In March of 2005 the internet broke the story that Paul Thomas Anderson’s next film would be based on Upton Sinclair’s 1920s novel Oil!, and would star Daniel Day Lewis. That film seemed to fade away – it turns out PTA wasn’t able to raise the funds to make the movie independently. Now it’s back, with some changes. It’ll be produced by Scott Rudin as a co-venture between Paramount and the new Miramax, and the film won’t be called Oil!, but rather There Will Be Blood, which is much more ominous. Oil! kind of has a musical vibe to it.
So more than a year after first learning about it (and after Daniel Day Lewis started his research into his character), shooting on the film will start in mid-May in Texas and Mexico. The wait was long but I am sure it will have been worth it. See, I’m a massive PTA apologist. I just love the guy’s work and think he’s a genius. I do have to give myself some credit, though – I tend to be the kind of apologist who will admit when a film doesn’t work, but will fall back on the auteur theory to claim the movie is still important.
For those of you who don’t know what Oil! is about, here’s what I dug up last time I wrote about the film, from socialhistory.org:
Oil! has been described as one of the great novels of Southern California and Sinclair’s most artful and effective work. Published in 1927, it gave fictional life to the frenzy that followed the discovery of oil in Signal Hill, Huntington Beach and Santa Fe Springs in the early 1920s. In a foreword to a 1997 paperback re-issue, Jules Tygiel wrote that Oil! was more than a portrait of ‘20’s life in Southern California. "[It] ultimately spread far beyond the boundaries of Southern California, encompassing World War I, the Russian Revolution, the Teapot Dome and Elk Hills bribery scandals, the fractious battles of the American left, the morality of youth in the roaring twenties, and a broad spectrum of other issues. Yet, Oil! remains at its core what literary critic Lawrence Clark Powell has called, ‘a novel of high California octane…the largest scale of all California novels.’"
Variety has a more specific plot outline: Anderson wrote the script and used as his basis Sinclair’s expose of the seamy side of the drilling business in Southern California when it became the equivalent of the gold rush.
Day-Lewis will play a prospector who buys the oil rights to a family’s ranch, and then hits a major pocket of crude. The story then turns into a tale of greed and faith, as the prospector realizes the American dream and is destroyed by it.