News Column

Exploring filmmaker Wes Anderson

November 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 06--If the devil is in the details, then Wes Anderson's films would have initiated a satanic panic had they been seen by more people.

Anderson's seven movies -- "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums," "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," "The Darjeeling Limited," "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Moonrise Kingdom" -- are meticulously constructed, with small yet meaningful touches like title cards, uniformlike costumes, slow-motion sequences, tips to past films and the occasional Kinks song.

Anderson and fellow iconoclast director Richard Linklater are the best-known contemporary filmmakers from Houston. It speaks well of the city's alternative-arts scene that neither is notable for summer blockbusters. Their films may not be for everyone, but their works are imaginative playgrounds that appeal to a particular type of audience.

A new book, "The Wes Anderson Collection," is a brilliantly colored, yet information-stuffed object of desire by award-winning film critic and culture writer Matt Zoller Seitz. Pretty enough to thumb through casually, it also provides insightful text attuned to the details of the filmmaker's work.

The volume, an extension of Seitz's lengthy video essay "Wes Anderson: The Substance of Style," breaks down aspects of Anderson's films with an expert's eye. Each of his movies is framed with movie scenes as well as photos of pertinent influences, such as Charles Schultz as well as fellow auteurs like Fran ois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Seitz includes an essay and a question-and-answer interview with Anderson for each movie. (Anderson's eighth film, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," will be released next year and isn't included.)

The volume is a good reminder that while the recent "Saturday Night Live" parody of Anderson's work -- a faux horror film titled "The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders" -- was amusing, it was superficial humor riffing on the most obvious stylistic tics in his films rather than thematic content that runs through them.

Author Michael Chabon's introduction likens Anderson's work to that of Vladimir Nabokov or Joseph Cornell in that they "understand and demonstrate that the magic of art, which renders beauty out of brokenness, disappointment, failure, decay, even ugliness and violence, is authentic only to the degree that it attempts to conceal neither the bleak facts nor the tricks employed in pulling off the presto change-o."

Seitz brings up a common criticism of Anderson's work: The distinctive style that unites his seven films -- which are, at their core, thematically different -- gives the impression of style preceding substance. But "The Wes Anderson Collection" makes a strong case that those focused on style are missing the dark matter beneath.

And Anderson makes no apologies for it.

"You don't have to pull up a lot of reviews to find people who absolutely hate what I do," he says. "Maybe they would hate my movies even more if I took away the things they say they hate, but at a certain point, what am I going to do? I don't read minds, so I guess I'll just do what I want to do.

"And what I want to do has a lot to do with what I enjoy in movies."

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(c)2013 the Houston Chronicle

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