A match made in The Valley: the evolution of Haim and Paul Thomas Anderson

Ahead of the release of 'Licorice Pizza' starring Alana Haim, we look back on Paul Thomas Anderson' partnership with the LA sister trio, Haim.

If Haim’s music videos for the past few years have had an off-kilter, cinematic quality to them, it’s only fitting. When the band released the visuals for ‘Man from the Magazine’ in October 2020, it marked the band’s ninth collaboration with critical darling Paul Thomas Anderson (PTA), director of There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Phantom Thread to name a few. Even discounting his countless Oscar nominations and impeccable movie soundtracks, Anderson’s music video resume is an alternative Gen Xer’s dream: Radiohead, Jon Brion, Joanna Newsom and most notably, Fiona Apple. Now he can add another string to his bow: Haim’s official videographer.

The Haim sisters (Este, Danielle and Alana) have a hometown and muse in common with PTA (“Los Angeles / Give me a miracle”), but their more fateful connection came courtesy of their mother’s teaching career: “She loved this kid Paul – he was very energetic, artistic, vivacious,” Alana recalled to Vanity Fair. “Boogie Nights would come on and our mom was like, ‘oh that’s Paul’s movie.’ We were like ‘Mom, are you talking about Paul Thomas Anderson?!’ and she was like ‘yes that is Paul, I taught Paul.'”

As Anderson currently looks set to helm the Haim Cinematic Universe for the foreseeable (as of 2021, he has directed nine of the band’s music videos and Alana is appearing in his next feature film Licorice Pizza), we explore the evolution of their creative partnership; a pitch-perfect indication that the band and their mum’s old art student are a match made in San Fernando heaven.

1‘Right Now’/’Valentine’

Roses are red, the colour grading is blue… Anyone who knows Haim knows that they’re at their very best live, making ‘Valentine’ the perfect place for PTA to begin. First released in an abridged form as the music video for ‘Right Now’, the 14-minute film shot on gorgeous 35mm sees the trio live in the Valentine Recording Studios, performing three tracks from their second album. Anderson’s camera roams rather than cuts, opting for characteristic tracking shots like your eye line at a concert. It’s a deceptively simple insight into the recording process, culminating in the barnstorming ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ that finally clones Danielle so she can drum along to her own guitar solo. An instant classic.

2‘Little of Your Love’

‘Little of your Love’ was already one of Haim’s most audibly Californian songs, evoking the nostalgic sunshine flair of the Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys. In his first conventional music video with Haim, PTA takes the band’s distinctive blend of retro rock stardom and 90s pop choreography and adds his own charming spin to it. Filmed in the legendary gay bar Oil Can Harry’s (sadly now a casualty of the pandemic), the sisters line-dance under twin disco balls on a dancefloor straight out of Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

3‘Night So Long’ Live

From a couple of Californian icons to another, ‘Night So Long’ is filmed before and during Haim’s 2018 gig at Griffith Park’s famous amphitheatre: The Greek. Beginning with shots from the daytime soundcheck that are extreme close-ups and an empty crowd (“loneliness my only friend”), it’s the video’s conclusion that takes a simple concept and makes it poignant – all through one match cut. Anderson transitions from the three sisters, backs to the camera, performing to empty seats, to the same shot of the three now facing a sell-out crowd in darkness, a sea of lighters and phone torches. It’s a goosebump-inducing reminder of how far the band has come: in a blink of an eye, their dreams have come true.

4‘Summer Girl’

“L.A. on my mind, I can’t breathe”. Throughout PTA and Haim’s combined filmography, there can be no mistaking the setting and this is never truer than in the case of ‘Summer Girl’. Kicking off their ‘Women in Music Part III’ era, Haim strut through the streets of L.A. followed by the looming presence of a saxophone player, who gradually learns to “walk beside me / not behind me”. The colour palette gradually warms from cool Arctic blues to golden Californian hues, as the sisters shed anxieties through items of clothing. The concept of wearing as many clothes as possible and stripping off, layer by layer, now feels like a TikTok challenge or a reverse bit from Friends but it’s one that Haim effortlessly pull off to iconic effect. The mellow and carefree track belies the circumstances in which it was written, following Danielle’s partner’s cancer diagnosis, and in a neat nod to cinema itself, we even see Danielle moonlight as a box office cashier at the historic New Beverly Cinema (now owned by Quentin Tarantino).

5‘Now I’m In It’

Paul Thomas Anderson protagonists, whether they’re porn stars in the scuzzy San Fernando Valley or haute couture dressmakers in 1950s London, are wracked with internal conflict and defined by their solitude. So where does Danielle Haim fit amongst them? The quiet charisma of the band’s frontwoman is such a perfect subject for PTA, who thrives amidst intense yet understated vulnerability. ‘Now I’m In It’ is about depression (“not leaving the house type of shit,” wrote Danielle on Instagram in 2019), a deeply lonely affair with none of the easy camaraderie of earlier Haim videos like ‘Little of Your Love’ or ‘Want You Back’. Yet within it lies the band’s most touching portrait of sisterhood yet; Este and Alana always show up just in time to catch Danielle when she calls for help, decked out in a matching leather/platform boots/shades ensemble that evokes Prada meets The Matrix.

The three sisters can’t help but fall back into each other’s stride eventually, walking in tandem through L.A.’s twilight streets as Danielle gives a coy yet triumphant smile straight down the barrel of the camera. ‘Now I’m In It’ never shuts the door on the probability that this is cyclical behaviour – the video is much too self-aware to patronise us with a straightforward happy ending – but while ‘now’ is all-consuming and it may return again and again and again, it is also temporary. PTA and Haim’s finest (and most touching) collaboration yet.

6‘Hallelujah’

Haim’s very own ‘Landslide’. Shot at the Los Angeles Theatre, ‘Hallelujah’ is the only single since ‘The Wire’ where all three sisters take a verse and equal share of the spotlight. Anderson adds some subtle (and literal) magic to the touching guitar ballad, which peaks during Alana’s tribute to her childhood best friend who passed away and is now memorialised through the ‘SKK’ initials on her guitar. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Haim and PTA collaboration without those moonlit LA streets (“our thoughts are harmonised”). As the strings come in at the end, Danielle strolls past Este onto Broadway while Alana places the prayer ‘Hallelujah’ on the theatre’s lightbox.

7‘The Steps’

It was inevitable that PTA would share the director’s chair eventually. ‘The Steps’, co-directed by Danielle, marks a slight shift in style – or rather, snarl. Aside from the pandemic-induced, minimalist video for ‘I Know Alone’, it’s their least glamorous visual – all lipstick on toothpaste-smeared mouths, whisky in empty mouthwash bottles and swimming pools with fallen leaves – and it’s a song and video that drips with frustration in not being understood. “You end up mad at me for making a mess” Danielle sings, scowling at the camera, and boy do they make one.

8‘Man From The Magazine’

Canter’s Deli in L.A. has become something of a visual staple for Haim’s recent album rollout. Most prominently featured as the setting for the ‘Women in Music Part III’ album cover (also shot by Anderson), as well as a brief cameo in ‘Summer Girl’, Danielle takes her place behind the counter at Canter’s for the ‘Man from the Magazine’ video and she’s damn tired. In another live recording, she sings over the parade of men making their deli orders – “I don’t want to hear / It is what it is, it was what it was” – in a perfect summation of the tedious misogyny faced by female musicians by journalists and fellow musicians alike. At only two minutes long, it’s a scene so intimate and quietly compelling that it could easily be one of the missing puzzle pieces from Magnolia.

9‘Licorice Pizza’

When rumours began to swirl that Alana Haim was going to star in PTA’s first feature film in four years, it almost sounded too good to be true. Now Licorice Pizza is officially here and it’s a glorious 70s coming-of-age romp – Almost Famous meets Dazed and Confused. Alongside Alana, the cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper; Bradley Cooper as Barbra Streisand’s old squeeze, Jon Peters; and even features a cameo from Danielle, too. See it while it’s still in cinemas.

An Atlas of Haim’s music videos

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