Not that long into processing (Ha! Get it?) my first experience of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a film which yields a distinct impression upon each viewing and from each viewer, I developed an inescapable paranoia that Anderson had cleverly duped us. Partly due to the film’s meandering structure, and partly because of the absence of certain key moments from trailers, I wondered if there were perhaps multiple prints of the film going around, each with a different structure. Nothing would have surprised me from Anderson, from whom I suddenly want a full-fledged horror film, in case There Will Be Blood doesn’t count.
This isn’t to say that The Master is in any way an incomplete film, but much is left unanswered about its peculiar narrative, and the many deleted scenes from the film promise to fill in some of those gaps. Having a look at the 20-minute reel of unused content, however, it’s pleasantly clear why this material wasn’t used. Much of the back-story surrounding Lancaster Dodd’s elusive Book 2, The Split Saber, risks filling in too many of the blanks where the viewer’s free thought might build much of the film’s meaning. Furthermore, within the context of the film, it changes the focus of the film to being less about the relationship between Dodd and Freddie Quell, quite inarguably the heart of The Master.
With that said, there is substance simply in the existence of this material, not least of which being the gorgeous cinematography of Mihai Malaimare Jr., reminding us ever more how egregious it is his work wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar. In a way, this footage seems as though it’s been recovered from an alternative timeline, consumed and lost in the delirious state of Freddie’s eternally lost subconscious. I’d caution not bearing these scenes in mind too much, or at all for that matter, in future viewings of the film. This 20-minute reel made available over at The Playlist, on the recently released DVD/Blu-Ray of the film in the eventuality that the YouTube video is brought down, represents the incredible production work that was deemed unnecessary in the context of the final piece, as well as the necessity and sensitivity it took to condense the work into the definitive The Master.