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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 80

[80th of 100]. There are two distinct phases of Wes Anderson: a pre-2001 Wes Anderson and a post-2001 Wes Anderson. Pre-2001 Wes Anderson is a director with an inchoate vision, churning out whimsical tales of precocious outcasts set in a world still recognizably our own. In this phase we get Bottle Rocket [1996] and Rushmore [1998], both wonderful films co-written with the actor Owen Wilson. Post-2001 Wes Anderson is a director whose vision has not only gotten past ripening, it has consolidated to a recognizable style that we might as well call it a tick -- the Futura font, a chapter structure, wide angle lens combined with symmetrical, center-framed shots [often rectilinear, and often shot from above], forced perspective, dramatic slow mo, extensive tracking shots that give us a feel of tableaus or dioramas, idiosyncratic art direction suggesting a microword, vibrant pastel colours of a nostalgic tone that flatten the scenes, material synecdoche for characterization [i.e., binoculars], profile shots with actors and props promptly entering and exiting the frame, deep cuts of 1960s and 1970s music. They all create a heightened sense of theatricality and artifice, it is like entering a New Yorker-tinged dream world. In this phase, with exception of his two animated films, we get The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [2004], The Darjeeling Limited [2007], Moonrise Kingdom [2012], and The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]. They're fun to look at and they have legions of fans, including critics and eventually the Oscars, and I'm amused by them -- but they leave me cold in the way his pre-2001 films embraced me with their smarts and their unfettered invention. Their overstylized whimsies feel like confection tantamount to tooth decay. But why do I specifically divide his filmography by 2001? Because that was the year he produced a film that felt like the ultimate culmination of all his artistic efforts after his first two feature films, a film that gave us the first mature rendition of his now recognizable style and thus had the whiff of the new, and a film that now feels cannibalized by all his latter efforts, all of which display only half its charm. It is his pinnacle. I adore this 2001 film about a dysfunctional family of artistic geniuses: Gene Hackman's Royal is a lawyer and Anjelica Huston's Etheline is a noted archaeologist and author, raising three children acclaimed far too young for precocious gifts -- Ben Stiller's Chas is a math and business genius, Gwyneth Paltrow's Margot is a playwright, and Luke Wilson's Richie is a tennis prodigy. They live in a stuffy/charming Manhattan brownstone, swirling in lives reminiscent of the Glass fiction of J.D. Salinger. They implode, they skirmish with each other to the point of estrangement and psychological distress, but the story lets them find grace notes in their unexpected reunion, enough to feel like a family again. I loved it because it had the texture of the literary [Salinger!], complete with the film being structured like chapters in an elegantly written tell-all. I loved it because its whimsy was both sincere and ironic. I loved it because I was genuinely engaged by the characters -- even by Hackman's selfish failure of a father. Roger Ebert calls it "at heart profoundly silly," but also "loving." "It stands in amazement as the Tenenbaums and their extended family," Ebert wrote, "unveil one strategy after another to get attention, carve out space, and find love. It doesn't mock their efforts, dysfunctional as they are, because it understands them -- and sympathizes." And these are the very qualities, not diametrically opposed to each other, that I find most alluring in this film -- and which I have yet to find again in Anderson's post-2001 efforts. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich