A Postgraduate Year at Rushmore Academy
April 14, 2009 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Wes Anderson: The Substance of Style. A video essay in five parts by Matt Zoller Seitz. (Links go to the text of the essay; click on the embedded video to view.) [via]
posted by Horace Rumpole (36 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Will Oldham on Wes Anderson in his AV Club interview - “Here’s my iPod on shuffle, and here’s my movie.”
posted by anazgnos at 4:52 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not big on Anderson's style-over-substance approach to things, but what he's good at is specifically the thing Oldham pisses all over him for: Using pre-existing music. Thing is, Anderson doesn't do it like Oldham seems to think.

Mr. Billie then goes on hailing the Farelly Bros for doing There's Something About Mary the way they did--i.e. with Jonathan Richman as a sort of Greek Chorus--ignoring the fact that Anderson used the same technique in The Life Aquatic.

Rule of thumb: If they don't know the names of the directors, they probably don't know their films all that well either, and should probably stick to beards and banjos or whatever.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:02 PM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is it worth mentioning that Mark Mothersbaugh, from Devo, scores the music for most of Wes Anderson's movies? And that in most of those movies, Mothersbaugh contributes original compositions? Will Oldham don't know jack about Wes Anderson.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 6:21 PM on April 14, 2009


Wes Anderson's have grown steadily worse since Rushmore. He should quit while he's ahead.
posted by bardic at 6:45 PM on April 14, 2009


I really liked Will Oldham before reading that, having only known him through his music. Now I'm not sure I can listen to his music anymore without remembering what a complete moron he apparently is. I'm going to try to assume that he either had an off day and was just in a bad mood or something or that the reporter didn't take any notes and just fabricated the entire interview.

Since I always have a life soundtrack in my head, constantly playing music that often has lyrics -- even when I'm having a conversation -- I just cannot relate to his thing about how it's inappropriate to have music with lyrics in a movie. I guess he doesn't have music in his head like I do.

Actually, it seemed like he is more concerned about making sure that composers get work than he is about whether or not any particular music is good for a movie.

That said, if Oldham is coming from the perspective of a guy who has seen Darjeeling Limited and no other Wes Anderson movies, then I can sort of understand his gripe, since the most prominent song used in that movie (Where Do You Go To) was, in my opinion, not used very well. On the other hand, if Oldham doesn't like that The Kinks were used in Darjeeling, then I might not be able to listen to Bonnie "Prince" Billy anymore, since it will just make me mad thinking about it.
posted by The World Famous at 6:46 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hey, Horace Rumpole, this is a great post and I don't have to be a Wes Anderson fan to really enjoy the vids.

FTR, my top 3 favorite films, and not exactly for artistic merit, are Blade Runner, Empire of the Sun and The Life Aquatic.

Also, by the way he treats/handles his characters, I think he should do something from Steinbeck.

Thanks for the great post!
posted by snsranch at 6:52 PM on April 14, 2009


i just finished watching all five segments. that was really great. it was interesting to learn that he was going to try to get elliott smith to cover hey jude for the tenenbaums intro after harrison's death derailed securing the rights to the original.
posted by snofoam at 6:57 PM on April 14, 2009


I love the Royal Tenenbaums, and if you watch it with the director commentary he actually goes quite a bit into his music selections.
posted by sararah at 7:03 PM on April 14, 2009


This post is very, very good. (But, um, no mention of Kubrick?)

If Moving Image Source had an RSS feed, I'd be in heaven.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:38 PM on April 14, 2009


The 5-part series was better than I expected, outlining both Anderson's virtues and flaws as a filmmaker. Part 3 was especially interesting for his comparison of Anderson with Hal Ashby.
posted by jonp72 at 7:48 PM on April 14, 2009


Is that what graduate school is about? Sucking the very lifeblood out of something you love and putting it under the microscope and documenting every little strain?
posted by xmutex at 8:00 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I did that in my first semester of undergrad.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:05 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I imagine that 'Wes Anderson: The Substance Of Style' will be as enlightening and intellectually stimulating to me as 'William Faulkner: The Essence of Brevity' and 'Charles Bukowski: the Moral Satisfaction of Sobriety and Celibacy.'
posted by koeselitz at 9:08 PM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Although it's pretty harsh to Faulkner and Bukowski to mention them in the same sentence as a hack like Wes Anderson.
posted by koeselitz at 9:32 PM on April 14, 2009


Will Oldham is an overrated hipster doofus.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 PM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Argh. And now I've watched that awful 'video essay.' Good god.

I guess I didn't mind Wes while he was a 'on the 'Farrelly brothers' (crappy but remotely funny) streak, but it's since become apparent that Wes is really just everything we all hate about 'hipsterism' wrapper up in a film director. I mean, fine, these movies are remotely entertaining, but when I watched 'The Magnificent Ambersons,' I had to sit by myself for two hours - and I still feel like that wasn't enough. I think the hesitance people have now to watch 'old movies' means that we're doomed to a lifetime in the dark about what rock music meant to those who were musically conscious in 1966 and 1967 and 1968.

The only way to make their experiences knowlege-rich in the 1870'S West in order to inspire trust.
posted by koeselitz at 10:53 PM on April 14, 2009


Although the new record is a little too seventies saloon country for me, I do like Oldham. Buuuut his position on movies and music is slightly sorta totally full of shit, near as I can tell.

As for Anderson; regardless of how ornate the frame is, a blank canvas is still a blank canvas.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:02 PM on April 14, 2009


I'm kind of a beards and banjos guy myself... which one is Wes Anderson and which is PT, again?
posted by rokusan at 3:23 AM on April 15, 2009


Well, amidst all this hate I'll point out that I love Wes Anderson movies (though I haven't seen Darjeeling yet), and this video essay was a nicely constructed look at many of the reasons why I do. Plus he narrates it like Ricky Jay!

I tend to put Life Aquatic in my top five/ten movies, but then when seeing some of the clips of Rushmore I'm struck again by just how beautifully constructed it is. Rushmore has some of the best use of a long lens I've ever seen (sorry Stanley).

Also, I'm amazed by the fact Oldham manages to make a statement about using one artist to soundtrack a movie, but picks the Farrelly brothers rather than Magnolia... Let's just skip the integrity and go straight for the retarded sounding answer.
posted by opsin at 3:28 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's something very wrong with you if you don't enjoy the scene in Life Aquatic when Bill Murray is shooting at pirates while wearing a Speedo and bathing robe.
posted by diogenes at 6:13 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wes Anderson is the Morrissey of movie-making. A way easy target, 'cause he stands at the center of a whole aesthetic that becomes overbearing pretty quickly, and he may never scale his early heights again. But he's still consistently interesting and in a class by himself. 'nother ten years, there will be no doubt.
posted by bendybendy at 7:16 AM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rushmore has some of the best use of a long lens I've ever seen (sorry Stanley).

That. I might have a weakness for stylists (in all media) but I can't think of Anderson as a substance-free filmmaker. In fact he is exactly that, a filmmaker rather than a mere director of people and equipment.
posted by rokusan at 8:25 AM on April 15, 2009


I write a movie a year for Wes Anderson cause man, does he need a writer. I've never actually sent him my movies because, well, they suck, but still - I keep hoping someone will write him something good again and we can get another great movie or two out of him.

"Tenenbaums" over "Life Aquatic" and Mothersbaugh over and over and over.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:43 AM on April 15, 2009


Lost me at:
With just five features in 13 years, Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation.

I suspect David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, and Todd Haynes might have something to say about it.
posted by minkll at 8:52 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wes Anderson is the Morrissey of movie-making.

Except that Morrissey's overbearing aesthetic is supported by interesting narrative content. ;)

Wes Anderson is, as these videos point out (intentionally or otherwise), purely an aesthetician or aesthete or whatever you're called when you just make pretty things. The inspirations documented here--appropriations, really--are all aesthetic, and they're stretched over the simplest of frameworks (flat lighting, rigid geometric framing, everything deadpan), and the thinnest of stories.

But, really, it all just seems that way. The aesthetic isn't stretched over the framework of everything else; everything else is squeezed into the aesthetic framework. The framework? Let's see: Static compositions, flat colors, characters are shallow archetypes, story's a bit thin...

Comix.

(I want to see those storyboards!)

I don't think Wes Anderson is the J.D. Salinger of film (well, no, actually, I know he isn't) so much as he's the Chris Ware. Both seem more designer than artist, but whereas designer is what designer does (and they both do that), artist is what artist makes. Wes Anderson makes art, as does Chris Ware. Maybe in the process they borrow a bit more than they should from Charles Schulz, but the end result is unquestionably their own, like it or lump it.

I like that.

The great irony is that while Anderson's supposed genius (I don't think for a minute that he is one; he just makes some neat films) is supposedly lifted wholesale from other sources, it's also supposedly grossly self-indulgent. Add to both those elements the fact that Anderson's stolen, self-indulgent aesthetic is ripped off left and right, and it's quite the head-scratcher.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:13 AM on April 15, 2009


I love Wes Anderson, but I couldn't get beyond the monotonous narration of the videos. If you have something to say, SAY IT WITH FEELING.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:16 AM on April 15, 2009


I've only watched the first video so far (gotta work and stuff), but it made me realize something I hadn't before. Some of my favorite moments in Rushmore are when Bill Murray does silly things: runs across a basketball court to slap down a student’s would-be layup; peers at Miss Cross from behind a tree; jumps into the pool and just floats at the bottom. I never really thought about the fact that those are all things a child would do. I knew they were quirky, incongruous things for his character to do, but I never really thought about why.

I guess I just like watching adults act like children. I'm not sure what that says about me... Maybe it just taps into the desire that we all have to recapture some of the joy and wonder of childhood.
posted by diogenes at 10:03 AM on April 15, 2009


I suspect David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, and Todd Haynes might have something to say about it.

Most of those people are significantly older than Wes Anderson (Soderbergh, the closest, is six years older) and I don't really think of them as his contemporaries. I would say his contemporaries are directors like P.T. Anderson, Spike Jonze, Christopher Nolan, and Darren Aronofsky. Purely as a question of influentiality (if that's a word), I think Wes Anderson has a pretty strong claim.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


[...] jumps into the pool and just floats at the bottom. I never really thought about the fact that those are all things a child would do. I knew they were quirky, incongruous things for his character to do, but I never really thought about why.

The underwater scene is a long-established trope, actually, and would be considered utterly cliché hackery if anyone besides the usual film nerds ever noticed it. (I don't mind, since it's a bit of an in-joke at this point.) Essentially, it works like this:

water = womb ∴ person (nearly always male) suspended in water = developmentally arrested

The Graduate is the earliest example I can think of, but it's so common that it must go back farther than that. (Is there a Classical scholar in the house? A Jungian, perhaps?) Such scenes also conjure images of tadpole-to-frog--the trope is especially common in coming-of-age movies--but get this [warning: art-wank ahead]: The adult frog lives on land; it breathes with its adult lungs and hops with its adult legs. But the frog must regularly steep itself in nostalgic waters or it'll shrivel up and die. So there's your Bill Murray floating in the pool, and associating with youngsters. Nichols (and maybe the book-writer dude?) puts Dustin Hoffman in an actual frogman wetsuit.

You're welcome, film theorists!
posted by Sys Rq at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Lost me at:
With just five features in 13 years, Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation.

I suspect David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater, Steven Soderbergh, Spike Lee, Gus Van Sant, and Todd Haynes might have something to say about it.


Aside from Lynch (whose actual influence is not so tangible), all of those directors are chameleons with no immediately recognizable style carried from one film to the next. Certainly they're successful filmmakers, and excellent ones at that, and perhaps influential storytellers in the medium of cinema, but I wouldn't say they're influential filmmakers--that is, they're not influential in the way they make films.

If you'd said Tarantino (another heavily influenced and supposedly highly influential director of similar age), you'd really be on to something.

That said, I do agree that Anderson isn't really all that influential. For one, there's the undeniable fact that his style, like Tarantino's, is cobbled together from bits of already-influential films, so it's impossible to say if his imitators are influenced by Anderson or by the same filmmakers who influenced him.

Plus, the so-called Wes Anderson style already existed, more or less, before Bottle Rocket (e.g. Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse, or, hell, John Hughes, Tim Burton, et al). Anderson merely purified and crystallized the style. He made it up-front and obvious, sure, but he didn't exactly invent it from whole cloth.

Also: Kubrick came back and died in one fell swoop in 1999, and no doubt people got all misty-eyed and imitated his forceful and deliberate style à la The Shining (which is quite imitable), combining that template with the new trendy one and its modern palette. Suddenly, out the other end, comes Wes Anderson's immense influence on cinema? Bull. Shit.

In any case, even if the so-called Wes Anderson clones are just that, it's imitation, not influence.

I still like his movies, though.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:11 PM on April 15, 2009


Anderson merely purified and crystallized the style. He made it up-front and obvious, sure, but he didn't exactly invent it from whole cloth.

Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin didn't exactly invent their styles from whole cloth, either. But I doubt you'll find many informed people who would argue that those four are not among the most influential musical acts of the 20th century.

Nobody hears The Black Crowes and honestly thinks that maybe they're really not influenced by the Stones as much as they're just drawing from the same influences that the Stones did. Likewise, they call them "Elvis Impersonators" for a reason, and it's not that they are simply drawing upon the same influences that Elvis did and just happening to come up with the same sequined jumpsuit and pompadour.
posted by The World Famous at 1:20 PM on April 15, 2009


Elvis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin didn't exactly invent their styles from whole cloth, either. But I doubt you'll find many informed people who would argue that those four are not among the most influential musical acts of the 20th century.

Well, I can imagine a lot of post-'60s rock'n'rollers not knowing a lot of Muddy Waters or Leadbelly.

I can't imagine any filmmaker of this decade and hemisphere--not even the worst hacks--not knowing Harold & Maude or Les 400 coups.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:45 PM on April 15, 2009


I can't imagine any filmmaker of this decade and hemisphere--not even the worst hacks--not knowing Harold & Maude or Les 400 coups.

You evidently do not know enough hacks.
posted by The World Famous at 1:49 PM on April 15, 2009


I just watched episode 3. I was really interested in discovering Anderson's connections with Ashby because I only recently discovered his movies (beyond Harold and Maude). The episode was disappointing though. It seemed like the author really likes Ashby and just wanted a reason to talk about him. He basically lists a bunch of things that Ashby does that Anderson doesn't, makes a few tenuous connections, and declares that Ashby is really great.
posted by diogenes at 4:28 PM on April 15, 2009


It did mention that Ashby tended to make films about rich people with a particular flair for interior decor (i.e. lots of hardwood paneling). So that's one thing. Also, the Cat Stevens soundtrack to Harold and Maude is, like, soooooo Wes Anderson. And the characters. And the dialogue.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:33 PM on April 15, 2009


water = womb ∴ person (nearly always male) suspended in water = developmentally arrested

That totally reinvents the end of (and meaning of) Being John Malkovich for me, in a much richer and deeper way. Thank you, genuinely.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:55 PM on April 15, 2009


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