An in-depth look at the career of filmmaker Wes Anderson, as told through film stills, production photos, essays, and interviews with the filmmaker himself.
For me, the excitement of opening up The Wes Anderson Collection had as much to do with film critic Matt Zoller Seitz as it did with Anderson (and nothing to do with Michael Chabon, who wrote the foreword and who still can’t do anything to please me.) Seitz opens the book with a few personal recollections of the times in which his career intersected with Anderson’s, so I’ll open my review with the same about Seitz. In the mid-1990s, I was working as the night manager at Kim’s Underground, a notorious video rental store a few blocks from NYU. More than a few times in my life I have mused that my variegated career in film is due as much to my time at Kim’s as it is to the cinema studies degree I was earning at the same time.
Back in the mid-1990s, people used to watch movies on videocassettes, not DVDs. The real aficionados would watch on Laserdisc. And we also used to read print newspapers. Every Tuesday night around 8:30pm, someone would drop a stack of freshly-minted newspapers in the foyer of our store. We’d listen for the sound then one of us would run out and kick aside The Village Voice in favor of the New York Press, where we’d eagerly skip through whatever news they were reporting on and whatever the hell Jim Knipfel was going on about, and we’d go right to the film section to pay tribute to the Three Kings: Godfrey Cheshire, Armond White, and Matt Zoller Seitz. Cheshire always made us feel smart, what with his obsession with educating the world about Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, and White always made us feel smug, given that it seemed like every review was really about Brian de Palma and we knew that he was crazy but also probably right but still totally crazy. Matt Zoller Seitz, well, he just made us feel like going to the movies.
Fast forward about 10 years. I’m working as a film blogger for a startup webzine, and I get an email out of the blue from the editor of another webzine, asking me if I’d like to make a contribution to a series they were running. The editor was Matt Zoller Seitz and it really was a dream come true moment for me. I’ve been blessed with many professional successes, and this wasn’t one of the biggest, but it was one of the most significant. I had always admired various film reviewers for the way they could talk about a passion I deeply shared, and all of a sudden, one of them had decided that I had something to say, too.
On a small level, that feeling of resonant connection is what Seitz capitalizes on throughout the book, both the various connections that he has with Anderson (biographical and professional), and the resonances that Anderson uses to imbue his seemingly superficial films with deep meaning. Seitz charts his career against Anderson’s, noting that his review of Anderson’s short film Bottle Rocket (later to become a feature) was the first review ever of any Anderson film. They were both young, from Texas, and at the beginning of their careers. But Seitz’s reminiscences are not just solipsistic page-fillers. The essays that introduce each film end up being ruminations on meaning, vocation, history, and family, and they add a great deal to a book that already has so much going for it.
Each film gets its own section, with an extensive interview with Anderson on the conception, production, post-production and reception of each movie. The production geeks get details on film stock and lenses, while the cinephiles get to mull on aspect ratios and the use of negative space. And of course there are stories about Gene Hackman and Bill Murray, though all production-related and none of them gossipy or extraneous.
But the best part of each interview is watching Seitz lead Anderson through his influences, everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Charlie Brown. I have always been a junkie for intertextuality, and as I read through the book I felt like I was at a feast for film lovers. Not only do we get to read Anderson’s description of how much he loves certain movies, we get images contrasting sequences from his films with images from the movies he’s referring to. For example, in the chapter on The Royal Tenenbaums, Seitz starts a discussion on editing in-camera (meaning not shooting multiple takes from multiple angles so that multiple edits are possible), and that moves into a discussion of their shared appreciation for the long take. Seitz brings up the drinking contest in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and there is an accompanying still montage to illustrate his point. The content of the book would’ve been great on its own, but having the photos makes it an indispensable resource for anyone who has any interest at all in film. I can’t wait to revisit the movies with this book on my lap so that I can increase my admiration for this important and iconoclastic filmmaker.
There really is only one other book I can think of to compare this one to, and that’s Truffaut’s monograph on Hitchcock. But the highest praise I can think to give to The Wes Anderson Collection is the same one I’ve been giving to Matt ever since I came across his reviews. When does the movie start?
Many thanks to Matt Zoller Seitz and Abrams for the review copy, which makes me want to buy a coffee table so I can display it to the world all the time.