MovieChat Forums > Paul Thomas Anderson Discussion > California throughout the 20th Century

California throughout the 20th Century

PTA’s filmography is a pretty great representation of California through the decades, perhaps America in general to a greater extent. It’s fascinating to see his work evolve on screen as he covers more aspects of a single setting through different time periods.

The turn of the 20th century

1900’s – 1920’s: THERE WILL BE BLOOD - Plainview discovers oil near Los Angeles in 1902 and the majority of the film begins in 1911 as he goes to the Sunday property in Little Boston, California. It’s a great exploration of greed and the pursuit of wealth against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom as well a fascinating look into religion.

1950’s: THE MASTER – This film covers more of America and actually ends in England but it all starts in California as Quell winds up on Dodd’s yacht in San Francisco. This is a great portrayal of post-war America, experiences of PTSD, the search for belonging and the lines between cult and religion.

1960’s – 70’s: INHERENT VICE – Okay, I guess this is technically 70’s but it works as the bookend of the 60’s and its also probably one of the most distinct in capturing the era of the decade he was portraying. Again, a Los Angeles setting and it includes great representations of drug culture, pop culture, cult mania with Manson, conspiracy paranoia etc.

1970’s – 80’s: BOOGIE NIGHTS – Here PTA covers the entertainment industry, specifically the golden age of porn. It’s a fascinating look of the rise and fall of a pop culture phenomenon and how the industry evolves around these characters in the San Fernando Valley.

1990’s: MAGNOLIA – Again set in in the San Fernando Valley, this was more epic in scale and personal in themes as it covers a diverse range of characters in this time period and setting. Familial relationships is an obvious one – fathers and sons, fathers and daughters etc. But it’s mostly highlighting physical and emotional breakdowns of Californians from different walks of life suffering under similar afflictions of abandonment, rejection, abuse etc.

2000’s: PUNCH DRUNK LOVE – Maybe not totally specific to a time but I guess more representative of the 21st Century. More current in its setting as Barry Egan runs a quirky business selling toilet plungers and novelty items. It also moves to a different part of the San Fernando Valley, that of the suburbs and industrial area. It’s a smaller and intimate depiction of a modern character dealing with alienation, insecurity and extortion.

All in all, the point I’m getting at is that even though PTA’s filmography is still quite small at this point, he’s already done a pretty good job at showing California (and America) through the years illustrating facets of entertainment, the oil industry, religion, family, suburbia, drug culture, detective fiction etc. The list goes on.

So according to reports, his next project takes him out of California and to New York in a drama set in the fashion industry in the 1950’s. It’s great to see him tackle yet another side of American culture.

Any ideas for what he should tackle next and which decade? Maybe something in the 30’s or 40’s so he could cover the entire 20th century?

An obvious one might be a drama set during the Great Depression era of the 30’s or a crime drama during the Prohibition era. I would love a something depicting the early days of the Cold War during the mid to late 40’s.


I feel like The Master covers the 40s more so than the 50s. The beginning takes place throughout the mid to late 40s and the rest takes place in 1950 which still feels like the late 40s. This new film will probably be in mid or late 50s. If he does a film about the early days of public access tv, it will probably be in the early 60s.


Maybe something with the golden age of West Coast Rap/ LA gang culture in the late 80s/early 90s.


Noir film set in Los Angeles in late1930s/early 1940s

Horror - late1950s/early1960s

Story about scientist loosely based on Nikola Tesla (late XIX/early XX Century)

Fassbender - Mara - Blanchett - Phoenix