Monday, September 21, 2015

The weird, wonderful world of Wes Anderson

I still haven't quite figured out this thing about wrapping text in Blogger. Oh, well. It simply doesn't pertain to my latest obsession. Or does it?

I titled this post "The weird, wonderful world of Wes Anderson." Going back to the wrap text issue, if I really wanted to speak to Anderson's OCD-ish attention to detail -- a quality one either loves, or hates about him -- I would figure that out before posting.

Let's parse the title as a format for what I want to say.

The weird. Anderson's Limoges-like films are nothing, if not strange. Take "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", the movie poster of which is poorly placed, above. A perhaps over-ripe Jacques Cousteau style ocean explorer finds, among other things, there is a son he did not know he had (or perhaps he did know?), goes on a quest to discover the sea creature who killed his deceased partner, falls afoul of a competing and more popular explorer memorably played by Jeff Goldblum...well, you get the drift. What is Anderson trying to get at here? Life is a journey? Secrets from our past can return to haunt us?

Probably not. In a Wes Anderson film, the journey, to use a cliche, is the reward. And oh, what a journey it is. The visual splendor, the music-box mechanism of Anderson's imagery, costume, music and much else that gives the enjoyment. One could say Anderson privileges these elements if one wanted to bring an obnoxious critical term to play. Or one could simply watch the way Anderson re-creates an almost home movie style treatment for the anecdotal clips from Zissou's many (too many?) adventure docu-dramas. This film-within-a-film construction is so lovingly hand made it is easy to forget for a moment it is not real. Or take a look at the "Team Zissou" costumes that seem to have arrived via time travel from the 1960s. This is high craft in, not just film making but art.

And this leads, finally to the World. To say each of Wes Anderson's films -- especially the last five or six -- is a completely self contained artistic "snow globe" is an understatement. This is seen no where better than in the wonderfully self-referential model of Zissou's sea-going vessel. In a scene early in Life Aquatic, the camera pans across a seemingly life-sized cut-away model of this ship, showing us the engine room, cabins, obligatory jacuzzi spa (?) and other marvelous touchs, all painstakingly rendered. It is important to remember that this is not CGI, but an actual model created by Anderson and his team, and the little people moving around are actual actors. In some respects, this self-referential model is a roadmap to the film itself, as if to say "my film is a model of something real, with real characters in it, but it also looks like something I have constructed, and I dare you to tell the difference between the two." In a Wes Anderson film, the world is so clearly constructed, that it is easy to simply enter into it and forget it is a fiction. Yet he is constantly reminding us that it is.

You either love this distinctly post-modern technique, or you hate it. I happen to love it, and have since I first saw "The Royal Tennenbaums".

I chose Life Aquatic not because it is the best of Anderson's films -- that honor is reserved, I believe for "The Grand Budapest Hotel" -- but because I think it demonstrates Anderson at his brilliant, maddening best. You never really know where the story is going, but want very much to ride along. And even if you didn't, having David Bowie songs played in Portuguese would be worth the price of admission. Or watching the rare Anderson action scene, with Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and crew racing across a decrepit resort on a random tropical isle, to Mark Mothersbaugh's goofy, wonderful score. Its like a music video, but not. Or something out of a 1970s era children's television show, like The Banana Splits.

Try it, you'll like it.