29 May 2017

The Cold Open: Three Films of Paul Thomas Anderson

A good opening scene or sequence is everything. The best films live on with how they well they hook us in and present the title of the show to the audience. This is a series that highlights films and filmmakers that take a risk in how they introduce themselves to you. So...open a cold one, and enjoy the cold open....

Volume 1: Three Films of Paul Thomas Anderson (*Beverage Pairing)

Hard Eight (aka Sydney)

A old man (Philip Baker Hall) sits down for coffee and cigarettes with a young man (John C. Reilly). He offers the young man help, advice. As the conversation reaches a crescendo with a threat of violence (a very funny one), a piece of piano music, some horns on the side, builds just the same. Until that slow pull into that favorite paring of diner patrons, the coffee mug and the ashtray. A friendship is born. It is a short film within a film, and one of the finest opening scenes out there.

*A coffee porter and a cigarette.

Boogie Nights

An interesting piece of music, accordion-fueled, quiet builds under a blank canvas, dark black waiting to be illuminated by neon lights, and a pop song takes over, disco, "The Best of My Love" by The Emotions, the title card, a theater marquis. Then, a minutes-long Steadicam take circling the night club where a young man's (Mark Wahlberg) dreams are about to come true.

*A 7&7. Double.


Stories of coincidence and chance read by comedian/magician Ricky Jay, that deadpan tone of voice, cleverly put up with the constant zooms and pans of a young filmmaker with a pocketful of studio money and zero restraint. Pure flash. Brilliantly written. Genius.

*An Imperial Stout or IPA, something to sip on for awhile.


  1. So true that the opening often sets the tone for the entire film. Though it's not a PT Anderson film, one of my favorites of recent vintage is the opening moments of It Follows. Tension is immediately cranked up and it stays that way the rest of the movie. Sadly, I've only seen Boogie Nights of these and yeah, that open is awesome.

    1. Dude. I LOVE the It Follows cold open. Brilliant. I really dug that movie. I have to say, I can see you not seeing Hard Eight (its out of print and really hard to find), but you really should see Magnolia. Everyone should. It's flashy and moving and overall badass.

  2. I like this idea for a post. I agree that the open can mean everything. I love thinking of the bank robbery of The Dark Knight or the "hit me" scene in Thirteen. They set the tone perfectly.

    I haven't seen Hard Eight, but I love the openings for the other two you chose. Boogie Nights especially was great.

    1. Thanks. Both of yours are great. I forgot about the opening of Thirteen. That movie was brutal.

  3. Great post! On this list, I've only seen Magnolia, but the opening is definitely unique and unforgettable.

  4. Excellent post, man.

    All of these films are masterpieces. My favorite of these cold opens has to be Magnolia. It was one of the first films by Paul Thomas Anderson that I saw. The way he uses the camera is amazing. It's amazing.

    Some of my favorite cold opens are: 20th Century Women (the car on fire while Annette Bening & Lucas Jade Zumann narrate about Jamie's life up to that point); Drive (the car chase through Los Angeles); & The Big Lebowski (Sam Elliott talking about The Dude).