Hard to believe, but the perpetually boyish Wes Anderson has been working for nearly 20 years as a filmmaker with an early short version of his Hollywood debut Bottle Rocket being made all the way back in 1994. Since then, Mr. Anderson has made his mark as one of the most visually distinct and narratively unique storytellers working in American film. The coffee-table-sized Wes Anderson Collection (Abrams) comes at an interesting point in Mr. Anderson’s career. He is too young for a mid-career retrospective which makes the timing of the Wes Anderson Collection particularly interesting. The book doesn’t coincide with any film release of Mr. Anderson’s or any major retrospective either. It was released late last year as a Christmas coffee-table-gift book, and strangely enough it really works as a stand-alone “art” book with pleasures for book and art enthusiasts who may or may not be familiar with his oeuvre.
The Wes Anderson Collection compiles the various influences that have driven Mr. Anderson’s visual and thematic touchstones: These touchstones are often cinematically driven such as Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons whose talented but dysfunctional family is referenced visually and thematically in The Royal Tennenbaums. Another influence? 80’s coming of age films such as Risky Business whose ambitious but naive overachiever Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) is a distant cousin of Rushmore’s extracurricular and older woman obsessed Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). Other cinematic influences include any number of French new-wave films such as Melody whose two young protagonists anticipate the young runaways in Moonrise Kingdom.
Again, however, many of Wes Anderson’s influences fall well outside cinematic influences. For instance, the life and work of Jacques Cousteau has popped up in his films such as Rushmore and more overtly in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou where Bill Murray’s Oceanographer and Documentarian Steve Zissou and his crew “Team Zissou” was loosely modeled after Cousteau and his crew. The Wes Anderson Collection shows how artists like Joseph Cornell whose obsessive and intricate box assemblages appear to have influenced Anderson’s work in sequences such as in The Life Aquatic where Team Zissou’s boat is introduced with a pan shot of a cross section of the boat which makes it appear to be a collection of artfully arranged shadow boxes.
The book has a rich variety of images and artwork much of it the work of graphic artist Max Dalton. His renderings of characters, scenes and settings from the Anderson oeuvre are priceless. At the heart of the book, however, are the essays about Anderson’s films and interviews with Anderson about his films conducted by the book’s author, film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Mr. Seitz’ work here is thorough and interesting but probably overly congratulatory in tone. This is particularly true with his essays which are for the most part too short to really shed much new light on Anderson’s work. More interesting and satisfying are the interviews which are of considerable length and do merge the history, themes and ideas of Anderson’s work into a cohesive narrative. Again, Mr. Setitz misses some opportunities here mainly to help clarify Mr. Anderson’s collaborative process with the likes of Roman Coppola, Noah Baumbach and Owen Wilson each of whom has worked with Mr. Anderson as co-authors on more than one occasion. I also wish Mr. Setitz would have quizzed Mr. Anderson more about his fetishes with certain objects like record players, book covers, portraits and so on.
A small complaint on the whole, The Wes Anderson Collection is a rich treasure trove of stimulation for the Wes Anderson geek (obviously) as well as the serious film aficionado and/or lover of art books. This book will certainly tide over Anderson fans until the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel in March.
Photo: Flickr | Lucius Kwok