I Always Wanted To Be a Tenenbaum

Not many successful directors emerged from my film school class. Certainly I didn’t go on to direct, but maybe I would have if I had come from a broken home. That seems to be one of the secrets to success shared in the cultural artifact that I wish to discuss today: The Wes Anderson Collection, a new coffee table book by the film critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

I am an unabashed fan of Wes Anderson, and this book makes me swell with an even greater affection for him and his work. Literally, my chest gets bigger as I flip through the pages of this book, composed with as much care and attention as any shot from any Wes Anderson film, and my eyes gets wet from the remembered emotions I feel when I watch Anderson’s movies. There is not a great deal of biographical detail in this wonderful book, one fact sheds much light onto Anderson’s directorial perspective: the fact that he continues to grapple with his parents’ divorce, when he was a young boy. Knowing this helps explain the dense emotion and strict control in Anderson’s films, and knowing this personal aspect makes me admire him, and his work, all the more.

Wes Anderson is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I think he deserves every criticism aimed at him.

His cinematic style is mannered, and only gets more so with every film. There aren’t enough people of color in his movies, and he’s still struggling how to successfully represent female characters. None of that matters to me. I love him for his faults, not despite them, because as much as he is devoted to the look and style of his films, as much as he pays attention to composition and color, he is also emotionally true and committed to his characters. He loves his characters, and does not distance himself from them (unlike, say, the Coen Brothers, film makers I enjoy and admire, but rarely love).

Anderson’s films invariably make me cry, and they contain some incredibly fragile and heartbreaking moments of emotional honesty. The scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, when Chas tearfully tells his father, “Dad, I’m having a hard year.” The shot of the Whitman brothers in the back of a limo, riding to their fathers funeral, in The Darjeeling Limited. Mr. Fox’s frustration that his is not being true to his nature, as though he were a vulpine George Bailey, in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. These moments come to me during the day as I go about my business. They speak to me deeply. And the fact that they are nestled in beautifully composed, fully realized cinematic creations just ices it for me.

I could go on about these scenes, and perhaps will in a future post, but for now I want to recommend this amazing book that captures these moments, evokes them, and provides insight into the obsessions and influences of the artist who created them. The book also takes the form of multiple interviews between Anderson and Seitz, and I love interviews. There is nothing like being witness to a great conversation, and I could happily read interviews for days and days.

So: there it is. I look forward to future Riffs on the things I love. For now, I’ll leave you with this.