Thom Yorke & Paul Thomas Anderson: ANIMA
Netflix’s foray into the world of music initially saw them testing the waters with huge pop names and concert films with the likes of Taylor Swift and populist film composer Hans Zimmer. Now, the leader in streaming gives us something altogether more beguiling and otherworldly — a collaboration between two of the most progressive minds in the arts: Thom Yorke and Paul Thomas Anderson, and their short film, ANIMA.
In case you’re wondering, this article is about the ANIMA film — if you’re needing a review of ANIMA in its album form, here you go: it’s Thom Yorke, it’s brilliant, go listen to it as soon as possible.
Make no mistake, this is not Yorke’s first time dancing in front of a camera: there’s the internet sensation music video that is Lotus Flower from Radiohead’s King Of Limbs, which sees him in no-fucks given freestyle. Later, in his Atoms For Piece project, he released a more tightly-choreographed video for the song Ingenue.
In the director’s chair is Paul Thomas Anderson, who has received 25 Academy Award nominations over a career that has seen him create films such as There Will Be Blood and most recently, Phantom Thread. Anderson and Yorke have grown their friendship over recent years, with Anderson working on several films with Johnny Greenwood, leading to him directing the music video for Radiohead’s Daydreaming, and a few other promos also.
ANIMA begins with an oppressive shot travelling down a tunnel, soon revealing that we are on a train underground (the opening filmed on the Paris Metro). The short film spans three of the songs from the album, the first being Not The News - with its almost militaristic electronics providing the rhythm for Belgian choreographer, Damien Jalet (who previously worked with Yorke on the film Suspiria). The packed-out train is fairly reminiscent of a morning London commute; workers struggling to stay awake in a cramped train, except the matching grey jackets, and the synchronised movements lending a more sinister 1984 sense to proceedings.
It’s equally comedic and poignant, as the workers heads fall into their hands either in despair or simply a total loss of energy. It quickly becomes apparent that Yorke and his co-star, actress and partner, Dajana Roncione, are attempting to mimic everyone else in order to not stick out from the crowd.
As Roncione forgets her bag and gets off the train, this leads us into Traffic, the opening song of the album. This midsection of the 15-minute short film is where Yorke and Anderson, perhaps unsurprisingly, delight in getting very abstract. As Yorke attempts to return the bag, reality itself seems to dissolve, including an excellent yet claustrophobic loss of gravity.
While ANIMA is stunning throughout, it’s the final act that is the most heartbreaking. Yorke awakes on the floor (on location in Prague), alluding that perhaps what went before was in his mind. Dawn Chorus, despite being sung almost entirely in a deliberate monotone, is arguably among the most moving songs to come from Thom Yorke’s solo output. The delicate chordal passages from an analogue synthesizer, and lyrics 'a thousand tiny birds singing, if you must, you must' culminate in Yorke and Roncione boarding an empty tram in a park, early morning. It’s a beautiful ending that follows unbelievable ensemble dancing through the streets of Prague. And it could only have come from the combined minds of Yorke, Anderson, and Jalet.
This can only be wonderful news for the music industry. With this much more ‘art rock’ take on a music film from Netflix, it hopefully means that as the streaming giant continues to expand, it will look to cover more areas of the music market, after their Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake films have proved successful. So fingers crossed that smaller artists will soon get a piece of the pie. Thom Yorke is by no means a small name, however this doggedly un-mainstream piece of film may well open more doors for others. With that said, it’s a quarter of an hour-long, so best to go watch it immediately.