Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Matt Zoller Seitz: The Substance of Style (Wes Anderson)

The Substance of Style, Pt 1: Wes Anderson and his pantheon of heroes (Schulz, Welles, Truffaut)
by Matt Zoller Seitz
Moving Image Source

This is the first in a five-part series of video essays analyzing the key influences on Wes Anderson’s style. Part 2 covers Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester, and Mike Nichols. Part 3 covers Hal Ashby. Part 4 covers J.D. Salinger. Part 5 is an annotated version of the prologue to The Royal Tenenbaums.

With just five features in 13 years, Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation. Supremely confident in his knowledge of film history and technique, he's a classic example of the sort of filmmaker that the Cahiers du cinéma critics labeled an auteur—an artist who imprints his personality and preoccupations on each work so strongly that, whatever the contributions of his collaborators, he deserves to be considered the primary author of the film. This series examines some of Anderson's many cinematic influences and his attempt to meld them into a striking, uniquely personal sensibility.

After the release of his second film, Rushmore, in 1998, it became obvious that Anderson was, love him or hate him, an idiosyncratic filmmaker worth discussing. In the decade-plus since then, dissecting Anderson's influences, and Anderson's influence on others, has become a bit of a parlor sport among cinephiles. Sight and Sound and Film Comment have been particularly rich resources. More recently, the Onion A.V. Club contributed a couple of playful, astute lists. Anderson himself has gotten into the act by paying tribute to his heroes in interviews and magazine articles.

This series will take the process a step further, juxtaposing Anderson's cultural influences against his films onscreen, the better to show how he integrates a staggeringly diverse array of source material into a recognizable, and widely imitated, whole. It will examine some, but certainly not all, of Anderson's evident inspirations. Along the way, it 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.

Anderson’s scavenger-hunt aesthetic stands him in good company, alongside Quentin Tarantino, David Gordon Green, James Gray, and the other Anderson, P.T. But what makes Wes Anderson distinctive is the sheer range of art that has fed his imagination—not 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.

To Watch the Video Essay and Access all Five Parts

More resources:

Sound on Sight: Naked Lunch Radio #4 – Wes Anderson (The music of his films)

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