Until now, the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed music video for “Divers,” the title track off Joanna Newsom’s new album, had only been available during select screenings in cinemas between October 16-October 22. (Interestingly, the New York screening happened at the IFC center, which Newsom traipses past in her last P. T. Anderson-directed video, a suggestively historical tour of Greenwich Village for the song “Sapokanikan.”) Now, as a press release states with Newsom-appropriate flourish, “homebodies the world over can…repeatedly revel in all the splendor and wonder provided by Joanna and [Paul Thomas Anderson’s] collaborative effort.” As in, it’s up on YouTube.
Indeed, the video is just as splendid and wondrous as it claims — but what’s become most notable about P. T. Anderson’s music video direction is his restraint. While many directors are wont, especially as far as current music video trends go, to collage various locations and ornate costumes in often arbitrary bizarrerie, Anderson makes minimalist gestures to get to the cores of songs’ structures. With Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knife,” he literally split the screen into all of the different sonic components of the song, denuding the already raw track. With the aforementioned “Sapokanikan,” he simply captured Newsom walking throughout Greenwich Village in an effortless display of the present’s architectural, historical and personal smothering of the past, allowing the song to do most of the evocative work. Now, in “Divers,” we see Joanna Newsom suspended as a giant phantasm within a Natural History Museum-meets-acid-trip diorama of a mountain range. Over the course of 7 minutes (this is the longest track off the album), Newsom stays pretty much stationary as she sings and is obscured, on occasion, by multicolored smoke.
Perhaps the stanza that appears — apart from one mention of phosphorescence at low tide, which could explain the flowing colors — to reveal the most about the imagery is one in which Newsom likely rhetorically questions, “But how do you choose your form?/How do you choose your name?/How do you choose your life?/How do you choose the time you must exhale,/and kick, and rise?” For in this video she seems like someone who’s made it past the end of all of that — and is now gone and formless and nameless — in some otherworldly space.
Watch the video below, and read our review of the album here: