Even someone who is not entirely convinced about the career of Wes Anderson, such as myself, ought to find something fascinating and captivating about Matt Zoller Seitz’s new series of video essays, commissioned by the Museum of the Moving Image for their online magazine Moving Image Source, which attempt to examine the various influences and stylistic tendencies of Anderson, a director whom Matt is hardly alone in proclaiming as perhaps the most influential and stylistically distinct of his generation. (That MTV Movie Award he won in 1996, for the fresh, original voice he evidenced as “Best New Filmmaker” in his first film, Bottle Rocket, seems awfully prescient now, certainly more so than an award like this usually end up seeming.) Rather than make a case for Anderson’s originality, Matt takes the approach that Anderson is the unique sum of various influences which the director wears on his sleeve and somehow ends up with material that is instantly identifiable, a style that has moved beyond the director’s own purview and into the realm of influencing a new generation of filmmakers in much the same way that Anderson absorbed his influences. The difference being, of course, that so far Anderson has only imitators, whereas his own work, Matt argues, is evidence of a authorial voice that processes those influences into something new.
I have enjoyed all of Anderson’s films to one degree or another, save one—I think Rushmore is a masterpiece, yet I could barely abide the smug, affected platitudes at the heart of what Matt and others consider his most personal, impassioned work, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou-- so I may, in fact, be the best audience for the kind of examination of Anderson’s sensibility that Matt will be undertaking with his new series. Part 1, in which Matt takes a look at what Anderson learned (and pilfered) from Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut and Peanuts animator Bill Melendez, has been available for since the beginning of the week. Part 2, which went online today, examines what Anderson borrowed from his mentor, Martin Scorsese, as well as Richard Lester and Mike Nichols.
When Part 3 debuts on Monday, we’ll be able to see what Matt has gleaned from a comparison of Anderson and Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Shampoo, Being There), and on April 8, Wednesday, the impact of author J. D. Salinger on Anderson’s films and, presumably, his writing, will be considered. Finally, Matt’s series wraps up on Friday, April 10, by screening the seven-minute prologue of The Royal Tenenbaums, completed with on-screen text, graphics and screen-within-screen analysis, what Matt describes as “sort of a pop-up video approach to picking apart the director’s style.” I’m looking forward to following Matt’s thoughts and using them as a springboard toward reconsidering Tenenbaums and Zissou, the films of Anderson’s with which I’ve had the most serious reservations. And Matt assures us that there will be more of these kinds of video essays coming from him in the future, just one more way this former print film critic is working to expand the boundaries of film criticism with an increasing visual vocabulary.