I should have mentioned early on that I tend to think of a great number of pictures as “a place to go,”
and to think of some of my favorites as a place in which
to luxuriate (once I am familiar enough with them).
I really like to immerse myself in the atmosphere of Bates motel and Bernard Herrmann’s score.
I never tire of visiting those small towns in SHADOW OF A DOUBT and
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.
But as I mentioned, that notion of place and atmosphere comes after several viewings over time.
With Anderson’s pictures, however, I get that sense almost immediately.
In fact, even as I write this, it dawns on me that one of the key features of Anderson’s realm or world (or location or set, to be specific) IS immediacy.
Instant immersion, in a manner of speaking
It is not the only reason I enjoy his work, but I think the “doll house” or miniature train set that Anderson
always builds provides an entertainment that numerous directors can’t match.
The process is fully on display; the hand is visible, and I enjoy detecting (with no effort)
all the details that make an Anderson picture an Anderson picture,
as well as recognizing what he’s lifting, borrowing, or paying homage to.
His movies are about movies, and the places they take us to, and he’s not ashamed to
show us some of the places he has been as a cinema enthusiast.
If that’s not a night at the movies, what is?
Yes, I think one has to enjoy the sense of unreality, exaggeration, or play Anderson brings to his movies in order to appreciate them, as that is a central element to his style and attitude, I would say sense of humor, and that would be partly true, but I don’t want to imply that his films are “funny” in the sort of laugh out loud way some people seem to demand from comedies. There may be moments of that, but mostly it leads to more of an overall sense of wonderment or joy that cuts back against the darker elements of the stories. Such things may not suit some as they may feel like they are somehow cheapening those darker themes, but personally I tend to find it adds a richer texture. (Although Darjeeling Express is partially exempted in that regard for me.)
I am a big fan of Bottle Rocket, but Anderson really is a one-trick pony, and with the exception of Where the Wild Things Are I don’t really find Spike Jonze to be very ‘smarmy’. Lena Dunham on the other hand…
Anderson’s films are episodic….they don’t move along a pre-defined linear narrative structure….much life real life.
But when a filmmaker constructs and assembles scenes for a film, the final results are quite different from actual life, right? Even when the filmmaker wants to make the film feel like real life, there are big differences. One of the main differences is that the sum of the parts equals a meaningful whole—if the film is any good. Generally, there’s some way all the pieces coherently and cohesively come together—sometimes there’s a strong narrative pulling them together; other times it can be an idea, theme or feeling. But something is holding the pieces together, forming into a meaningful whole.
With Anderson, I get the feeling that his films rely quite heavily on the narrative as an organizing principle. At the same time, I also sense greater interest in the characters, mood and maybe situations of the characters more than bringing all these pieces into a coherent whole. It’s as if a Anderson turns to a narrative because he doesn’t know of any other way to tie the pieces together. He doesn’t have to rely so much on a narrative to bring these together, but it seems like that’s what he’s trying to do—and it doesn’t completely work, imo.
How do we know what your understanding is if you can not remember them?
Can’t you remember your general impressions of the film without being able to cite specific details and scenes to support these impressions?
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.
I don’t think conflicts need resolution, but they need to come together in some unified way—the film should feel whole, even if the conflicts aren’t resolved.
Somehow it is all mysteriously (auteuristicly) pulled together though.
This is where fans (and critics) can be of help—to solve the solve the mystery and get to what brings the parts together successfully. When I defend or explain good films with weak narratives, I try to show how a) the film doesn’t attempt to tell a good story; b) the film works without a good story. I’d love to read that from Anderson fans.
What I don’t understand is the impetus to call for a strong narrative – it seems like that would kill this style of film.
The call comes from the sense that he seems to be relying on a narrative. There are other ways to tie the pieces of a film together. Slice-of-life films like Radio Days, for example, don’t have a strong Fieldian narrative holding on the scenes together. Or some films try to paint portraits of characters or families—something like Junebug or Squid and the Whale—without constructing a narrative framework pointing in a specific direction.
OK, and I was trying to get there by showing you a few things expressed visually (rather than strictly via narrative exposition . ..
Right, I got that, and I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. Are you saying Anderson’s films operate similarly to films like 2001, L’Avventura, and Werckmeister Harmonies? Or are they more like Tony Scott? I guess, I need to see how the films are really based on the expression of ideas, characters, etc. in the way you describe—more than depending on the narrative. Moreover, I want to see how all these expressions add up in a unified whole.
As I mentioned, the films seem to rely heavily on narrative, taking the viewers on a specific path with a specific trajectory, but then the path seems to meander or even dissipate by the ending, leaving me with a confused feeling. This is different from a film that never really offers much of a narrative to begin with.
“the films seem to rely heavily on narrative”
I’m still not sure I get the significance of this “seeming” for you. The film has a narrative, yes. To me, to suggest that it relies heavily on it’s narrative in order to achieve meaningfulness is to suggest that there isn’t much of anything else in his films other than narrative that might provide meaningfulness . . . which would be to ignore Anderson’s use of, for example, mise-en-scène, editing, and music.
“to solve the solve the mystery and get to what brings the parts together successfully.”
I’m still not clear on what parts you felt aren’t “brought together” . . . the family being brought together—literally, though somewhat tentatively-by Royal’s faked illness is basically the narrative meat of the film, and then at the end they’re brought together again by Royal actual death. It’s not a tidy, “and they all lived happily ever after” ending, but I know THAT’S not what you were expecting from the film.
Well, Spike Jonze made a good film in Adaptation, and Wes Anderson makes a good film every time. They’re both easy to pick on because indie music usually plays in their trailers, and hipsters talk about them. This doesn’t mean they make bad films.
There’s nothing smarmy about people who everyone else is emulating. I think those who have no sense of vision in cinema, but feel the need to characterize based on others are the ones who are smarmy, and probably boast more about it than the originators. Not to say Wes and Spike are true originals, but dammit if they’re not the big cows every once else is sucking at this point, at least in America Town.
To me, to suggest that it relies heavily on it’s narrative in order to achieve meaningfulness is to suggest that there isn’t much of anything else in his films other than narrative that might provide meaningfulness…
I honestly don’t think this is the case. You would agree that some films choose to rely on the narratives more than others, right? Casablanca depends on a strong narrative in a way that Color of Pomegranates does not. So pointing out significant narrative problems of the former would be much more significant than pointing out narrative flaws in the latter. This doesn’t mean that the everything besides the narrative in Casablanca can’t or doesn’t provide meaning. However, given the way the film is built, the narrative has to work and work well for the film to be really good. Similarly, I think Anderson constructs his films in a way that depends significantly on the narrative. (Now, I understand that for people who really love Anderson’s characters and the world he creates, they may not see the films depending so much on the narratives—because, the characters are what matter most to them. But this isn’t just a personal preference issue, imo. If Casablanca’s narrative failed, some people might love the characters and dialogue so much that they wouldn’t care. But given the way the filmmakers built the film, this doesn’t mean that the narrative isn’t important for the film. Does that make sense?)
I’m still not clear on what parts you felt aren’t “brought together”…
Well, unfortunately, I can’t point out specific scenes or aspects of the film that don’t come together well because I can’t remember enough specific scenes at this point.
It’s not a tidy, “and they all lived happily ever after” ending, but I know THAT’S not what you were expecting from the film.
Yeah, I am NOT expecting a neat, tidy ending.
page 174/175There is certainly an attempt at a resolution of character conflict and a drive towards narrative closure of sorts but in nether case is it either convincing or satisfying ….their sudden conforming to familial or social pressures, while edging closer to realist compromise ….. is not credible.
Basically, a ‘strong narrative’ ruins the illusion.
@ Doc miniature train set that Anderson always builds provides an entertainment that numerous directors can’t match.
Orson Welles: filmmaking is like the biggest train set a boy could have
Re meaning:Anderson effectively presents an America in which the Dream has been realized and the resulting collective ennui that follows any realized fantasy. Jean Baudrillard’s America (1988)………. meditation on America near the end of the 20th century as a “utopia achieved”, whose privileged progeny inhabit listless existences while engaging in futile attempts toward meaning offers a compelling backdrop for exploration of Anderson’s films.
“their sudden conforming to familial or social pressures, while edging closer to realist compromise ….. is not credible”
. . . or, at least, it is not permanent or definitive.
Man, these thread is still going on?
I started reading Jazz and Greg’s convo but stopped once it devolved into QT-style defenses.
We’re nine pages long, when is the discussion going to change (didn’t we agree seven pages ago that his films are episodic)? Can someone wake me up when it does?
Or….neither convincing or satisfying.
If we tie the two referenced links above together, we can see how Anderson’s films are structured and why the narrative is not ‘strong’.
“an attempt at a resolution of character conflict and a drive towards narrative closure…. neither convincing or satisfying …. the resulting collective ennui that follows …engaging in futile attempts toward meaning”
A strong narrative would thwart the futility of attempts toward meaning i.e. a strong narrative would provide too much meaning. The narrative must be neither convincing or satisfying to arrive at a sense of futility.
Here’s a reviewer that tells us what a ‘strong’ narrative for The Royal Tenenbaums would look like:
To stick with the example of Royal, imagine what a rich film it could have been if Royal hadn’t changed but had managed to regain his family, who had accepted him faults and all. Or if he had reformed to the extent of genuinely loving his family, but still managed to break up his wife’s affair and get her back. Or if he had been rejected by Chas right up to the end. Or if the film had dared to state that Royal is an irredeemably flawed person, but has charm and a great relationship with his grandchildren and still needs and deserves love as much as anyone. Almost any alternative options, whether played straight or for laughs, would have been more interesting and, in human terms, more logical than the ones Anderson chose. Logical in that they would stem from the character as opposed to some politically correct crowd-pleasing impulse to, however implausibly, tie up every emotional loose end. This is true not only of Royal’s character but any of the potentially interesting plots buzzing around the Tenenbaum home. But once Royal makes good his reformation, it becomes inevitable that this film will hold no surprises – Richie and Margot will end up together, Etheline will remarry, Eli will go into rehab, Chas will be reconciled with Royal.
“The narrative must be neither convincing or satisfying to arrive at a sense of futility.”
Right, which is partly why Anderson makes such a big deal, visually, about contrasting the actual interfamilial conflicts in RT with board games:
and dramatic art:
not to mention Eli’s novelist:
and the film itself is presented as a mock novel:
“strong narratives” (the games, novels, and plays) vs. the plot of the film.
From the link: “There is certainly an attempt at a resolution of character conflict and a drive towards narrative closure of sorts but in nether case is it either convincing or satisfying…”
You said: Basically, a ‘strong narrative’ ruins the illusion.
So, you’re saying a strong narrative would have ruined the film? If that’s the case, here’s where I’m coming from: the films shouldn’t have attempted a resolution of character or driven towards narrative closure. In a way the films tease by strongly suggesting some satisfying dramatic closure—not necessarily neat and tidy.
Here’s another way to express this—the films are trying to tell a good story; the way they use narratives and the characters suggest this. A film like Drive, for example, isn’t trying to tell a good story (certainly not a good action story). The story isn’t very interesting or satisfying, but it isn’t “trying” to tell a interesting or satisfying story, imo. Anderson’s films feel like they’re trying to tell good stories—i.e., moving to some sort of interesting and compelling dramatic closure.
Now maybe I’m totally wrong about this. Maybe Anderson’s films depend on narratives to the same degree a film like Drive does. But I need help seeing this, if that’s the case. I know people have attempted this, but pointing out other qualities that make the film interesting (which I largely agree with) doesn’t really address this issue.
Does that make sense? (I don’t think we’re connecting well on this point, and I partly to blame for this.)
I think Greg and I should be offended by this remark! ;)
We’re nine pages long, when is the discussion going to change (didn’t we agree seven pages ago that his films are episodic)?
I think we’re stuck on whether Anderson structured his films to be episodic or more narrative based. (Actually, I’m not sure everyone agrees the films are episodic.) Given the structure and nature of the films, do they depend on the a strong narrative or not?
“Maybe Anderson’s films depend on narratives to the same degree a film like Drive does. But I need help seeing this, if that’s the case. I know people have attempted this, but pointing out other qualities that make the film interesting (which I largely agree with) doesn’t really address this issue.”
If the hypothesis is that they “depend on narratives” to be interesting, how would pointing out aspects of the films that make them interesting/meaningful not address the issue?
hehe – if you’re offended by anything I say, that’s your mistake!
“I think we’re stuck on whether Anderson structured his films to be episodic or more narrative based. (Actually, I’m not sure everyone agrees the films are episodic.) Given the structure and nature of the films, do they depend on the a strong narrative or not?”
I think Anderson’s films are traditional narrative films. However I don’t think he pays much attention one way or another. He’s interested in what he’s interested in and that’s that. Mood, set design, deadpan humor, quirky characters – he’s focused on vibe more than “telling a story” but he’s nonetheless working within the framework of conventional storytelling.
In other words, the lack of strong narrative is just collateral damage, an unintended consequence of his style of filmmaking.
Suppose Casablanca had a major flaw(s) in the narrative. For example, suppose Rick turns over Laszlo to Louis and Ilsa and Rick run away and live happily ever after. Now that might not completely ruin the quality of the narrative, but it would weaken it considerably (at least compared to the actual ending)-so much so that we might understand if people didn’t like the film because of it. Moreover, if these individuals concluded that the film wasn’t good because of the narrative, I suspect we would think this is a valid conclusion. Now, pointing out other terrific aspects of the film—e.g., the acting, cinematography, dialogue, the atmosphere, etc.—would have little impact on the importance of the narrative in relation to the film, right? Does that make sense?
Now, suppose we’re talking about a film like 2001 or L’Avventura. If someone said they didn’t like the film because the stories were boring or unsatisfying, I’d not only try to point out other good elements of the film, but I’d try to explain why the films aren’t really trying to tell good stories—i.e., why stories aren’t crucial to the films. I’m looking for something equivalent with Annderson’s films—if that’s possible.
He’s interested in what he’s interested in and that’s that. Mood, set design, deadpan humor, quirky characters – he’s focused on vibe more than “telling a story” but he’s nonetheless working within the framework of conventional storytelling
Yeah, that’s my feeling exactly. But I get the sense from Greg, Matt and some others that they don’t agree with this. And, to me, this is the part we have to settle. Now, maybe I have a fundamental misunderstanding of his films (and if we’re wrong—than that would be a fundamental error), but I need some help seeing that.
Here’s something I forgot to write.
If we drew a line representing a contiuum and put Casablanca on the far right with 2001 on the far left, I would say that Anderson’s films are closer to Casablanca. If Anderson’s films actually are pull towards the left side, then I need help seeing that.
“But I get the sense from Greg, Matt and some others that they don’t agree with this. And, to me, this is the part we have to settle.”
I get the sense that if they disagree, it’s because they like Anderson and think this position is somehow a dig on him. But it’s not. It’s value neutral. I might find things to criticize about his films but this isn’t one of them (since you can’t really criticize his films for what they’re not).
I get the sense that if they disagree, it’s because they like Anderson and think this position is somehow a dig on him. But it’s not. It’s value neutral.
I don’t think they view the criticism (about narratives) as a dig on Anderson, personally, if that’s what you mean. I’m more concerned that they’re interpreting the criticism of the narratives as way of invalidating their enjoyment and respect for Anderson and his films.
But our comments about the films’ problems isn’t value neutral—how could they be? We’re—or I’m—saying that the narrative problems hurt the movies—because they’re constructed as narrative-based films. (But this isn’t the same thing as denigrating someone’s love for these films, imo.)
“But our comments about the films’ problems isn’t value neutral—how could they be? We’re—or I’m—saying that the narrative problems hurt the movies—because they’re constructed as narrative-based films. "
I don’t know that they hurt the movies but I do think if Anderson worked on creating a more succinct narrative, he could have his cake and eat it too. In other words, the meandering that the second act of RT suffered from didn’t kill the film for me but I do think that with a tighter script, it would’ve been a stronger film.
As I said, I think Anderson likes his films as is and isn’t terribly interested in “tightening it up” for the sake of having a stronger narrative.
“It’s value neutral.”
^This doesn’t jibe with . . .
“the meandering that the second act of RT suffered from didn’t kill the film for me but I do think that with a tighter script, it would’ve been a stronger film.”
“they’re constructed as narrative-based films. "
So are 2001 and L’Avventura and a lot of other films that don’t completely limit style to the service of a storyline.
More like within the pages of a conventional library book:
I think that is our expectation and the attempt is neither convincing or satisfying.
So we turn the page figuring Anderson will deliver it sometime later.
This for me is not a flaw but a style that produces a totality.
I dont see anderson as smarmy or insincere (he may be in person, I have no idea). I would describe it as he tries for big emotional moments with his characters and most of the time just isnt a capable enough filmmaker to pull them off. (In baseball its called a swing and a miss) Those moments usually feel pat and like special episodes of sitcoms (“I always wanted to be in one of your stupid plays. I know you did, mate”), but he wishes they werent. And when they dont its usually because the actor is doing the heavy lifting for him.
But not to the extent that a film like Casablanca relies on narrative, right? Imo, 2001 and L’Avventura are constructed in a way that indicates these films aren’t trying to satisfy viewers with a dramatically compelling or satisfying story. I think we’re basically talking about the intent of the film to tell a good story or not. Casablanca, Jaws and most typical Hollywood films, based on their structure, I would say they’re trying to tell a good story—and so if there are significant flaws in the story, that will severely weaken the films. Viewers may not like the narratives in 2001 and L’Avventura, but those films aren’t really attempting to tell a good story, imo. The films have narratives, but the films use the narratives to build to some dramatic resolution. Anderson’s narratives feel like they supposed to be dramatically interesting and they move towards some resolution, but as you get towards the end, the energy for this seems to dissipate.
Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe Anderson’s films are closer to 2001, L’Avventura then I think. Then I would have really misunderstood his films—like someone rejecting 2001 or Color of Pomegranates because the stories are lame. But I need help understanding that.
(Man, why is this issue so difficult? We seem to be going around in circles and not fully connecting here.)
“But not to the extent that a film like Casablanca relies on narrative, right? Imo, 2001 and L’Avventura are constructed in a way that indicates these films aren’t trying to satisfy viewers with a dramatically compelling or satisfying story.”
I wouldn’t put it that way. Antonioni and Kubrick were modernists. Curtiz was . . . not. Anderson I would say is a post-modernist. So, if you plotted them on a(n historical) line, yes, Anderson would actually be closer to A and K than to C. And I very much take Mubi-umbrage with the idea that the stories in 2001, L’Avventura and Color of Pomegranates are “lame.”
Imo, 2001 and L’Avventura are constructed in a way that indicates these films aren’t trying to satisfy viewers with a dramatically compelling or satisfying story
2001 and L’Avventura are extremely dramatically compelling until the moment they decide to conciously deny the viewer resolution. And of course, this denial is what satisfies viewers.
So, have we narrowed this down to the lack of “dramatic resolution” in Anderson’s films, Jazz?