Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Feeling Fancy

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Feeling Fancy

Article excerpt

Feeling Fancy The Wes Anderson Collection BY MATT ZOLLER SEITZ ABRAMS, 336 PAGES, $40

Wes Anderson is one of the most vital, personal, and distinctive American filmmakers of his generation, an exacting auteur whose florid signature blazes across his work. Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel present a gorgeously realized, slightly unreal world in which the compositional glee of Busby Berkeley sets off both the urgent intimacy of the French New Wave and the wounded ironic wariness characteristic of the American children of 1970s divorce. Anderson's aesthetic is fully formed, and he has acolytes as devoted to him as he is to his craft. Yielding to the sensibility of an all-controlling obsessive has its pleasures.

But how much real feeling underlies the artifice? Once I asked Anderson to respond to the charge that his movies are twee, cute, overdesigned but undercooked. Do they contain too much diorama and not enough drama? "Who's saying that?" he said, his hackles raised. But whether he likes it or not, it's his visual style-his sets, costumes, camera movements, and props-that most critics talk about. Wrote Robbie Collin in the Telegraph, "Two of the phrases you always hear, whether people are praising Anderson's films or dismissing them, are 'doll's house' and 'pop-up book.'"

In our chat, a few years ago, I also asked Anderson why his films were so often about lost boys trying to reconnect with elusive father figures. "I don't know," he said. "Ever thought about it?" I pressed. "Yep," he said. The door to the vault swung closed.

So we'll have to sift through the brilliant, irritating, precise, fussy, sumptuous, insufferable, original, repetitious films to learn what, if anything, Anderson means for us to take away from them. Maybe it's simply their Anderson-ness. Asked why he liked the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, Anderson told me, "It's just his personality I respond to, and we really know him from these movies. They couldn't be more personal."

Anderson's films bubble with his personality. Even if you turned off the sound, you could identify an Anderson film from just a few scenes, maybe even a few moments. Again and again, actors positioned like still lives at the exact center of the frame give a deadpan stare directly into the camera. Curtains and other self-consciously stagey elements are frequently deployed. Meticulously ordered spaces are laid out with hyperreal props that seem equally to spoof and celebrate a given motif (1960s ocean exploration documentaries, '30s grand hotel farce, naturalistic color-desaturated French films). And his camera rolls briskly across it all, even gliding through rooms or between floors of his cine-dollhouses.

Wes Anderson sometimes seems more an interior decorator than a storyteller. Look can substitute for passion. Some, like Camilla Long, of Britain's Sunday Times, would say it usually does. Upon seeing Anderson's eighth feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, she wrote, "I am tired of the fact that he would rather show a pair of flying goggles than real emotions such as love or jealousy or anger or hate. The last time one of his characters convincingly fell in love was 16 years ago, when Max Fischer met Miss Cross in 'Rushmore.'"

It could be said of Anderson that his movies are so enclosed and selfreferential that they're the cinematic version of a coffee table book about coffee table books. Now we have an actual coffee table book on the filmmaker: The Wes Anderson Collection, which consists of photos from the sets and interviews conducted by critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Its introduction, written by Michael Chabon, is the most elegant defense of Anderson I've seen.

For Chabon, the Anderson artifice is a virtue. He rules Anderson's detractors guilty of "the implication, simple-minded and profoundly mistaken, that a high degree of artifice is somehow inimical to seriousness, to honest emotion, to so-called authenticity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.