…hard Fieldian narrative structure.
I don’t know what you mean by this.
Or maybe that’s more of a Noah Baumbach film? His films tend to have more straightforward structures than Anderson’s (for better and, at times, for worse).
OK . . . yeah I guess I can go along with that. Baumbach’s stuff tends to be much more single character-orientated and seems more autobiographically derived, with that kind of narrative structure imposed onto it.
Hmm…I guess I’m one of the only Wes Anderson fans here. I’ve liked all of his films that I have seen (still haven’t seen Bottle Rocket or Fantastic Mr. Fox).
I really like the way he produces his films, in my point of view, Wes is imaginative, creative, hyper-stylized, surrealist sometimes, extremely detailed in his stories and tell it as best as possible. He always makes the choice of an original comedy that flees the standards of commercial cinema. If this is a defect or virtue, leaves the audience to decide.
But this does not mean you have to go around spreading hatred, there is several films that I hate, but I don’t call the director things like smarmy, boring, pretentious, hipster …… you don’t even know him personally how can you say this (?)
And if you dislike a one or two Anderson’s film, why still watch the others? just saying…
I don’t think the film’s depend on a Fieldian narrative structure—that’s way too specific. Saying that a narrative is important doesn’t necessarily mean the film has to conform to strictly to a Fieldian form. Before I say anything else, let me ask you: do you think the narratives are important to the films—to the extent that if the narrative fail, then the film will probably fail as well?
I guess I feel that given the way the films use and structure narrative, problems with the narrative will hurt the film. But I guess the larger issue is that somehow the scenes and characters don’t come together in a strong, unified whole. They do feel episodic, as if the wholeness of the entire film isn’t important to Anderson. That’s the feeling I get. So I guess if his films felt more whole and unified—with or without a strong narrative—I wouldn’t really have a problem.
You see Jazz, this goes to something of the point I was making in the other thread, what you’re asking from Anderson has very little to do with “What the film is trying to do” or those so-called intersubjective criteria, and is instead about what you want or expect from a film. I find it hard to see how anyone could claim Anderson’s films don’t do what they set out to do, or that they aren’t singular, or that he doesn’t have control of the medium, or that they somehow aren’t up to snuff in any formal manner, it comes down to you not liking or being able to repsond to his particular style or concerns. You aren’t going to get far trying to find some clear definable “proof” of his failure because it isn’t there beyond the eyes of those beholding and failing to respond to what is there. It’s as simple as that.
Now, perhaps, if one is interested enough, one can focus on what Anderson is doing and come to like his work better, but the very act of attending will go to shape that response as the interest helps drive the appreciation. That’s one of the self fulfilling prophecies of auteurist thinking. Nothing wrong with that, indeed it can be beneficial if one wants to get away from simple reactive appreciation, but conflating it with some more objective sort of concept of goodness or badness is something else entirely. Your demand for narrative is shaped by what you want, not by what is there or needs to be there as can be simply witnessed by those [people who do better appreciate his work, many of which are no less well informed than those that don’t appreciate it so arguing “merit” isn’t going to get that far as it isn’t merit causing the divide, it’s just taste and association.
So, are you saying that the films don’t depend on the strong narrative as much as I say they do? And/or are you saying that the way I’m defining “strong narrative” is inappropriate to the films? I’m open to these possibilities, and willing to listen to why I’m off-base. (I’m not sure I will remember any specific examples, but I’ll try.)
Your demand for narrative is shaped by what you want, not by what is there…
Just to be clear, you’re not saying that I’m criticizing the films just because they don’t have strong narratives, right? I mean, I’m pretty sure you know that I like films where the narratives aren’t so strong. In the case of Anderson’s films, I’m claiming that the narratives are important to the success of the films—given the nature of the films—hence, a strong narrative is important. I respect and/or like films with narratives that don’t really appeal to me.
Jazz, what I’m saying is that you are seeking some sort of external support for your position when it is more of an internal issue. Putting it on narrative or whatever is looing in the wrong place to determine why Anderson’s films don’t work for you in the way they do for some others of us.
First of all, I’ve acknowledged that my criticisms may be irrelevant to some people, and that in no way do I want to denigrate or deny people the pleasure they receive from these films. So if people love the films and don’t care about the narratives, I’m OK with them really enjoying the films. I want to be clear on that.
Second, by “internal issue” do you mean internal to the film or to the viewer? I based my criticism about the films’ narratives on my understanding of the nature of films themselves. I am not imposing a preference or standard of excellence (i.e., something external to the film) upon the film. Suppose a film depended on really high production in order to succeed—given the type of film and what it was trying to do. If the production values were cheap and shoddy, then criticizing the film on that basis would be valid, right? I think I’m doing something similar in this case.
I meant internal to the viewer as it seems to me that the dislike people feel for Anderson has more to do with people’s feelings about tone than anything more formal. The tone annoys them so his films are bad basically.
So people who don’t like the films dislike them because the films “rub them the wrong way,” give off a vibe they don’t care for, or evoke feelings they dislike—while the films have the opposite effect on people who like the films? I’m sure that’s the case for some people, but how can you be so sure that applies to me or everyone? I mean, do you still feel that way even though I’ve explicitly said that’s not the case? If you think I’m deceiving myself, using weak narratives to rationalize my feelings, I don’t know if this conversation can go much further. I guess, if you could show me how and why I’m deceiving myself, we could go there (he said with trepidation) but I’m not sure how you could do that.
Well, I obviously can’t speak for you personally or anyone else, if you don’t like the way the narratives are structured, you don’t, that’s cool, but that isn’t the same thing as saying they are weak in any larger sense or, more to the point, making that a “proof” of some failing. It’s pretty much the same sort of deal that goes on here about Tarantino. Some people hate his films and pile on all sorts of reasons for it, and most of those reasons are less than convincing as they use them only to attack his films rather than hold to them in any larger sense. What it seems to mostly come down to is attitude or tone, Tarantino and Anderson just rub some people the wrong way, and trying to find more formal issues with their films is largely more of a diversion than anything else since they both clearly now what they are doing and are gifted filmmakers. The formal construction of their films alone should show that is the case, so if one is going to try and hold to some impersonal or intersubjective methodology for judging works like that “does what it sets out to do” thing I think this helps show why that is often ineffective as the issue isn’t in the construction of the films as much as the personal response. For example, saying it is a narrative issue, is saying you have some narrative expectations that aren’t being met, and these expectations are coming from how you respond to movies in general just as my liking the narrative says something about how I respond to movies in general. There is no proofs there, just perception based on experience and how we translate that experience into thought and feeling. That doesn’t mean it can’t be talked about, it just means the way it is talked about would be better if it was more focused on the interaction between us and the film rather than adopting a unworkable formal critical attitude.
Well, I obviously can’t speak for you personally or anyone else, if you don’t like the way the narratives are structured, you don’t, that’s cool, but that isn’t the same thing as saying they are weak in any larger sense or, more to the point, making that a “proof” of some failing.
Let me try another approach. Would you agree that the importance of the narrative can vary from film to film—i.e., some films depend more on an good story, while others do not? I don’t think Werckmeister Harmonies, Mother and Son or Syndromes and a Century have very good stories—not in a Hollywood sense, anyway—but that’s largely irrelevant given the objectives and nature of the films. So criticizing the films for their poor narratives would be a moot point, imo. At the same time, a person may strongly dislike these films because they lack a good story. That’s perfectly valid response, but it wouldn’t be reason that the films weren’t any good (not in an intersubjective way).
Similarly, some films depend on a good story—given the nature of the film, what type of movie it is, what it’s about, etc.—and if the narrative wasn’t good—that would be a serious flaw. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that people can’t enjoy the films. I’ve mentioned Science of Sleep as a flawed film (partly because of a weak narrative, imo), but I still enjoyed the film quite a bit—because I liked the leads and Gondry’s aesthetic. Still, the film has some significant problems relating to the narrative—and this hurts the film (even though I like it), because the narrative is important to the film, given the nature of the film.
I have a similar feeling towards Anderson’s films, but there are some key differences: 1) Gondry has made films where the problems have been improved or “fixed”—imo—whereas, Anderson films seem to suffer from the same “problems;” 2) Perhaps, my feelings for Gondry’s aesthetic is stronger than my feelings for Anderson’s.
(Note: Re: #1 It could very well be that my criticism is misplaced and that I don’t have a good understanding of the films—what they’re about and what they’re trying to do. I’m open to this possibility and willing to listen to arguments.)
@azz …he doesn’t package this into a strong film—and by this I basically mean a strong narrative. On the other hand, character-driven films don’t necessarily need strong narratives, but the sense I get from Anderson is that he loves these creating these characters and doesn’t care about the overall film. In a way, this reminds me a little of how Tarantino is great at scenes, but can’t seem to find a strong narrative framework to hold everything together, forming a strong film overall.
Jazz, I think what Greg is referring to is the imposition of narrative over an Anderson film.
If you say in regards to an Anderson film criticizing the films for their poor narratives would be a moot point,
what is it about about an Anderson film that tells you that it demands a strong narrative ? Your response seems to be whether or not you like it. And that comes from, as Greg posited, about what you want or expect from a film ?
This is very different from the William Powell Frith Paddington Station discussion where we defaulted to the structure of the painting, not whether we liked it or not.
You ended that post with this:The difference between Gondry and Anderson is that Gondry aesthetic is appealing to me, despite the flaws, whereas Anderson’s aesthetic isn’t sufficient. …..Narcissistic isn’t the adjective that comes to mind, either. Hipster comes closer, I think.
What does that have to do with narrative vs tone?
I was kind of surprised by the Field comment, but I guess it required the word ‘hard’ because the conflict might or might not be resolved?
This might be what Jazz means by ‘episodic’.
“guess it required the word ‘hard’ because the conflict might or might not be resolved?”
Well . . . I was trying to avoid the “weak”/“strong” dichotomy that Santino was using earlier because to me there’s a quality judgment built into that language. “Hard” in the sense that the Fieldian ideal is a “three act” structure with plot points as signposts at regular intervals. Near the other end of the spectrum would be something like Greaves’s Symbiopsychotaxiplasm. which certainly still has a narrative structure (and, in fact, “problems” with the film’s structure are part of the structure of the film).
“the extent that if the narrative fail, then the film will probably fail as well?”
Um . . . I think that’s probably an OK as a rule of thumb, as long as one’s aware of the caveats. Their are plenty of narrative works that succeed as art as (intentially) “failed” narrartives— I mentioned Symbiopsychotaxiplasm above, but also a novel like Sterne’s novel Tristam Shandy, even something like Antonioni’s films are often perceived as “failing” as narratives in the traditional sense. Here’s something Kent Jones said about late Godard:
“Deleuze once wrote – at the moment I can’t remember where – that Godard “invented a new way of thinking,” or something to that effect. I think this is correct. What exactly comprises that new way of thinking? From my perspective, it’s a hybrid, in which paradox, association and juxtaposition (visual, verbal and aural) join forces to create a potentially endless relay . . . .Godard makes narratives which are sliced up, reconfigured, abandoned and finally exploded. What is left – intentionally, I think – is a ruin. And as Charles Péguy says in the quotation that opens Picard’s essay, “Ruins are eternal.”
To be clear, I am not using the word “ruin” pejoratively but descriptively. When one thinks of a film by Resnais or Kubrick, for instance, one imagines a solid construction. But from an architectural standpoint, Godard’s films are phantom structures with missing doorways and unfinished walls, moss-covered stairways and half-assembled plumbing. To a great extent, this is deliberate, of course. In his later films, Godard takes strands of narrative and builds over and under them, extends or atomizes certain motifs to the point where they become unrecognizable as elements of one single narrative."
This, of course, is something different yet again from what Anderson does in his films, but I think it speaks to the question can a narrative film “fail” as narrative and still succeed as a film. As Greg sort of already said, it sort of depends on how appropriate you expectation of narrative is to the structure of the film, and it sort of depends on how you feel about what it’s doing.
So if people love the films and don’t care about the narratives, I’m OK with them really enjoying the films. I want to be clear on that.
Like this concept:Godard makes narratives which are sliced up, reconfigured, abandoned and finally exploded. What is left – intentionally, I think – is a ruin. And as Charles Péguy says in the quotation that opens Picard’s essay, “Ruins are eternal.
If you say in regards to an Anderson film criticizing the films for their poor narratives would be a moot point,
what is it about about an Anderson film that tells you that it demands a strong narrative ?
I think this is a great question—and the critical one. The problem is, I can’t remember enough specifics about the film to construct at case for my claim. I’ve tried to explain why I think the narratives are important to his films, but I recognize that without specific examples the explanations might be too vague and not convincing. (Maybe this will motivate me to watch/re-watch one of his films.) Perhaps the narrative isn’t the main problem. Maybe the problem is that the scenes don’t add up to some cohesive whole—at least I can’t see how they add to a cohesive whole. Or maybe I’m wrong on both counts—maybe the narratives aren’t important and maybe the scenes add up to a unified whole—maybe I just don’t understand the films well. As I’ve said, I’m open to hearing why the narratives are NOT important to the films.
My point to Greg is that my judgment hinges upon this question—not some strong personal preference for a good story. I don’t think I’m imposing my desire for a good story (in the way I define good story) upon these films. I either enjoyed and/or highly respected films with stories that I considered weak. Instead, I’m saying that the narratives are important to these films—based on the way they’re made. So if the narratives fail in some way, the film will also fail. I know I haven’t made a detailed argument for this claim, but, to be fair, I think those who disagree with me can also make a detailed argument as to why the narratives don’t matter. I would definitely be open those arguments.
I believe the last sentence was unrelated to the previous one. The last sentence was a non-sequitur relating to the OP.
As Greg sort of already said, it sort of depends on how appropriate you expectation of narrative is to the structure of the film, and it sort of depends on how you feel about what it’s doing.
Is that what Greg is saying? (@Greg, can you clarify this?) Because this is what I’m saying. I think the narrative is important to the structure of the film—crucial to what it’s trying to do and how it functions, if you will. That judgment could be right or wrong—but it’s an important one; and it’s not really a matter of personal preferences being imposed on the films. As you probably know by now, I believe a judgment of a film depends on understanding what it’s about, the terms and conditions it sets for itself, the nature and type of film (which would it include the structure). This is all important. If one misunderstands a film, then all the judgments will probably be off. So, if narratives are not important—i.e., if I’m misunderstanding the films—I’d like to here why this is the case. But this is where we should be focusing our efforts, I think.
I said, So if people love the films and don’t care about the narratives, I’m OK with them really enjoying the films. I want to be clear on that.
I’m concerned that my comments in this thread can sound like I’m trying to tell people they’re wrong for enjoying the films—i.e., the films are not good, so you’re dumb for loving them. Going on and on about the films’ failure or Anderson’s weaknesses can give the impression. But that is NOT my intent—and I want to be clear about that.
Anderson’s films are episodic….they don’t move along a pre-defined linear narrative structure….much life real life. Our lives are vignettes of different moments…..my interactions with people at work have very little to do with my interactions with personal friends or family….I could be having a deep conversation with a co-worker AND be playing disc golf with a friend……both on the same day….even though the two events are unrelated and even though the deep conversation with my co-worker doesn’t lead to the next event…disc golf. Our lives aren’t linear for the most part.
Anderson’s films are like this. Episodic vignettes that give us glimpses into the characters and their quirky charm….it’s about THEM…not about what happens next.
I can’t remember enough specifics about the film to construct at case for my claim……if I’m misunderstanding the films—I’d like to here why this is the case.
How do we know what your understanding is if you can not remember them?
Let me throw this out just for yuks: RT, DL and LASZ (shudder) seem to have massive amounts of conflict being expressed without uh,….. a strong narrative resolution. In addition, the conflict seems to be layered, which has the effect of making things seem unrelated directly.
Somehow it is all mysteriously (auteuristicly) pulled together though.
I’m not really adding to the above comments, but agreeing.
All of my first viewings of Wes Anderson films have left me with a “yes… but” kind of feeling. or should I say “YES!!!!!!!! … but”. I find his aesthetics so stunning and precise and yet there is something about his narrative structure which at first viewing does not engage me as much as I’d like. His films seem like they SHOULD be traditional narratives, because they have such well defined humorous characters, and most comedies rely on strong and obvious structures so that the chaos of the humor does not get exhausting. But, his films are not traditional comedies. I have seen all his films several times, and like them more with each viewing. What makes me go back to them is the sense that there is an intelligence and an intention behind the lightness of tone and that their structures are not straight forward because the meaning of his films are in the details and not in the structures or story arcs.
I would say that Fantastic Mr. Fox is the only one with a traditional narrative- and yet it still derives most of it’s meaning from the details and not from the story arc.
" this is where we should be focusing our efforts, I think."
OK, and I was trying to get there by showing you a few things expressed visually (rather than strictly via narrative exposition . . . which, by the way, you get sort of a mock version of with the bits of text shown in the “book” at the beginning and end of the film, and, more importantly, Alec Baldwin’s voiceover narration.) about the characters and their relationship to one another, without actually trying to forcefeed your a specific reading of the film. I agree with Robert that those other two films function in much the same way (Fox is a bit different in that it’s an adaptation of a children’s book, so it’s a bit more tightly structured . . . but even there the ending is sort of a wistfully ironic iwin-by-losing adaptation rather than a clear narrative resolution.
….that their structures are not straight forward because the meaning of his films are in the details and not in the structures or story arcs
His films are full of sympathetic but flawed and conflicted characters PLUS mise-en-scène.
The combination pulls together in an aesthetic emotion that I want to describe as “we’re all in this together”.
What I don’t understand is the impetus to call for a strong narrative – it seems like that would kill this style of film.
Also, at least for me, the films pull together as a totality only well after they were over i.e. they are not going to be added up while watching.
The overall narrative structure Anderson uses for say Royal Tannenbaums is a pretty conventional one when dealing with a longer span of time and a large group of characters. It isn’t that different than, say, Magnificent Ambersons in that regard. That sort of story isn’t going to have the sort of causual chain of events that a more narrowly framed film might where there are few characters or events play out in a short amount of time and propel the story. Tannenbaums isn’t about how a specific event effects a character or two, but about a long term family dynamic playing out, so the narrative is built to suit that story.
Anderson has an highly individual style which makes for some idiosyncratic editing choices in connecting scenes, but that goes with his meticulous focus on controlling what happens in frame as well, and is part of what I was referring to as the tone or flavor of his films. Some people don’t like this, but from a purely formal standpoint his work stands out, and for most of those who appreciate the films these are the very things they appreciate them for as they are what makes a Wes Anderson film a Wes Anderson film. If such things aren’t to one’s taste, that’s how it goes, but trying to place the onus on the film rather than the viewer in this regard is going to require a different sort of approach, one that has something of an ideological component to it which might suggest why this shouldn’t work rather than why it doesn’t. I mean individually we will like the films or not and can try to explain why they do or don’t suit us, but explaining is different than trying to justify our tastes by claiming some concept of how films should be, or even how Anderson’s films should work. that is imposing one’s own aesthetic on movies rather than seeing them for what they are.
@Robert- For clarification, I do not require a strong narrative! I guess I am saying this: For some reason I have brought that baggage (cue Darjeeling clips) to his films, and have happily discarded that baggage on second viewings. In summary, he is both “deceptively light” and “challenging” In contrast, the Coens have a dark (almost destructive) quality to their films which makes me not bring narrative expectations. My comments were not a criticism of Anderson, but a complement. I like the vagueness.
Yes, I am agreeing with basis of your post.