What links Licorice Pizza to The Gong Show?

From San Fernando Valley to Chuck Barris via Haim, we go down the rabbit hole with Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age tale

Valley PTA

Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth cinematic symphony hits UK screens next week: Licorice Pizza returns the director to his native LA’s San Fernando Valley in the 1970s, previously seen in his 1997 breakout Boogie Nights. The latter tackled the era’s porn scene, the new effort is a more wholesome coming-of-age story (Funny! Relaxed! Delectable! says the Guardian) – some have dubbed it “Boogie Days”. Newcomers Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim lead the line.

Paul Thomas Anderson
Licorice Pizza is directed by Paul Thomas Anderson ... Photograph: Getty Images

Phantom threads

Alana Haim is a member of the sister-based pop rock group Haim. The trio has long been associated with Anderson, who has directed several of their music videos. But it turns out the sisters’ mother, Donna Rose, was his elementary school art teacher – “a huge influence”, he says.

... long associated with Haim, whose mother, Donna, was his teacher ... Photograph: Getty Images

Inherent gong

As well as inspiring a modern auteur, Donna was a winning entrant on The Gong Show; she sang a Bonnie Raitt number – no gongs! (Husband Moti, meanwhile, was once a professional footballer; those Haims contain multitudes.)

Bonnit Raitt
... and sang a Bonnie Raitt number on The Gong Show ... Photograph: Getty Images

There may be blood

Chuck Barris was the host of The Gong Show and creator of other trash telly: in 1984 he infamously wrote an “unauthorised autobiography”, dubiously claiming he had been a CIA assassin. With Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, George Clooney turned the tall story into his underrated 2002 directorial debut(rent it everywhere). Charlie Kaufman wrote the screenplay – though later voiced his disapproval.

Chuck Barris
... hosted by Chuck Barris, whose biography was made into a film written by Charlie Kaufman ... Photograph: Getty Images

The masters

Kaufman’s own directorial debut was the mind-bending Synecdoche, New York, with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a theatre director whose work swallows his world. Hoffman was also a muse to Anderson across several films (is Punch-Drunk Love quietly their best?), until his death in 2014. Now his son Cooper has picked up the PTA baton (usually we’re dubious of nepotism, but maybe we can wave this through).

Philip Seymour Hoffman
... whose debut was Synecdoche, New York, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, muse to Anderson. Photograph: Alamy

Pairing notes

Read Masterworks is the understated title of a survey of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work by film critic Adam Nayman, who has also turned his hand to elegant monographs about David Fincher and the Coen brothers.

Eat Licorice Pizza doesn’t refer to an unusual topping; it’s an old chain of record stores. But if you want to try it on a slice, what’s to stop you?

black and white cartoon rabbits going down their holes through a red line
Illustration: Guardian Design


Larry Ryan

The GuardianTramp

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