Thom Yorke & Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Anima’: A review

Thom Yorke in Anima

Thom Yorke has one of the best faces. I’ve kinda known this since discovering Radiohead as a teenager (eugh, I hate that. Yes, in 2008 I discovered one of the most acclaimed contemporary artists, as though it weren’t a cool English teacher who recommended them to me.) Then you get into film and realise that a lot of directors work music videos too and you end up watching the No Surprises video on repeat just staring into those dreamy eyes.

Then you watch the Lotus Flower video and like realise that this guy can move too and the crush is inadvisable but nonetheless there.

Paul Thomas Anderson I guess publicly crossed circles with them when he collaborated with Johnny Greenwood on Junun in 2015, then directed the video for Radiohead’s Daydreaming>, but I’d guess they’d probably been intersecting for a while. They seem such a good match, prodigious and talented artists whose work on the surface — and through the reputation of overzealous fans —seems impenetrable, but on inspection harbour a wellspring of humour and life.

Anima is their new collaboration, a fifteen minute video short covering three songs from Yorke’s album of the same name: Not the News, Traffic, and Dawn Chorus. I always have a hard time with these ‘visual album’ type concepts, like to what extent was it conceptualised as a filmed work? I’d hazard a guess at the video aspect coming later, but the work is shared credit between the both, some of this has gotta just be in it.

The concepts at play seem essential, industrialisation, dehumanisation and love. Yorke’s partner Dajana Roncione plays the woman that he pursues throughout the piece and the opening scenario of a flirtation played out in glances across a tired evening public transport commute is warmly familiar. Oh, she left something on the train and he has to try get it back to her! His struggle with a inoperative turnstile is basically something out of a silent film skit, and amongst the choreography his stilted, stuttering motion cuts him a charming figure.

Not that everyone else is perfect neither, the camera loves to catch moments of imperfection. Dancers sightly out of step, the one guy in the foreground who’s doing way too much compared to everyone else. Everyone in identical jumpsuits, put in place to frustrate our hero’s progress, and still it reminds us that they are themselves not the machine, only compelled to play their part in it as best they can.

It’s at its peak during the brief duets, one where Yorke struggles against a dancer on the white stage we see in the poster, and a second when he finally reaches the woman he’s chasing. The first is hurried and nervy, the peculiar slope of the surface they’re on feeling threatening, Yorke looks ready to snap were he to fall, and keeps glancing at those performing the same steps as if for that reassurance that he’s keeping time.

The dance with the woman is immaculate, it begins with a sequence that feels simultaneously heightened and completely natural. I could see two goofballs in love moving like they do, only it suddenly spins and lifts and becomes something magical. Damien Jalet, who choreographed Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria (which Yorke also scored) brings the goods here.

And it ends at the dawn, a night of frustration and romance and beauty and they get back on the bus, I guess to work another day.

It’s slight, but beautiful looking and I like Yorke’s music. I’ve watched it twice full through and have just been going back to bits writing this and then lost myself in it. Maybe there’s not a hard and fast point outside of Modern Times as filtered through Michael Radford’s 1984 and our current late capitalist malaise, but it’s nice.

There’s folks out there doing far more important work than ‘nice’ but really what else do Netflix pay for?

Anima (the short film) is currently available to stream via Netflix. Anima (the album) is available for purchase and streaming wherever those are found.

Image courtesy of Netflix

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