But the audience, compelled to wonder
Compelled to admire the bright rhythms of moving bodies
Compelled to see the delicate skill of flickering human bodies
Flesh flamey and a little heroic, even in a tumbling clown,
They were not really happy.
There was no gushing response, as there is at the film.
– D. H. Lawrence
When Martin Scorsese was asked who the next Martin Scorsese would be, he gave an unlikely answer. He named Wes Anderson, a young upstart from Texas who had directed just two films. It was not perhaps a decision that made sense. Scorsese makes movies about gangsters, mostly, not meticulously stylized chamber dramedies about broken families that seem to have no grounding in any world that you or I live in. In the subsequent years, Anderson has gained a devoted following and a devoted band of detractors.
I am a member of the former group and also a person who finds the latter group increasingly useless, a tiresome lot who seem to either misunderstand what Anderson is trying to do, or else choose simply to ignore the obvious. Many criticisms of Anderson skirt the border between laziness and insanity, such as this gem from Slate’s village idiot Lauren Bans, in which she tries to read racism into a film made for children by a guy who got Danny Glover to work for him and who, while he might not be the most elegant or able negotiator of color and class, is certainly not in the league of such luminaries as whoever was responsible for those Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker team-ups. Such accusations are of the nastiest type, for once labeled a racist, it is more or less impossible to be unlabeled one. Luckily, Reihan Salam, a conservative commentator who is usually wrong about everything, issued a gentle corrective some years ago, in a piece that should have put these issues to bed.
The Cinephiliac, a talented writer for this site and positive-reviewer of Anderson’s recent and transcendent Moonrise Kingdom, has a rundown of common criticisms on her personal webpage, and while I take immense issue with many of them, this piece is not an attempt to start a flame war with a fellow MovieBoozer. (Part of the problem, I sense, is that Anderson has cultivated such a singular vision, such a Wes Andersonness, that he has spawned many inept imitators. That is hardly his fault, anymore than Martin Scorsese bears responsibility for Boondock Saints and the pseudo-Irish gangster prayer crap that it gave birth to in turn.) Rather, I am interested in taking an inventory of a director whose work I consider personally transformative. I am writing not as a hipster culture warrior, but as a fan who once trespassed on private property in Dallas to take a photo in front of the house where much of Bottle Rocket was shot.
C.T. Bland, Aged 20
…And who later passed himself off as the assistant to a collector of African art in order to get a look inside the House on Archer Avenue, the home of The Royal Tenenbaums. This mission failed. I made it all the way to Harlem before the woman who owns the gallery that is now housed there texted me with a cancellation. I suspect that she suspected me. I am likely not the first jackass who used his brother-in-law’s information to gain access to what should be, in my opinion, sacred ground for movie pilgrims.
C.T. Bland, Aged 28 (a pattern emerges)
I will only be half-assedly assigning ratings to any of these films. Anderson has consistently made what I would consider “one beer” movies, all of which have rewarded repeat viewings and have brought a great deal of comfort to many in times of confusion, heartache, and anger. He is not twee. He is incredibly sincere in a way that may not be easily recognizable. A friend of mine once joked that Anderson could direct a forty minute static shot of a paper bag and I’d twist myself in knots/turn into that weirdo kid from American Beauty in order to defend it. If you find yourself on the hater side of the debate then suffice to say that you and I simply don’t speak the same language in many respects. Anderson is up to something that communicates a great deal to plenty of people who can’t all be written off as professional ironists. Onward.