Slate: The Ubiquitous Anderson

Today, Slate looks at The Brothers Bloom and “the problem of Wes Anderson’s pervasive influence.” Problem? Hrmm…

Rian Johnson’s caper comedy The Brothers Bloom begins its nationwide rollout already burdened with a reputation as an imitation of an American original. If Johnson’s terrific debut, Brick, crackled with the borrowed brio of the Coen brothers, early notices for The Brothers Bloom have identified a new muse: Wes Anderson. It’s an assessment that the preview and opening sequence hardly dispel.

But The Brothers Bloom is only the latest addition to a burgeoning subgenre. Over the last few years, Anderson’s movies have become touchstones for indie culture. In the 1990s, it seemed every NYU graduate and Sundance contender was making his own Tarantino knockoff. These days, the Tarantino imitators have been replaced by the Wes wannabes. A popular strain in recent American indie cinema has been the Andersonian quirkfest, a tendency that runs through movies like Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, Son of Rambow, Charlie Bartlett, and Garden State, among others.

Read and watch the slideshow essay.

Above all, the essay rehashes an old argument, about the alleged “decline” of Wes Anderson:

If Anderson’s ascent was swift, so has been the backlash. His last two movies, The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, were received coolly by critics. Some of that has to do with the ubiquity of the Anderson aesthetic, an overexposure that has had the effect of watering down the originator’s own vision. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Aquatic and Darjeeling are rediscovered as unfairly maligned classics a decade or two from now, removed from the fickle context.) But part of it has to do with the elements of his style that Anderson has chosen to cultivate. The Royal Tenenbaums inaugurated the current Anderson period, defined by whimsical bricolage and diorama-style mise-en-scène. His recent movies give off the sense of an artist receding ever deeper into a dollhouse of his own making-or, worse, becoming his own imitator, repeating moves that we have become all too familiar with.

These criticisms are not new. I end with a quote from our interview with author Derek Hill from September of last year:

So if we castigate Anderson for these cinematic sins then we have to scold Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford and David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick and Yasujir? Ozu and Luis Buñuel and on and on. I think the criticism is unfair and displays a lack of awareness about how some directors choose to work. If you don’t like Anderson’s style, so be it. It’s the way he’s chosen to tell stories and I don’t think it’s necessarily a negative thing that he may have a limited thematic or stylistic palette. There’s nothing wrong with that. Look at the films of Lynch in regards to style. They’re distinctive yet rather limited; same with his themes. Even Kubrick, who tried his hand with various genres and style, was repeatedly working his way through ideas concerning control systems and the chance that what we label individuality wasn’t even possible within these constraining social and biological systems. Big, bold themes… but “limited” as well. Anderson is no different.

Derek Hill + Waris Ahluwalia (unrelated)

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Our old pal Derek Hill’s book is featured in today’s Bright Lights:

So back to those book reviews. First up is Derek Hill‘s “Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists, and Dreamers: An Excursion into the American New Wave,” and Colm O’Shea notes that the filmmakers under consideration here, or at least the six warranting their own chapters, are Richard Linklater, David O Russell, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola and Michel Gondry…. It’s curious that Kaufman, despite being featured in the title, does not get a chapter to himself. Though the book was written before ‘Synecdoche, New York,’ Kaufman is after all presented as the driving force behind Jonze and Gondry’s best work to date, and the embodiment of the sensibility with which Hill is so enamoured…. Hill sets out his linking principle as a predominant thematic through-line of comic unease and alienation.”

If you haven’t read Derek’s book yet, you really should.

In an unrelated note, Aman Singh reports “You Can’t Offend Waris Ahluwalia”:

Waris Ahluwalia – best known for his roles in Wes Anderson movies and his House of Waris jewelry line – looked at us quizzically at Saturday’s Elise Overland presentation, as though trying to remember if he’d met us before. “I actively chose a while ago to go, I’m not going to remember anything,” he explained. “Sort of a meditative thing: I thought I would keep my head clear, and thoughts would flow in and out. And then I became an actor.” There are occupational hazards to this M.O., such as memorizing lines or awkward social encounters. “We were up in Hudson, on the street. This guy comes up: ‘Hey.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you.’ And, like, beginning of the summer we had spent a weekend at his house,” said Waris. But he has adopted a credo passed onto him by Simon Doonan: “Be unoffendable.” We decided to hold him to it.

Waris, a Sikh, keeps his hair tightly coiled under a turban. How long, we asked, were his locks? “I cannot believe you asked me that!” he said. “It’s down to the hips.” Nearby, a girl with her back to us had her hair up in a bun. “It’s sort of like that,” he said, cupping his hand around it. She spun around, looking slightly bewildered. Waris didn’t flinch: “Unoffendable!” He’s removed the turban in movies like The Life Aquatic and Inside Man, but never for a photo shoot. So which fashion magazines would he take it off for? “Purple. And I’d do it for L’Uomo Vogue. I believe in art, and I believe in ideas and concepts,” he said. So, no Men’s Vogue? “No.” What about Harper’s Bazaar? Waris pointed to his turban. “They get this.” Waris is currently playing a hypochondriac in a film he hopes is Sundance-bound. Does he draw on his own neuroses for the role? No, he said, sounding a bit disappointed. “I wish I had some kind of weird tendencies. I try to.”

Derek Hill on neo-neo-realism

Back a few weeks ago, when A.O. Scott and Richard Brody were debating “neo-neo-realism,” I asked our resident film historian Derek Hill to put it in perspective for us. His brief essay follows.

With many of the world’s “first world” economies sputtering and grinding down, the need to curb excesses in one’s life seems understandable if not an outright necessity.   Dream factory Hollywood, not exactly the type of place known for cutting back on indulgences of any kind, continues to roll on with one grandiose, bloated B-movie after another.  And while many of them are no doubt fun and occasionally even great, most of us need a little more substance to balance out all the eye candy.  For the adventurous filmgoer, fans of more character-driven, modestly budgeted fare, there are plenty of wonderfully crafted films—Wendy and Lucy being a notable example—among all of the bullying Hollywood blockbusters.

A few weeks ago, Mr. A.O. Scott from The New York Times spotlighted some films he regards as a part of a Neo-Neo Realist movement, and reminds readers that in times of crisis (we have been down these dark roads many times before) we tend to gravitate toward more escapist films and genres.  But what about those of us who want an “escape from escapism”?   Scott highlights the extraordinary post-World War Two Italian Neorealist films as aesthetic forebears to the newer low-budget indie films like Wendy and Lucy and others, seeing a distinct common thread binding the struggling, determined working class “heroes” of the Italian era with the struggling, determined mostly working class heroes from the current films.

I don’t think Scott is entirely off the mark, but writer Richard Brody, in his rebuttal in The New Yorker, isn’t so convinced and brings up some glaring examples of how Scott’s through line isn’t as sharp as he intends.  Film noir immediately came to mind while I read Scott’s piece (although most noir films are in no way realistic), and Brody does pinpoint that equally extraordinary American post-World War Two genre as having utilized many of the same gritty, naturalistic qualities as the Italians, especially in the pre-Hollywood blacklist era films of Jules Dassin.  Brody also contradicts and clarifies that… oh, I’m just going to let you read it for yourselves.

Personally, I love “realism” and “naturalism” in films when done correctly and many of the films from the Neorealist movement are favourites.  But I don’t see films like Bicycle Thieves as inherently more noble or enriching than a film with a surreal, fantastical, or broadly comedic hyper-realistic approach.  All films are trickery and loaded with varying degrees of manipulation.  All films are seductive, lulling us into belief.

Much to ponder.  I think both critics bring up valuable points.  Any thoughts?

Derek Hill is the author of Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists and Dreamers: An Excursion Into the American New Wave.

Enter the Rushmore Academy Webicon contest (updated)

Make Wes Anderson-inspired art at Paste Magazine’s! Then, Tweet (@rushmoreacademy) or e-mail (edwardappleby @ us your image. We will post your entries here at the Rushmore Academy, and the best one will win of copy of Derek Hill’s fantastic Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists and Dreamers: An Excursion Into the American New Wave (available for purchase on


Contest is on-going. We will add new prizes if we extend it beyond April 1, 2009.

Check out the entries so far after the break! Please digg our contest!

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Interview with Derek Hill, author of Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists, and Dreamers

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Derek Hill is an American abroad, currently residing in rural Ireland. His writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, such as The Third Alternative, VideoScope, Mystery Scene, Video Watchdog, Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture, and All Movie (previously The All Movie Guide). He was also a contributor to the three volume Greenwood Press Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (writing about the Planet of the Apes film series and Close Encounters of the Third Kind). He’s currently writing a book for Wallflower Press’ Cultographies line about Alex Cox’s seminal 1980s cult film, Repo Man.

RA: Could you briefly describe the book, and tell us what motivated you to write it.

DH: The book is a look at contemporary (mostly) American filmmakers Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, and Michel Gondry-a sort of new American New Wave if you will. Using the films of Charlie Kaufman as the center-pieces, so to speak, I felt that there were a number of filmmakers who had enough shared themes and comedic sensibilities to be viewed as a movement. It’s an unconscious, unplanned movement, to be sure, but a vital psychological one. I think that these filmmakers are some of the most engaging, imaginative, original, storytellers working in commercial film today. There’s a real sense of experimentation (especially with someone like Linklater or Russell), virtuosic style, and a peculiar mix of angst and comedy that seemed pertinent to these troubled times. There’s a real sense of dissatisfaction with a lot of the characters and the humor running through all of the films. And while most of these films are ostensibly comedies, there’s an underlying melancholy and seriousness in them as well which seems completely antithetical to what’s coming out of the Hollywood machine or even the indie-trenches for that matter. Many of the filmmakers had been written about only in terms of their loose affiliation as directors in the “independent film” scene or whatever… not in terms of their thematic or stylistic similarities. It just felt appropriate to engage them on an aesthetic or thematic level instead of a consumer-oriented level which would be much too broad for what I wanted to do.

(more after the break)

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Guest Blogger: Derek Hill on the Musicology of Wes Anderson

Derek Hill is the author of the new book Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists and Dreamers, now available in the U.K. (Amazon | Waterstone’s | Blackwell ) and the U.S. ( Amazon ). He has agreed to write several pieces for the Academy.

Wes Anderson’s skillful use of music in his films has no doubt come up on this site before, so I’ll refrain from proselytizing. Along with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson, and Sofia Coppola, Anderson—working with his longtime musical composer Mark Mothersbaugh (at least up until The Darjeeling Limited) and any of his respective editors—is one of the best practitioners at integrating pop/rock songs into a scene in a way that is memorable and emotionally satisfying. It’s easier said than done, of course. Utilizing songs in lieu of an original score (or in tandem) can be precarious. It can bring out the most wasteful and unimaginative characteristics in a clumsy filmmaker. I’m sure we all have our own list of nefarious culprits who exemplify the worst that the medium can offer up, those lazy directors/composers who send us into catatonia as they slather on yet another saccharine note or bludgeon us into the next theater with their bullying bombastic chords. I’m talking about… well, you know who they are. We all bear the sonic scars.

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Guest Blogger: Derek Hill on Wes Anderson

Derek Hill is the author of the new book Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists and Dreamers, now available in the U.K. (Amazon | Waterstone’s | Blackwell ) and out soon in the U.S. ( Amazon ). He has agreed to write several pieces for the Academy.

First of all, I want to thank Mr. Appleby for inviting me here to blog and for graciously mentioning my book, Charlie Kaufman and Hollywood’s Merry Band of Pranksters, Fabulists and Dreamers. The book is the first study of directors Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, and Michel Gondry as a movement of filmmakers despite their varied aesthetic approaches– a sort of (new) American New Wave in the direct tradition of the French New Wave filmmakers. It’s currently available in the UK and will be released in the US in September.

Perusing the Rushmore Academy message boards, I was taken with the thread asking “how long have you been a Wes fan?” So as a way to introduce myself to the Rushmore Academy, I’ll give my own rambling two cents, but also I’d like to talk about the film that did it… the one that sent me head over heels in love with Anderson’s work.

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