Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Who matters to me.

by Ryland Walker Knight


Today Jim Emerson asked, "Who matters?" I tried to answer in the comments but failed miserably. I simply glossed over some possibilities. I didn't give it much thought. I was simply diverting myself from homework; I've got a take-home final due on Friday. Then I went back to doing some homework. As I reread some Derrida my mind wandered (right?) and I realized that one director I singled out, among the others I listed, really has mattered to me, and I think will continue to matter, as time passes, because his films are so damned smart. And funny. Who? Wes Anderson, that's who. Now, don't get me wrong: I still think David Lynch is rather amazing and will live on in discussion for some time; and I still think Michael Mann understands what it means to be a man, and what it means to make a movie; but Wes Anderson's got a little more mischief up his sleeve and a certain kind of jouissance that infects his sense of humor, his camera, his storytelling, his film style, his world, his being in the world. Which is why I wrote about The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou for my seminar paper last semester. I'm very proud to report that I earned a very positive grade in the course on the strength of this essay. However, for some reason I cannot pinpoint, I did not feel comfortable offering it to the blogosphere back in May. Odder still, for some other reason I do not know, or understand quite fully, I now feel comfortable offering it to the blogosphere here in August. You can download it from zshare by clicking here, if you like. But I will warn you ahead of time: it's over 7000 words, and if you don't really like The Life Aquatic, or Stanley Cavell, or "academic" writings, it's probably not for you. All that said, and aside, I still think you might like my work even if you don't really like The Life Aquatic, or Stanley Cavell, or "academic" writings.


[Of note: I've been in such a school bubble that I didn't learn about the Battle of the Andersons at The Castro until a couple days ago when I visited Brian Darr's indispensable blog, Hell on Frisco Bay. Tonight's double bill? _The Life Aquatic_ with _Punch Drunk Love_. Damn you, school! Oh well, I could program it here, at home, whenever I want. Right? (Oh yeah, Brian, I like _Magnolia_ more than _Royal Tenenbaums_ at this point.)]

[Also cool: if you like Cassavetes and/or Altman and you're curious about Stanley Cavell, read this. It's a decent primer for all involved, I think. And it made me want to give _Nashville_ a second look, some six-to-eight years after my initial encounter.]


  1. i still hold a special place in my brain for rushmore and bottle rocket (the latter's place no doubt induced via hypnosis-- blame it on IFC being on basic cable back in the day, and bottle rocket being on IFC consistent/constant ly back in the day ay), but life aquatic never really resonated with me the same as the aforesaid. i'll haveto give it another chance, i haven't seen it since it first opened.

    and yr essay is really interesting, if not so fucking dry as to fucking require me to down an entire bucket of fucking "Liquid for the Day". maybe you could print it out on parchment paper for full effect (PUN UNINTENDED)

    but seriously i love you, ill be reading yr blog on a regular basis.

  2. thanks for the love. back at you, my man. and don't worry, (my special crotch edition of) _rushmore_ is still my favorite wes anderson movie.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, and the answer to my request for your Life Aquatic opinion. Be careful what you wish for...

    But seriously, I look forward to reading this when I have a little time on my hands.

    Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I'll ask for another clarification if you don't mind. You say you like Magnolia better than the Royal Tenenbaums, but is that because you find the former so masterful, or because you find the latter to be a Wes Anderson misstep, or both?

  4. Because I'm a glutton for procrastination I will jump to offer some slight clarification, if possible. I said to a friend today, in reference to this heavyweight cinematic battle, that I may like _Magnolia_ more at this point because I don't feel like I ever need to watch _Royal Tenenbaums_ again. That said, I haven't seen PT's film in a long time and Wes' film is really damned satisfying. When I get down to it, I may just have to say Wes takes the bout 4-0, no matter how great _Punch-Drunk Love_ is; I really love _Punch-Drunk Love_. Yet, at the same time, I'm growing to love _Life Aquatic_ more and more with each viewing -- and it keeps inviting me back in a way PT's film does not: in _Life Aquatic_, every line of dialogue is a punch line. Every single one. Except, for that to resonate the audience must be in tune with Wes Anderson's sense of humor; a sense of humor that is not quite laugh-out-loud hilarious but make-your-soul-smile hilarious because the jokes are just so smart.

    My favorite right now? "Where'd you come from? You look pregnant."

    How'd it look on the big Castro screen all anamorphic? I wish they'd program both of these in the 70mm film festival. Btw, I don't think I can resist _2001_ in 70, like, ever, so I'm definitely dragging my friends out there in September. You think you'll go?

  5. I hope to. I haven't seen it since it played the Castro in 2001, so I'm way overdue. Last year Playtime and the rarely-screened Tron took precedence, but this year 2001 seems like the one to make top priority. Though I'd like to take a peek at Lifeforce and Brainstorm (which I think I tried to watch on a plane as a kid). A revisit of Lawrence of Arabia may be due too. I know what you mean about films that you feel like you don't really need to see again, and that Lean epic sorta qualifies for me, but what better than a 70mm screening to shake me out of that feeling?

    The Royal Tennenbaums felt absolutely at home in the slightly-shabby ornateness of the Castro. It was like that consulate or whatever it was that Anderson used for the hospital. I sat right in the center of the theatre, the better to appreciate the symmetrical compositions.

    It would be amazing to Anderson films blown up to 70mm, even though they weren't shot in that format. I believe Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet was the last film to be shot entirely on 65mm/70mm, and Titanic the last to be blown-up for commercial release in that format (not including IMAX, of course).

  6. Yeah, it's really too bad I didn't get to catch _Playtime_ in 70.

    I've been debating the Wes vs. PT head-to-head and it seems Wes wins out almost hands down. And I got an itch to watch _Royal Tenenbaums_ and _Magnolia_ again because the more I thought about it the more I realized how good _RT_ is and how silly _Mag_ is, even if it's really good, too. One thing MAG's got the RT does not is that frog plague/rain: something truly spectacular and imaginative. (And way better than the earthquake in _Short Cuts_.)

  7. I'd be curious to hear how you react if you actually do try that double-header. It's definitely an appropriate pairing, not just because the Castro booked them together. There's a good deal of thematic connection between the films too (seeing them back-to-back almost made me feel like the Royal Tenenbaums was even Wes Anderson's retort to Magnolia at times).

    The frogs ending still held some shock value this time around, but it didn't feel quite as satisfying for me. Perhaps it's because the characters felt more contrived/constructed than they did to me in 1999, and so for PTA to play God sending a plague down on these characters of his own creation seemed a little like a snake swallowing its own tail. It reminded me of the ending to Signs, except without the same emotional payoff and tingly feeling that I still get every time. Maybe I'm just a little more tuned into Shyamalan's worldview and what he's trying to say in that film. Or maybe I'm less tuned in, and projecting my own meanings on the film, which is giving myself satisfaction from another angle.

    I will say that, though the earthquake in Short Cuts (one of my less-favorite Altman films, though I couldn't tear myself away from it when I stayed after the Player at the Castro "just to have a look at the print quality" earlier this year) does its job, it doesn't feel quite as imaginative as other "act of God" endings I can think of. Especially since I suspect the conceit was stolen from another, far better Los Angeles-set film released a few years before it was (I'm leaving the title out because I don't want to spoil it in case you haven't seen it yet).

  8. I think that Royal Tenenbaums is a must see film, an excellent cast, and a hilarious plot.