Words by Cooper Copeland
Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Paul Thomas Anderson does not, in any capacity, want to tell you why he made Junun, nor does he care what you might think his aims were going into it.
All he gives a shit about is the simple fact that it makes you feel something, which as it turns out, is remarkably impossible not to. After all, Junun, a short n’ sweet documentary about what happens when you throw the musical likenesses of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur, and the wild talent of the Indian company Rajasthan Express all together to create one extensive wonder of music, is a feeling held in one sweeping breath of musical collaboration. In other words, it’s a 54-minute slab of exquisitely performed music filmed by everyone’s favorite generational director. So what’s stopping any of you from jumping right in?
Well, there may be slight trepidation from the many PTA fans who might walk into Junun expecting a grand cinematic experience, where each frame beckons to be hung in the great MOMAs around the world. What you must understand is that Junun is not There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, or Inherent Vice by any means or measure. Anderson’s meticulous writing is nowhere to be found. His sense of grandeur and scope is culled and quieted. He leaves us only with brief vignettes of some of this world’s personalities, but always turns back to the album they are making and the process of their musical precision. Anderson focuses solely on creation—the creation of sound, cohesion, and ultimately, limitless beauty.
These same fans with such great expectations may also be quick to snuff at the camerawork, which is uncannily free and unconcerned with perfection. We oft get to partake in the movement of Anderson’s tripod as he chases where the music flows, through the ornate and ancient doors of the Rajasthan fort where Junun is recorded. But what we must recognize is that, just like the album itself that we get to witness playing out before us, so do we get to witness the filmmaking habits of Anderson. How he wants to capture a moment where a sound evolves from something of the earth to something up above is reflected in his decisions to change focus, often shaking the camera, and being decisively unconcerned with exactness. I call that refreshing as hell.
Even so, Anderson still provides us with remarkable moments of visual splendor—whether it’s the mesmerizing flight of hawks that circle the Indian stronghold as a caretaker throws meat overhead, or even the delicate yet rich set ups that Anderson often approaches his subjects with, we are still met with the subtle whimsy that makes us all so PTA crazy in the first place.
Then there’s the music itself, which, if you haven’t grasped at this point, is what Junun is all about. If you have ever felt superbly untalented, then get ready to throw your hands up in surrender. Each musician, all of whom wield multiple instruments with incredible skill, informs the next with a spirit of collectivity. Never are we centered on one artist who holds the rest on its shoulders. Greenwood, as one of biggest celebrities of the group, is never regarded with special interest, only as an integral piece to a much larger puzzle. They may feature few musicians who bring new sounds to the table, like two female vocalists on the astounding track “Chala Vahi Des,” but the individual then recoils and reforms into the group mesa as it all coheres into the power of the whole, because really that’s when the music punches you in the gut as the sounds of India and the West collide so soundly.
This all informs Junun as an inherently digestible candor on the making of exquisite noise. It may not be remembered in years to come within the scope of PTA’s wide net of work, but if beauty is something you like to hear, feel, and see, then by all means, step right up.