literally blue throughout most of the film…

Red serves as the color that leads to Barry’s happiness. Very precise red objects throughout the film visually direct Barry out of his damaged life (or psyche) and point him in the direction of escape and/or change. Take for instance the first scene in the supermarket. Barry walks down an aisle whispering to himself, ‘What am I looking for?’ As he utters this, in the far background, a woman in a red dress is visible. When Barry turns his head and notices her watching him she quickly walks off. This woman could be seen as Lena, but more importantly a manifestation of the ‘idea’ of Lena, what Barry is actually ‘looking for.’ Because the woman is never identified, the color red becomes the most important aspect of the sequence. Anderson answers Barry’s “What am I looking for?” visually (there is no motivation otherwise to explain this), thus showing us tangible elements of Barry’s subconscious in an environment which we assume is entirely real.

The usage of the color red goes well beyond Lena’s dress (which she wears in all but a few scenes)—a red arrow can be spotted pointing the way to escape from the four blonde brothers, [and] in the supermarket a red arrow points in the direction of where Barry will find the pudding (the pudding offers a way out for Barry)…

…White, on the other hand, takes on a much more sophisticated role. White is the color that coats many of the barren rooms throughout the film. If red works towards Barry’s mirth [sic], then white works in the opposite, as his oppressor. Throughout the film, Barry travels through all white environments that are sparse, isolated, nondescript, and cold. Instances such as Barry’s workplace resembling a large white box, or scenes of Barry running like a trapped mouse through white mazes while attempting to escape the blonde brothers, or finding Lena’s apartment door, demonstrate its recurring influence. White is also the color of the oppressive blown-out light which floods in and suffocates Barry from the outside world, thus emphasizing a greater suppression Barry feels in all his environments. This suppression correlates to the film’s many compositions that imprison Barry within the frame.” –Cubie King (Senses of Cinema, April 2005)

It is interesting that King fails to mention that the harmonium was dropped at the side of the road by someone in a red taxi because this detail would support the theories about color and those about the harmonium. However, it isn’t necessarily important to overanalyze what these colors represent. If the meaning cannot be articulated or explained intellectually, they can certainly be absorbed and felt by the viewer emotionally—which is actually better. After all, this is what the cinema does best.

It would certainly be difficult to explain the meaning behind the unusual transitions in the film, which utilize Jeremy Blake’s tailor-made artwork.

“I had written that there would be some kind of color—bursts of color. I didn’t know what it was exactly. I didn’t know. After we finished shooting the first chunk of the movie, we actually ended up shooting two chunks, and after the first chunk was shot I saw [Jeremy Blake’s] work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and called him up and he came to Los Angeles and had him in our studio. We had this great studio where we set everything up. He saw the movie. All I had done was put red, white, blue and green flashes as placeholders for him. We talked for a while and he did ten or fifteen different pieces a day and it was just sort of a great thing. I ended up with a lot more than I thought I would get.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (BAM Q&A, June 23, 2013)

 That Anderson had intended such transitions from the beginning says something about the importance of these transitions, which has an enormous effect on the viewer’s experience. It creates a kind of euphoric dizziness that can again be felt but never articulated. Some of the best films of all time feel as if they are dreams that have been put onto celluloid, and Punch-Drunk Love can certainly be added to the list of these films.

 Those who expect the film to be a pessimistic study of human relationships will be pleasantly surprised. Barry’s character is certainly alienated and rather disturbed, but the universe seems to be doing everything in its power to help Barry. The harmonium seems to have been left for him to find it, he seems to be magically led to the pudding isle, and he is introduced to Lena despite his own objections. Barry might not think that he is worth loving, but the universe doesn’t agree. What could be more positive than that? This is one of Anderson’s only “feel good” efforts, and it is worth seeing for this reason alone.


The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. While Criterion is known for their brilliant tailor-made cover designs, Dustin Stanton’s cover for Punch-Drunk Love is somewhat disappointing. It utilizes a still from the film that reminds one of the covers found on run-of-the-mill Blu-ray releases. Wouldn’t it be more sophisticated if they were to utilize some of Jeremy Blake’s wonderful artwork for the film—or even the film’s original one-sheet design? This is a minor complaint, and one doubts if most people will be terribly disappointed with the presentation as it stands. It is simply disappointing when one compares the artwork to some of Criterion’s other releases. As is their habit, Criterion also includes a fold-out pamphlet featuring an admiring essay by Miranda July.

The disc’s menu showcases the harmonium that features largely in the film coupled with Jon Brion’s unusual score. The result is elegant in its simplicity.


Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars 

Criterion’s 1080p transfer of Punch-Drunk Love almost makes up for the fact that PTA fans had to wait such a ridiculously long time to own the film on Blu-ray. As always, the film’s transfer is discussed in the leaflet provided in the disc’s case:

Punch-Drunk Love is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised by Paul Thomas Anderson, this high-definition digital transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive.” –Liner Notes

The result is an image vastly superior to the film’s original Super-bit DVD transfer. It probably goes without saying that Detail, depth, and clarity are all substantially improved upon as the image reveals textures that were never before evident while viewing the film on home video. Colors also show substantial improvement, which is good news considering the film’s creative use of vibrant color. Perhaps the biggest improvement over the Super-bit DVD release is that there are none of the ugly and distracting compression anomalies that marred the earlier release.

It is probably possible to complain about a few moments of minor noise and muddy shadowy areas of the frame, but one wonders if these problems might be related to the actual production photography. Franky, blacks are—for the most part—extremely well handled here. There might also be a few quick moments of mild ringing, but this too seems to be a production related issue and not the fault of this excellent transfer. As is usually the case, Criterion has cleaned quite a bit if dirt and other anomalies from their scan of the film leaving fans with an immaculate image. It is easy to understand why Anderson improved this wonderful transfer.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio—which was re-mastered from the 35mm magnetic track—is as close to perfect as any reasonable listener could possibly expect. Jon Brion’s score, sound effects, and dialogue are all masterfully mixed into what stands as a surprisingly effective sonic experience—especially for a film of its kind. It goes without saying that Anderson makes good use of sound design in his films, and Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an exception.

This is truly a surprisingly dynamic mix that finds Brion’s score dramatically crossing across all five speakers. The directional mix also gives weight to some of Barry’s more chaotic scenes—where his head seems to be going in all directions. It really elevates the entire experience in interesting ways. It has the effect of placing the viewer in Barry’s mind. It’s brilliant work! An entire book could be written about the film’s sound design.


Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion carries over Sony’s previous DVD supplements over for the film’s Blu-ray debut while adding quite a few new features for fans to enjoy. The materials carried over from Sony’s previous DVD edition are simply presented in up-scaled standard definition, but most of Criterion’s new video features are in true high definition. One wishes that the deleted scenes could have received a new high definition transfer for this release, but one shouldn’t complain about such trifles.

Deleted Scenes:

The Sisters Call – (07:18)

It is interesting to compare this sequence with the abbreviated version that is included in the film. While this series of telephone calls is amusing and interesting, Anderson made the correct decision when he simplified things. The phone conversations in the finished film have more pathos. Less is sometimes more.

“Are You from California” – (02:23)

This interaction between Barry and the goons sent to intimidate him wouldn’t have added anything interesting to the film, but it is instructive to see what was cut from the finished picture.

Blossoms & Blood – (11:58)

Blossoms & Blood is simply a 12-minute assemblage of various deleted and alternate scenes that have been woven together with Jeremy Blake’s art and Jon Brion’s music. Since deleted scenes are amongst the most useful and interesting of all supplemental features, it is wonderful to see this carried over from Sony’s original 2-Disc DVD release.

Mattress Man Commercial – (00:52)

This humorous short spoof on those ridiculously low budget regional commercials that are a staple of late night cable. Actually, it is an almost verbatim reenactment of an actual commercial outtake from the 1980s! (The real commercial is available on Youtube.) It isn’t clear whether this spoof was shot specifically for Punch Drunk Love and deleted from the final cut of the film or if it was merely intended as a fun promotional artifact. Either way, it is a rather amusing addition to the disc. Fans should be pleased to see this carried over from Sony’s original 2-Disc DVD edition of the film.

Cannes Film Festival, 2002: Press Conference – (37:43)

This lengthy panel discussion featuring Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and JoAnne Sellar is only limited by the sometimes ridiculous questions asked during its duration. At its best, this is an informative discussion about the film and its production. At its worst, it is an amusing glimpse of the aforementioned panelists as they try to answer questions that are either unclear or unbelievably pretentious. Since it entertains when it doesn’t enlighten, fans should agree that its inclusion adds quite a bit of value to the disc.

Cannes Film Festival, 2002: Studio Interviews – (07:02)

This “live” television interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is both interesting and entertaining without ever offering much in the way of revelatory information. It is one of those surface level group interviews where all participants praise the work and collaborative efforts of all other participants as they generally discuss the film without ever revealing anything about it. However, it is certainly an amusing way to spend seven minutes and it is nice to have it included in the supplemental package.

Jon Brion on Punch Drunk Love – (27:19)

Many fans will undoubtedly consider this incredibly informative interview with Jon Brion to be the standout amongst the new Criterion offerings available on the disc. Brion is simultaneously engaging and comprehensive in this discussion about his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. He discusses their work together in a manner that even viewers who are completely ignorant about music and sound production should be able to understand. Better yet, the information revealed enhances the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the film itself.

Jon Brion’s Recording Session – (09:56)

Those interested in film scores will find this “home video” footage taken from behind the scenes of Brion’s recording sessions of the Punch Drunk Love score especially interesting. It is a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of Brion and his orchestra at work without any additional commentary to give the footage context. This lack of context may frustrate certain viewers, but most will welcome it as a rare glimpse behind the curtain.

Gangitano and Connor: Jeremy Blake’s Artwork – (20:25)

Michael Connor and Lia Gangitano discuss Jeremy Blake’s background, artwork, and work on the film in an impressive amount of detail. The viewer is also shown a liberal amount of Blake’s art throughout the conversation, which certainly adds value to the program. Unfortunately, their dry shop-talk tends to be slightly less than completely digestible for the average viewer and there isn’t nearly enough information or analysis about Blake’s work on Punch Drunk Love—which should really be priority one. It is certainly a valuable addition to the disc, but most will probably see it as a missed opportunity.

Katie Couric Interview with David Phillips – (05:04)

This interview with Katie Couric and David Phillips was probably aired as part of NBC’s Today show in 2000. David Phillips (aka “the pudding guy”) is interviewed about his efforts to collect frequent flyer miles by purchasing an enormous quantity of “Healthy Choice” products—most notably pudding. Paul Thomas Anderson used Phillips’ unusual mission as the starting point for Sandler’s character in Punch Drunk Love.

Additional Artwork by Jeremy Blake – (02:42)

This is essentially a gallery of additional artwork that was completed by Jeremy Blake for the film presented in slideshow form and set a Hawaiian-flavored song by Annie Kerr entitled “I’ve Gone Native Now.”

Twelve Scopitones – (06:20)

To call these short segments “Scopitones” seems misleading. They are merely very short clips edited from Jeremy Blake’s artwork and footage shot for the film.


Standard Theatrical Trailer(02:27)

The standard theatrical trailer isn’t much different than most other trailers, but the quirky nature of Anderson’s under-appreciated gem shines through here.

Jeremy’s Blake’s Love – (01:24)

Jeremy Blake’s artwork is utilized prominently here until it finally bleeds into live action footage of Barry and Lena. It is a nice little teaser that must have raised a lot of questions about the film upon its initial release.

Eat Tomorrow – (00:33)

This teaser seems to have been made for French audiences. It is a nice little advertisement that captures the tonal flavor of the film, but it is the least effective of the three trailers included here. One wonders if this wasn’t actually a foreign television spot for the film.


Final Words:

Punch-Drunk Love lives up to Paul Thomas Anderson’s reputation for creating brilliant cinema, and Criterion gives the film a solid Blu-ray debut.


Review by: Devon Powell