“With just five features in 13 years, Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation,” says Matt Zoller Seitz in the first of a five-part narrated video series (along with a printed essay) that will run over the next five weeks.
(The video is very nicely done, Matt — hats off. But the automatic play-reboot function is impossible. Send me a code without it and I’ll put it up again.)
Publishing a pro-Anderson manifesto is, at the very least, an idiosysncratic if not brave thing for Seitz to have done. I mean, is it not the prevailing view that Anderson pretty much shot his wad with Bottle Rocket and Rushmore? And that he’s been slipping more and more into WesWorld and getting more and more caught up in Wes-aesthetics-for-their-own-sake ever since?
Apart from his brilliant ’06 American Express commercial and that Jason Schwartzman and Natalie Portman Hotel Chevalier short that accompanied The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson’s post-Rushmore features have come to symbolize an approach to filmmaking that is so poised, precious and fussed over that the primal dramatic stuff doesn’t come through like it needs to.
As David Amsden wrote in a New York profile of Anderson in late September of ’07, “Pepper in some resurrected classic-rock songs; deadpan dialogue; themes of failure, nostalgia, and fractured families; and the result, at its best, is a world unto itself.”
The other prevailing view is that former collaborator Owen Wilson provided an influence that kept Anderson from getting too Wessy. Like the also-faltering M. Night Shyamalan, Anderson needs to find a way to write his screenplays with (i.e., trust) a bright somebody or other with anti-foo-foo roots and convictions who can save him from himself.
The beginning of the fall-off wasThe Royal Tenenbaums. The first big uh-oh was The Life Aquatic. The Darjeeling Limited, for me, was the Big Thud. And yet Seitz’s essay, I have to say, is great stuff. The passion is right there. It made me fall in love with Rushmore all over again, and feel hope for Anderson’s future works. One hopes in particular that The Fantastic Mr. Fox (which had a test screening in New Jersey a little while ago) will pan out.
“What makes Wes Anderson distinctive is the sheer range of art that has fed his imagination,” Seitz writes. “Nnot just recent American and foreign films, but films from 30, 50, even 70 years ago, plus newspaper comics, illustrations, and fiction. The spectrum of influence gives his work a diversity of tone that his imitators typically lack. It is a style of substance.
“Anderson’s scavenger-hunt aesthetic stands him in good company, alongside Quentin Tarantino, David Gordon Green, James Gray, and the other Anderson, P.T. This series may incidentally illuminate why Anderson-esque movies — from Garden State to Son of Rambow — can seem, no matter what their virtues or pleasures, a weak substitute for the real thing.”
On 9.24.07 I posted a short list of “career-saving suggestions for Anderson to consider: (a) Do a T.E. Lawrence and join the Army or Marines as a raw recruit with a fake name, and serve in Iraq for a year; (b) get a job in Iraq as an ambulance driver, and have an affair with a nurse if he gets sent to the hospital if and when he gets maimed by an I.E.D.; (c) do a T.E. Lawrence and take a low-level job in some blue-collar industry in Missouri or Mississippi for a year, again under a fake name; (d) do a John Pierson and run a repertory movie theatre in some far-off territory for a year — soak up the exotic atmosphere, get to know the locals, etc.”