“Phantom Thread” is a symphony of rare characters
Updated: Apr 12, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; R for profanity; streaming Amazon Video, Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: “Camera Tests” with director commentary
NOMINATED FOR six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actress, “Phantom Thread” is a quirky, engrossing character study.
It was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, whose filmography includes “Punch-Drunk Love,” “Magnolia,” “Boogie Nights,” and “There Will Be Blood.” With these, Anderson has shared his fascination with fringe figures, such as a former child game show champ, a male porn star, and an oil prospector, enacted with spooky brilliance by Daniel Day-Lewis. With “Phantom Thread,” Anderson again casts the uncanny Day-Lewis – who announced this as his final film performance – as a spectacularly eccentric character, Reynolds Woodcock, a famous English dress designer in 1950s London.
Day-Lewis transforms himself into an obsessive, rigid perfectionist, fixated on his dead mother, and an occasional live-in female companion. His take-no-prisoners business partner is his sister Cyril, played by the wonderful Lesley Manville. It is Cyril’s job, among other things, to get rid of her brother’s lady-friends when he tires of them.
Enter Alma (Vicky Krieps), a slender German waitress, for whom Woodcock has an immediate infatuation. Alma, though years younger and from a completely different world, shares this attraction. Before long, she is working in Woodcock’s fashion house, modeling his designs and living in his stately home. But it doesn’t take long for him to find her annoying, either because she interrupts him with a pot of tea while he’s working, or she makes too much noise at the breakfast table.
When it seems as if Alma’s time in Woodcock’s spotlight is nearing an end, she finds a very strange way to reverse the power balance, which results in Woodcock’s total dependence on her. With this, Anderson has concocted what may be the most bizarre love affair dynamic in modern cinema. And while the resolution may seem outrageously far-fetched, it doesn’t really matter. Just as with the hail of frogs at the end of “Magnolia,” “Phantom Thread’s” implausible plot point works somehow, and manages to remain entertaining and interesting throughout.
A celluloid purest, Anderson filmed “Phantom Thread” on 35mm film stock (1.85:1 aspect ratio), which was mastered in 4K. The results are exquisite on its 4K/HDR presentation streaming exclusively on iTunes and Google Play. The Ultra 4K/HDR disc will be released in May. Universal’s Blu-ray also provides atmospheric mood reminiscent of the 1950s, while delivering a fine 1080p transfer.
Anderson, the uncredited cinematographer, frames his close-ups to uncover the smallest of details, such as the nicks and scratches on Day-Lewis’ fingers (he learned the craft for his role) as he sews the latest Woodcock creation. The same can be said for each piece of fabric or costume worn, including a length of delicate Flemish bobbin lace from the late 1660s Woodcock rescued from Belgium during the war.
As the camera moves effortlessly with wide shots within the interiors of The House of Woodcock, each scene is heavily washed in natural film grain. Anderson also mounts his camera onto the front and back of a vintage Bristol 405 sedan, delivering rich blues and oranges as Reynolds drives through the English countryside toward his country estate at twilight. While the color palettes are very similar on 4K and Blu-ray, HDR toning delivers a slightly deeper black level and brighter highlights, natural facial tones, and an abundance of warmth as seen in the glow of a fireplace. Sharpness is superb in both formats, but the 4K has an overall higher level of clarity – especially with background objects.
The Blu-ray disc has the superior audio featuring the uncompressed DTS:X soundtrack pushing dialogue and the Oscar-nominated score by Jonny Greenwood (guitarist for Radiohead) throughout the sound system, including the height speakers. Greenwood opens the first act with a jazzy, ‘50s Bill Evans Trio sound – piano, bass, and drums with waves of strings. He then switches gears to a lush and expressive orchestral suite with violins and cellos to showcase the tension between the Reynolds and Alma. When the score goes quiet, Anderson uses ambient sound, such as the simple scrape of Alma buttering her toast.
Streaming sites compress and limit the 4K audio, reducing its dynamic range, but should be fine for folks with a smaller sound system.
Overall, there’s no disappoint with either format, but the 4K Ultra HD disc slated for early May should deliver the ultimate experience in picture and sound (DTS:X).
Universal/Focus Features’ package on disc or streaming are paltry, comprised of a few deleted scenes; a “House of Woodcock” fashion show accompanied by newsreel-style narration; and some behind-the-scenes photos shot by Michael Bauman, with musical accompaniment.
The “Camera Tests” featurette is the most substantial, revealing Anderson’s choice of film stock, camera lenses and filters. He explains his use of color desaturation in certain scenes, as well as his feelings about the film’s protagonists. Regarding Manville, Anderson says, “You’d have to be pretty foolish to not light her well … she has luminous skin.”
Anderson notes that Day-Lewis learned how to sew and cut fabric from a costumer at the New York City Ballet. Especially amusing is an unused scene in which Manville and Day-Lewis, as Woodcock and Cyril, have a food fight at breakfast. The battle escalates until she finally rubs jam into his hair and onto his face, and he pours (assumedly cold) tea down her back.
— Peggy Earle and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer