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The Year's Best Books: Our Critic's Picks

Fresh Air's book critic looks back at a busy year and selects the books that linger in memory as the calendar page turns.

Her favorite fiction:

Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs
Min Jin Lee's Free Food for Millionaires
Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster
Roddy Doyle's Paula Spencer
Salley Vickers' The Other Side of You
Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach
Fred Vargas' Wash This Blood from My Hands
Ann Patchett's Run
Philip Roth's Exit Ghost
Nonfiction picks:
A.M Homes' The Mistress' Daughter
Clare Tomalin's Thomas Hardy
Arnold Rampersad's Ralph Ellison: A Biography



Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on December 19, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 19, 2007: Interview with Paul Thomas Anderson; Commentary on the best books of 2007; Commentary on the best pop albums of 2007.


DATE December 19, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Paul Thomas Anderson discusses writing and directing
his new film "There Will Be Blood"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite from "There Will Be Blood")

Mr. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Ladies and gentlemen, if I say
I'm an oilman, you will agree. I've traveled across half our state to be here
and to see about this land. I'm a family man. This is my son and my partner,
H.W. Plainview. I have many wells flowing at many thousand barrels per day.
I can guarantee to start drilling, to put up the cash to back my word.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Daniel Day-Lewis, as an oilman during the early days of the oil
industry, in the new movie "There Will Be Blood." My guest is the film's
writer and director, Paul Thomas Anderson. He also made "Boogie Nights,"
"Hard Eight," "Magnolia" and "Punch Drunk Love." "There Will Be Blood" is on
our film critic David Edelstein's 10 best list, and it won the best film award
from the LA Film Critics Association. Reviewing it in the New Yorker, David
Denby wrote, quote, "Anderson has now down work that bears comparison to the
great achievements of D.W. Griffith and John Ford. "There Will Be Blood" is
about the driving force of capitalism as it both creates and destroys the
future, and the film's tone is at once elated and sickened." Unquote.

The movie is loosely based on the 1927 novel "Oil" by Upton Sinclair. Daniel
Day-Lewis plays a silver prospector who discovers oil, then buys the rights to
drill land in rural California by promising poor families he can transform
their lives through the money oil will bring. But in one town, he meets a boy
preacher and faith healer named Eli Sunday who is also promising the
townspeople he can transform their lives through his direct connection to the
Holy Spirit. In this scene the oilman, Daniel Plainview, is trying to
convince the boy preacher and his father to let Plainview drill for oil on
their land. The preacher is played by Paul Dano, who co-starred in "Little
Miss Sunshine" as the silent brother.

(Soundbite from "There Will Be Blood")

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) My offer to you is $3700.

Mr. PAUL DANO: (As Eli Sunday) What is it that brought you here, sir?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) The good Lord's guidance. Now, of
course, within that we would...

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) What about...

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) ...develop a lease.

What's that?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) What about our oil?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) What about it?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) We have oil here. That's worth something.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Do you have someone who can drill for
it? You think there's oil here.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) I know there is.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) It's very expensive to drill, to get it
up and out of the ground. You ever try that before?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) How much is it?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Costly.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Well, our oil sits right up on top of the ground.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I believe that's called seepage.
Doesn't necessarily mean there's anything underneath.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) What would you give us for it?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I don't know.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Something you don't know.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) That's right.

What would you like, Eli?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Ten thousand dollars.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) For what?

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) For my church.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) That's good. That's a good one. Well,
if we decide to drill for oil and if the well begins to produce, I'll give
your church a $5,000 signing bonus.

Mr. DANO: (As Eli Sunday) Ten thousand.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Do you want to find someone else that's
going to come up here and drill, Eli? Make the investment and do all the hard
work that goes into it?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Paul Thomas Anderson, welcome back to FRESH AIR. And congratulations
on the movie.

You know, an interesting thing about "There Will Be Blood" is that there's no
real pleasure in the movie. I don't mean in watching the movie; but, I mean,
the characters in the movie have no pleasure. There's very little eating in
the movie, there's no sex, there's no entertainment, and even the oilman who
becomes quite wealthy doesn't seem to be interested in much that money can
buy. He's interested in finding oil. That's his obsession. That's all he
really seems to care about.

Mr. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON: You know, it says something about the men of this
period--that were kind of on the tail end of the wild, wild West--who started
as silver miners and kind of got into the oil business because that's what was
happening, you know, that was what was in front of them. They could never
really shake that ambition and that drive to work, that what they enjoyed the
most was the fever and the insanity, just the process that actually getting
the stuff or the riches from it somehow was really unsatisfactory to them,
that's my guess. Because so many of them had this incredibly hard time
transitioning into the 20th century. You know, they'd have these palatial
mansions, but they'd still live like they were living in a tent, you know. So
whatever they were after, once they got it, clearly wasn't satisfying their
hunger, that they liked being hungry. They probably preferred being hungry.

You know, and I can only relate that when we're shooting the film to that's
just what it's like when your making a film. I mean, nothing compares to the
joy of making them. When they're finished. it's a letdown, somehow, you
know, because it's over. But the joy and the drive and the insanity that you
go through when you're making them, it's--that fever that you get is the most
enjoyable part of it. So we definitely were shooting what we were feeling.

GROSS: Did you intentionally leave food out of the movie for the most part?
And the food that's entered is so unappetizing.

Mr. ANDERSON: Not really intentionally, no. I mean, there was one scene
that we cut out that caught Daniel sort of mid-bite. He was having a steak,
and we cut it out. But we had to decide if Daniel was going to be doing
anything in that last scene in the bowling alley, and I suggested that he be
gnawing on a piece of steak, or at least what he could kind of get the
nutrients of, considering his teeth had probably fallen out, you know, just
suck on a steak. And I knew it was a tall order because to do take after take
gnawing on a steak is, you know, really dangerous ground to get into. And
Daniel went away for a few days and thought about it and said, `All right.
Let's do the steak. That's a good idea.' Which is really happy. But besides
that, anytime you can leave stuff like food out is a good thing, you know,
because it just usually ends up being like a matching nightmare or it just
involves more people putting food on tables and stuff. And stripping it down
to its essentials was not only the proper thing to do out there in that
setting, you know, but really a cheat in making things easier, your life
easier just in making the film.

GROSS: The way your movie is, it revolves around two people's stories. One
of them is the independent oilman who becomes a millionaire through acquiring
all this oil property, and then this like boy preacher who's a fundamentalist
preacher and claims to be able to get rid of the devil, no matter where the
devil is, in a room or in your body. And they're both great salesmen. They
both have their pitches down, and they're both completely the opposite of each
other in terms of what it is that they're pitching. And, I guess, what
interested you in this dichotomy between the oilman and the boy preacher?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, first and foremost, it's a great boxing match.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. ANDERSON: You know?

GROSS: And there's a couple of great scenes, which I'm not sure I should give
away or not, with the two of them.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah. You know, they start out with their wits and their
words, and, yeah, then they start throwing punches. But just that idea of a
boxing match, you know, was so terrific. It's funny because I had originally
thought it would be a good idea. It turns out it was not a good idea, but I
had imagined the boy preacher's like, you know, 12 or 13 years old, you know,
that no matter what Plainview--no matter what age somebody he was faced with,
somebody had his own same line of BS, you know, they were going to be a
formidable opponent. We thought better of it. You know, we thought that
would be a little bit absurd to have a 12- or 13-year-old boy, but the ideas
remain the same, just to get them in the ring together.

GROSS: "There Will Be Blood" is set in the late 19th and early 20th century,
but the two kind of themes--two of the themes of the movie are so
contemporary, you know, corporate obsession and power and religious obsession
and power, still two of the driving forces in our country and our culture. I
guess you were thinking about that a lot when you made the film.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, of course, but best to approach it, like I said, like a
boxing match or like a horror story, you know, rather than kind of this sort
of the endless kind of punctuation that you could put on that kind of stuff
that's there already. You know, you've got an oilman, you've got a preacher.
Let the rest just be a fight to the death.

GROSS: Daniel Day-Lewis has a reputation for being very obsessive about the
few roles that he agrees to take on. What was it like to work with him? What
can you tell us about his process and how you related to him as the director?

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, in my eyes, Daniel's the holy grail of actors, you know,
that to work with somebody that is going to be that focused and dedicated
without question to what he's doing. So I kind of couldn't wait to get my
hands on him, really. I think, oh, boy, I hope I can do as well for you as I
know you're going to do for me, just through the history of his performances.
You know, my job is never to really ask what he's up to. My job is to really
be, you know, to stand on the sidelines and be there if he needs me. I
certainly don't feel like I need to understand anything that he doesn't need
me to understand. I just need to answer a question if he's got one.

GROSS: You know what I was wondering? The kid who plays his son, who must
be, what, around 10 or something?

Mr. ANDERSON: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

GROSS: I was wondering like what did he know about Daniel Day-Lewis? Did he
know that Daniel Day-Lewis was acting? Or do he think that he was just like
this really intense, odd man?

Mr. ANDERSON: No, I mean, you know, honestly, I think that he was probably
more in touch with the idea of make believe about it all than most adults
would be, you know, who somehow have gotten so hung up about the idea of
playing make believe that it's bizarre. Why would you do that? You know, but
why wouldn't you do that if you could do it for three months? I think the boy
was feeling like, `I'll do this with you for three months. This is my summer
vacation.' You know? The funny story is is that the boy, Dillon Freasier, we
found, is not an actor. He's just a young boy out there where we were
shooting from west Texas. And his mother, when we first approached him, his
mother wanted to figure out who Daniel Day-Lewis was, you know, considering,
you know, he's going to be spending a lot of time with her boy. And she
rented, you know--the worst case scenario--she rented "Gangs of New York."
And, you know, was kind of panicked. I mean, really...

GROSS: He's quite a butcher in it.

Mr. ANDERSON: Absolutely.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. ANDERSON: And so, you know, of course, the casting girl rushes over the
copy of "Age of Innocence," you know, just, `Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.
It's not like that. You know, it's all make believe.' But, and Daniel did
speak to Dillon beforehand to say, you know, they developed a bond already
before we began shooting, and he did sit him down to speak with him to say,
you know, there are going to be times when I'm going to speak very harshly
with you. And Dillon looked at him like, `What are you talking about? I get
it. You don't have to tell me. I got it.'

GROSS: My guest is Paul Thomas Anderson. We'll talk more about writing and
directing the new film "There Will Be Blood" after a break. This is FRESH


GROSS: My guest is Paul Thomas Anderson. He wrote and directed the new film
"There Will Be Blood," which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a self-made oil tycoon.
It's set in the oil fields of California in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

You had to learn so much to recreate the period, and you had to learn a lot
about the early days of oil exploration. Let's talk a little bit about that.
I mean, like in the early part of the film, when the Daniel Day-Lewis
character is first learning how to dig for oil, I mean, the technology is
basically like a bucket on a pulley that he pulls up by hand.


GROSS: And then he deposits the oil in a big puddle by the well.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, that's it.

GROSS: Yeah. And then things kind of like grow a little from there. Go

Mr. ANDERSON: That's, I mean, all that stuff just comes from the written
descriptions of how Edward Doheny first found oil right near Dodgers Stadium
near downtown LA. They talk about starting out, usually they were essentially
using what they knew of silver miners, which is you'd dig a hole. And then
they realized they were down about, you know, 50-60 feet and that they were
choking on the fumes. They said, `Well, we can't be down here to get this
stuff up out of here. How are we going to do it?' And they built an A-frame,
you know, with a 50-foot eucalyptus tree that they'd shaved down and they were
just trying to drive it into the ground. I mean, these really primitive,
primitive techniques. And the funny thing is, as much as it's changed, it's
still kind of the same as it is today, just driving an enormous pole into the
ground over and over and over again until, you know, you poke the monster
enough and it erupts. But, yeah, we just were kind of we were recreating
things that were written about things that had been written down by people
that were there, you know, saying, `We found the oil, and we scooped it up
with whatever we had, bottles and cans and sauce pans.' Whatever it was, just
that fever to get it up and out of the ground. They didn't even really have a
place to put it. They were just digging holes.

GROSS: There are some really horrifying accidents that happened during the
course of the movie while people are digging for oil. Did you study up on
what typical accidents were like in those early oil days?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, we read about a few, you know, and then they're all so
graphic. I mean, there were a few written about in Upton Sinclair's book, and
then a few just from various other sources that we had. But then when we
built the derrick and we got out there, and we had this terrific guy Jim
Farmer, who's an old oilman who came out to help us out with some of the
details of the drilling. And, boy, once we met him, I mean, the stories just
came fast and furious, you know. I mean, to the point where you just had kind
of had enough, like I don't need to hear about one more accident, you know,
but quite honestly, you were aware of the dangers every single second,
particularly when you've got a film crew around, you know, just everything was
dangerous. The danger that something was going fall, the danger that your
fingers were going to get caught somewhere. I mean, it's horribly dangerous
labor, and particularly out there where I think, at the time, these oil guys
were working 12 hours shifts. So for 12 hours, they would work, and then
they'd go to wherever the bar was and drink for 10 hours, sleep for two hours,
probably stop at church on the way in, then do it all over again. You know,
so not only is there the danger just in general, but factor in booze and heat
and all the rest and it's just amazing.

GROSS: So is one of the accidents in the movie based on a story that you were
told about a real accident or something that you read?

Mr. ANDERSON: The bit falling was a character named Joe Gunda who you met
briefly, the bits fall and he's down in a cellar, which is a place where they
sort of collect the mud. That was from the Upton Sinclair book, where I first
read it. And then talking to some of our old-timers and oil guys, they would
just tell us endless stories about bits falling, guys drowning in the mud,
maybe they'd get hit in the head by something that fell, and that wouldn't be
what killed them, but, you know, drowning in this mud would be the thing that
got them. Not to mention the work that they were doing, you know, high up.
These derricks were 80 feet tall. So, you know, from time to time, people
would fall.

And then, I mean, we're not even factoring in what happens when these things
do come in. Ideally for them, they knew when they were coming in. They knew
they'd sort of hit a certain sand that they were looking at and smelling and
saying, `OK. We're very close.' And they could prepare however they did
prepare for the gusher to come in. But those times when a gusher would come
in and they didn't know it, I mean, you were in trouble. You were in a lot of
trouble, particularly if it lit on fire, and anything could light it on fire.
Just a rock shooting up out of the ground could be a spark that could catch a

GROSS: And that happens in the movie, and there's this huge fire that erupts
after the gusher starts gushing. And I'm thinking about how challenging that
scene must have been to create. First of all, I don't know if an oil fire
burns differently than, say, a wood fire or any other fire, and if you had to
make sure that you were creating an oil fire so that the fire would look

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, well, black smoke is the key, you know. Oil burns
black, and we were using diesel fuel, and it burned pretty darn close to how
real crude oil would burn. We augmented it a little bit with some digital
effects, just helping to kind of darken it a little bit. But it sure felt
like the real thing, and when we did it, you know, we had a special effects
guy, terrific guy named Steve Cremin, whose job it was to get thousands of
gallons of diesel fuel spouting up in the air and then to light it on fire.
And said to us, you know, `There's no--I cannot guarantee that I can put this
fire out. I can do it and I can turn it off, but once that derrick catches on
fire, there's a chance I might not be able to put it out.' We thought he was
just playing it safe, you know, that that would be--but the second he lit the
match, it was clear there was no way we were going to be able to put it out
because the wood was so dry. There was so much gasoline. And we were
essentially forced to do that entire sequence within two takes in about 45
minutes before the derrick tumbled to the ground.

GROSS: Did you know how you wanted to shoot it, like what you wanted the look
to be? And do you have favorite like fire scenes from other movies that
inspired the look that you were going after?

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, you know, you become pretty referenceless out there when
you have to do something like that because, you know, we had about five or six
cameras going, and first and foremost, you're putting them in a safe place.
Second, you're trying to get a shot that can carry through the whole thing.
So all those kind of film references or any big ideas you come up with just go
completely out the window. You know, you're just there really trying to film
this event that's going to happen, you know, with or without you.

GROSS: And the fire's alive. I mean, so you're shooting something that has
like a life of its own.

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah. Yeah. It doesn't take direction very well.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. ANDERSON: But that's what's fun about it, too, you know. It's great. I
mean, we were so nervous leading up to lighting that fire because, first of
all, we were in love with our derrick. You know, we were so proud of it. And
we knew we were going to be completely melancholy when it was gone. Mixed in
with it, we were all completely petrified at the prospect of screwing it up.
I mean, what are you going to do? We're not going to build it again. That
wasn't going to happen, You know, and obviously we were pretty careful. We
weren't going to do it if the wind was blowing too much. But to be really
honest with you, it was kind of one of the benefits of shooting out in west
Texas because they're a lot looser out there, you know. I don't think we
could have done anything like that in California. They would have had a heart
attack out there.

GROSS: Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed the new film "There Will Be
Blood," as well as "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "Punch Drunk Love." He'll
be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with screenwriter and
director Paul Thomas Anderson. He made "Boogie Nights," "Magnolia" and "Punch
Drunk Love." His new film, "There Will Be Blood," stars Daniel Day-Lewis as an
oilman in the early days of the industry, who goes from one poor town to
another persuading people to lease their oil rich land to him. He's a gifted
salesman obsessed with building his oil empire. He's not sure what to make of
it when a drifter shows up claiming to be a long lost brother but is so unlike
him. You can hear those differences in this conversation. The brother is
played by Kevin J. O'Connor.

(Soundbite from "There Will Be Blood")

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Are you an angry man, Henry?

Mr. KEVIN J. O'CONNOR: (As Henry) About what?

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Are you envious? Do you get envious?

Mr. O'CONNOR: (As Henry) I don't think so, no.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) I have a competition in me. I want no
one else to succeed. I hate most people.

Mr. O'CONNOR: (As Henry) That part of me is gone. Working and not
succeeding, all my failures have left me--I just don't care.

Mr. DAY-LEWIS: (As Daniel Plainview) Well, if it's in me, it's in you. The
times are when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to
earn enough money I can get away from everyone.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: "There Will Be Blood" is a great title. And the blood refers to the
blood from oil accidents, the blood ties of a family; and there is, of course,
the blood of Christ. And the boy preacher says, `You'll never be saved if you
reject the blood.' But I kept waiting in the movie for somebody to say "There
will be blood," and no one says that. So I'm wondering...

Mr. ANDERSON: I had a friend, Terry...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. ANDERSON: ...that would--any time he would go to see a film and the
title of the film was said on screen, he would scream out in the audience this
horrible, obnoxious noise. He would say, `Bacaw!' really loud. So I just
always remember, it's like, `Oh, God, if I ever put it, my friend would scream
from the back of the audience.'

GROSS: So how did you come up with the title?

Mr. ANDERSON: Just writing down titles as I was writing the movie, you know,
trying to, you know, you kind of keep a piece of paper nearby, writing, you
know, writing things down as they come to you. And wrote that one down. And
I remember writing it down thinking, `That looks pretty good.' It looks good,
you know, which is--you're probably halfway towards a good title if it looks
good on, you know, pen and paper. And then I had a bunch of others that
lingered around but just kept coming back to that.

GROSS: The cinematographer that you worked with on "There Will Be Blood" is
Robert Elswit, who shot your other films, too, right?


GROSS: And he also did "Good Night, and Good Luck," which looks great.

Mr. ANDERSON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Can you give us an example of an idea that he came up with where you
thought, `Yeah, that's it.'

Mr. ANDERSON: Well, Robert and I have worked together so long. It's just
such a bizarre, dysfunctional relationship at this point, but great. But just
the closest collaborator I have, really. Robert loves to linger around in the
background for as long as he possibly can, you know, without saying much of
anything. And he loves to really be involved. Not saying too much about, you
know, shots or anything like that or lighting. He likes to just kind of
linger and let Jack build his sets and lets everybody do their work. He gets
real busy about scheduling because he's very, very smart about knowing how
much time we should have to do stuff. And those are always the "ah-ha"
moments with Robert. When Robert says, `We need two days,' everybody says,
`We need two days.'

GROSS: In your new movie, "There Will Be Blood," is--it's a way like working
with one hand tied behind your back because the new movie there's no irony.
It's not set in the present so there's no pop culture references, there's no
contemporary pop songs in the background. And those are some of the hallmarks
of your films that you've become known for. Was that intentional for you?
Did you want to leave that stuff behind and try something completely

Mr. ANDERSON: You know, Terry, maybe it's the opposite. Maybe it feels like
I got one hand untied from behind my back. So I've got both hands to work
with because that's a little bit more of what it feels like. You always want
to do something different, always. I do, you know. And, you know, I've
always thought we did do something different and I'm sure to varying degrees
of success of what people's impressions are. But at the same time, you know,
maybe never being satisfied that we did enough, or being frustrated that it
looks like we made it, sounds like we made it, and, God, you wish you could
just crawl out of your skin and not have it look like that.

GROSS: Well, what was the hand that got untied?

Mr. ANDERSON: Working with a book was like having a great collaborator. You
know, the films that I love are very straightforward stories. And my
instincts maybe left to my own devices as a storyteller are less
straightforward. So maybe untying myself from myself and being open to
adapting a book or, you know, working with a story that has happened already
was really liberating. I mean, we all know what happens with oil, don't we.
We know what the end of the story is. It's a bit like the Titanic. We know
that it sinks, you know. The fun is going to be watching it how it gets
there. So there's a kind of--there's something very liberating in working in
that venue.

GROSS: The music that was composed for the film is by Jonny Greenwood of
Radiohead. And parts of it are electronic, or at least that's how they sound
to me. And parts of it are symphonic but kind of discordant. And you've
chosen in parts a kind of avant-garde music as the soundtrack for the past.
And I thought that was an interesting choice that actually works really well.


GROSS: Can you talk a little bit about why you choose that approach

Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, I mean, I--all credit goes to Jonny, really. I'd heard
pieces that he'd written for orchestra that were--that sounded, that sounded
like the movie, a movie that I hadn't made yet. But I thought, my God, it's
so spooky and so unsettling and there's sort of nowhere to hide from it. I
thought that's how the music should be for the film. And it's funny that you
feel like there's electronic music because some of it probably sounds like
that, but none of it is. It's all orchestra.

GROSS: But there's one period of like a sustained sound and I couldn't figure
out if it was strings or electronics.

Mr. ANDERSON: That is a cheat. That is Jonny playing an ondes Martenot,
which is an early, early synthesizer, early 20th century synthesizer that only
he seems to know how to play really well. Anyway, that's a terrific sound.
But, yeah, it shouldn't match up, but it does somehow. I can't quite figure
out why. But, yeah, Jonny wrote this little piece on piano with the ondes
Martenot and just a two minute kind of demo and sent it to me. And I put it
up against the film and sent it to him back, and he was kind of shocked that
it worked too. We both were.

GROSS: I read that for Rob Altman's last film, "The Prairie Home Companion
Movie," that you were like the standby director, and it made it seem like you
were standing by in case something happened to Altman. And it did turn out to
be his last film. Was there a fear that he wouldn't survive the movie?

Mr. ANDERSON: He was going through chemotherapy and radiation during that
film, and Bob was indestructible. So nobody that knew him really well knew
that anything would happen. But every Thursday he would go and get his
treatments. So the funny thing is, Terry, he didn't miss a day. He didn't
miss one day. We shot for 32 or 33 days. And there was one day about
5:30--as opposed to, you know, 6:30 when we would normally finish--when he
said, `OK, I'm done. I'm going to go home.' But one day out of 35 days. He's
84 years old and getting cancer treatments, and just so powerful and having
the time of his life. That's Bob in a nutshell there. But, yeah, I got to
stand right there and be there. We had a ball.

GROSS: How did you first meet him?

Mr. ANDERSON: Through Dylan Tichenor, who's my editor, had worked as an
assistant editor, apprentice editor, and just around Bob's office for years
and years. So the first time I met him was through Dylan. He was
watching--it was at a screening of "Short Cuts." And, you know, needless to
say I was, you know, what Bob's films meant to me. I was really not
overwhelmed at all because he didn't overwhelm you, you know. I mean that as
a compliment, you know. That wasn't his style. He was very quick to be very
nice to me which, you know, he didn't have any reason to be. It's just--he
just was. And I think so fondly of him. I think about him all the time.

GROSS: What are some of the things that you learned from him?

Mr. ANDERSON: I think I def--I think I learned to mellow out a little bit
more, or definitely mellowed out at his encouragement. You know, watching him
really kind of enjoy things disintegrating on the set. He really loved that.
He never imposed his will, but at the same time he got exactly what he wanted.
So figure that one out, you know. And it came through his--I got to watch him
in pre-production. And he was a master of kind of not answering the questions
that were being asked of him. But not as a way of not committing but as a way
of just seeing where things were going to lead, you know, putting things off
until just the right moment when he thought, `OK, this is where I think this
should go. That's that costume we should be wearing.' Or, `It's that way we
should light the scene.' Or whatever it was, he was a kind of master at
letting everything else navigate for a long, long time until he saw a moment
to step in and give some guidance.

GROSS: Well, Thomas Anderson, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. ANDERSON: Thanks, Terry. It was great.

GROSS: Paul Thomas Anderson wrote and directed the new film "There Will Be
Blood." It won the Best Film Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics

Coming up, our book critic Maureen Corrigan chooses the best books of the

This is FRESH AIR.


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Profile: Book critic Maureen Corrigan gives year end list of
favorite books

Populism is a running theme in this year's run-up to the presidential
primaries. And according to our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, many of this
year's best books had a populist slant as well. Here are her best books of
the year.


Chances are that many working class Americans are having an anxious holiday
season this year. The number of Americans without health insurance continues
to climb and the inequality of wealth and income has increased tremendously.
But in books, if not in life, it was a great year for the working class.

Richard Russo, who's made his mark writing about ordinary working stiffs in
small upstate New York towns, gave us "Bridge of Sighs," a big fat juicy
package of realistic fiction wrapped up in butcher paper and tied off with
string. The hero of Russo's latest novel is Lou C. Lynch, unfortunately
nicknamed "Lucy," who runs the corner grocery store that his parents bought
with their life savings in the 1950s. That grocery store is a clean,
well-lighted place in a world of random evil. And Russo's quietly revelatory
tale of the events that have taken place in and around the store over 60 years
is a miracle of the mundane.

Min Jin Lee's "Free Food for Millionaires" is a sprawling wonder of a New York
City novel that tells the class climbing story of Casey Han, the Princeton
educated daughter of Korean immigrants who run a dry cleaning shop. Lee's
Korean-American rift on traditional concerns of the 19th century novel "Money,
Marriage and Duty" is terrifically funny and enlightening.

Roddy Doyle returned this year with a new book "Paula Spencer," named for the
heroine of his 1996 novel "The Woman Who Walked Into Doors." Paula is now
almost 50 and definitely not a beneficiary of Ireland's much ballyhooed
economic boom. Her core of self-deprecating resolve helps Paula stick to her
job as a cleaning lady and her voice--rye, bitter, often punched up with
obscenities--makes readers stick by her side.

I love Stuart O'Nan's new novella "Last Night at the Lobster," set in a Red
Lobster restaurant on the day before it's scheduled to shut down on orders
from corporate headquarters. Our hero is Manny DeLeon, the 35-year-old
manager, who has to get his restaurant through one more day while a blizzard
builds outside. And inside employees desert faster than you can say, `Hold
the tartar sauce.'

Granted not every wonderful novel this year wore a blue or pink collar. "The
Other Side of You" by Salley Vickers details the relationship between the
psychiatrist and his patient. And it's written in that subtle, specifically
female British tradition of Penelope Lively, Iris Murdoch and Anita Brookner.
All these women write intelligently about characters whose relatively placid
exteriors mask roiling inner lives.

Speaking of brainy Brits, Ian McEwan popped up again with "On Chesil Beach,"
another minor masterpiece of rumination and restraint.

The French female mystery writer Fred Vargas was a fantastic find for me this
year. Her intricate police procedural, "Wash This Blood from My Hands," is
now available in paperback. And happily a translation from the French of
another one of her mysteries will be out this spring.

Last but not least on this year's fiction list is Ann Patchett's "Run," a kind
of realistic fairytale about a father and his two adopted sons that's a
dazzling successor to Patchett's literary blockbuster "Bell Canto."

Adoption was also the topic of one of my favorite non-fiction books of the
year, A.M Homes' "The Mistress' Daughter." In her compelling memoir, Homes
attests to both the undeniable power of blood and to random miracles of

I also like the haunting biography of Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin, which
details the life of one of literatures great gloomy Guses, a man who seemed
doomed to yearn most intensely for that which was out of reach.

Arnold Rampersad's biography of Ralph Ellison was for me the non-fiction book
of the year. A vivid and authoritative exploration not only of Ellison but
also of racial identity and mid-20th century American literary culture.

Just to keep my grinch critical credentials polished, I'll confess that this
was a year where I dutifully read a lot of books that I ended up thinking were
overrated. Among them Dennis Johnson's cliched Vietnam epic "Tree of Smoke,"
which won the National Book Award. And Junot Diaz's, OK enough but not
fabulous Spanglish tale, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao."

One writer, though, who deserves all the accolades that can be piled atop him
is Philip Roth. His short new novel "Exit Ghost" is so smart, so funny, so
elegiac, so--oh, please people, just give Roth the Nobel Prize in literature
already and make 2008 a year to celebrate.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. Her
list can be found on our Web site,, where you can also
download podcasts of our show.

Coming up, the best recordings of the year as chosen by our rock critic, Ken

This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Rock critic Ken Tucker chooses the best pop music of

Although rock critic Ken Tucker has been listening to a wide range of music in
an increasingly fragmented pop market place, he settled on a theme he believes
can summarize much of 2007. He calls it "The Year in Rehabilitation."

(Soundbite of "Rehab")

Ms. AMY WINEHOUSE: (Singing)
They tried to make me go to rehab
I said no, no, no.
Yes I been black, but when I come back
You won't know, know, know

I ain't got the time
And if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab
I won't go, go, go.

(End of soundbite)

KEN TUCKER reporting:

The British singer Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" was released here early this year.
And as 2007 wore on, it dominated the pop landscape. First and foremost it's
the best single of the year. At once a throw back to '60s pop and a lurch
forward. It's neo-soul was one of the most fruitful examples of an
alternative to the baroness of hip-hops sluggish strain.

Of course, by the end of the year, Winehouse had become nearly as famous for
her alleged substance abuse problems which caused the cancellation of at least
part of a promotional tour. And so her wonderful song took on a sour irony.
A sad contrast to the tart alertness of her vocal on "Rehab."

Then there was the singer who seemed to desperately need even more rehab, who
gave a groggy, awful performance at the MTV Video Awards and still managed to
put out a very good album with at least one best of the year song.

(Soundbite of "Piece of Me")

I'm Miss American Dream since I was 17
Don't matter if I step on the scene
Or sneak away to the Philippines
They still going to put pictures of my derriere in the magazine
You want a piece of me
You want a piece of me

I'm Miss Bad Media Karma
Another day, another drama
Guess I can't see no harm
In working and being a mama
And with a kid on my arm
I'm still an exceptional earner
You want a piece of me

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: Britney Spears "Piece of Me" was the year's most convincing bit of
"I'm caught in the trap of fame and I can't get out" music. I know I'm not
going to convince most of you that some of the best songs of the year came
from supposed teen pop idols like Britney, Aly & AJ, Ashlee Simpson, and yes,
Miley Cyrus working her "Hannah Montana" TV character. And who would have
thought Billy Ray Cyrus's daughter would launch a tour that rivaled Bruce
Springsteen's for ticket sale popularity.

But all of these young performers had what too much rock and hip-hop lacked
this year, an un-ironic emotionalism, an open heartedness and an interest in
really figuring out what it means to be in love.

(Soundbite of "Closure")

Aly & AJ: (Singing)
Yesterday I spotted you
Hanging out with someone new
Come on dude, I can't believe who
Did it hurt? Oh, yes, it hurt
But not as much as I thought it would
Guess it's time for me to move on

I'm getting closer
Closer to closure
Everyday's closer
Closer to closure

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: Meanwhile, my favorite album of the year came from musicians at the
opposite extreme from teen pop. I'm talking about the now peerless brother
sister duo that comprises the band Fiery Furnaces. Siblings Matthew and
Eleanor Friedberger fracture lyrics and time signatures. Many of their
compositions sprawl well over five minutes. But they have none of the
pompousness we associate with 20th century art rock. This year Fiery Furnace
has put out "Widow City," which both extended their verbal and music
experiments and graciously included some of their catchiest riffs.

(Soundbite of "Navy Nurse")

Fiery Furnace: (Singing)
I got warnings from jealous friends
Cases of borrowed clothes
And a vial of Dramamine from my mother
And she said, forget what mom likes because things have changed
Taught me how to make booze at home
call it old Uncle Zeek and drink it early next week
Now, if there's anything I've had enough of it's today
If there's anything I've had enough of it's today
If there's anything I've had enough of it's today

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: Rehabilitation in the form of rejuvenation occurred in country music.
This is the rare year where I didn't have to seek out old pros for good
country, not when singers such as Miranda Lambert, Sarah Johns, Kelly Willis
and Taylor Swift--look at that, all women--were making tense, strong willed,
exciting albums.

No one did it with more cleverness than Miranda Lambert, who stole thunder
from the wildest old country outlaws to create her biggest hit.

(Soundbite of "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

Well it took me five bars, saw 30 license plates
I saw her Mustang
And my eyes filled up with rage
I brought my pistol but I ain't some kind of fool
So I walked right in bare handed
She was on his arm while he was playing pool
Just like I used to do
She kissed him while I got a beer
She didn't think I'd show up here
I'm a crazy ex-girlfriend

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: 2007 was also the year that Radiohead released its new album, not
through a record company, but on the Internet via a pay what you like honor
system. It was a fascinating experiment, not one that a struggling new band
could emulate without starving, but a decisive sign that the way we consumer
music also affects the way we think about artists and their work.

Overall, this was one of the most confounding, constantly shifting years I've
experienced since I started covering music. Does this leave me confused or
annoyed? To quote Amy Winehouse, "No, no, no." Happily off balance and
exhilarated is more like it.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for "Entertainment Weekly." You can see
Ken's complete 19 best list on our Web site,, where you can
also download podcasts of our show.

We'll close with one of Ken's favorite tracks of the year, Teddy Thompson
singing "Change of Heart" from his CD "Upfront & Down Low."


(Soundbite of "Change of Heart")

Well, I guess you must have had a change of heart
You don't treat me like you did at the start
Your campaign of love was quite a work of art
Now I guess you must have had a change of heart

Guess I took too much for granted anyway
But it's just cause I believed those things you'd say
Not so long ago you swore we'd never part
Now I guess you must have had a change of heart

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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