It’s a toothless attack, but a vicious homage. — Paul Rudd on ‘They Came Together’
And that line runs straight on back
For all time
Not through you
But to you
There are only three types of human art:
To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it - but, I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace. — The Grand Budapest Hotel
The new Wes Anderson, ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’, opens by taking the audience down a rabbit hole of some depth. We board the train of Anderson’s consistently immaculate vision, assuming immediate arrival at the story. Instead, we pass through several towns and cities before our stop.
The movie starts in the present. A nameless teenage girl is so taken by a book version of ‘Grand Budapest’, she decides to visit the authors grave.
Flashback to 1985. The then-living author explains that the tale captured in the work was not his creation. It was told to him.
Flashback to 1968. The author has a chance meeting with the owner of a dilapidated East European hotel. The proprietor offers to explain just how he came to acquire the establishment.
Flashback to 1932. The hotel owner, Zero, is now just a lobby boy. So young, he draws on a fake mustache to pass as older. The narrative centers on the exploits of Gustave H., Zero’s boss and the concierge of the hotel when it was still thriving.
There is ample reason to believe Zero isn’t the most reliable narrator. Gustave starts as a mentor, but quickly becomes a comrade and father figure. The debonair concierge has all the raging character flaws that are Anderson’s trademark. Also, the action unfolds primarily before the horrors of WWII. We could forgive Zero for looking back fondly on his hero during the pre-Fascist, pre-Soviet era of his youth.
As the film concludes we work our way backwards through this vortex. The last moment on screen is back with the young woman and her copy of ‘Grand Budapest’. She isn’t a ‘character’ per se, as she does very little. She is us, the audience: hopelessly detached from the events of the story yet enthralled all the same.
As if this weren’t enough, Anderson decided to shoot the bulk of the film in a 1.33 aspect ratio. As if he wanted to make absolutely clear that what unfolds is a frame within a frame within a flashback from a book within a dream. This is rather superfluous for Anderson. The 45-year-old Texan never lets us forget we are watching a movie. The tone, the mis en scene, the costume and set design, everything places us clearly within a dream world of the screen. It’s the antithesis of the gritty, docu-style effects that have become so pervasive in film post-9/11.
So why go to the trouble? Why jump through such hoops of story to force us to think about the audience-film relationship? This is a guy with a healthy fanbase, who can play to that sophisticated base more subtly than others directors can.
Now is an incredibly exciting time to be watching movies. I don’t know if 30 years on anyone will be looking at this as a ‘golden era’ of anything. To be fair, a fourth fucking ‘Transformers’ movie was just released. What is fascinating is the intensity of the dialogue about how we view and experience movies.
Buzzwords like ‘meta’ get tossed around a lot. Terms like that are really just a subset of this larger conversation. There’s always been a discussion about the making and the taking of film. But now, more than ever, this discussion unfolds within the film itself.
Take ‘22 Jump Street’. The flick is a spoof of buddy-cop-shoot-em-ups. What’s beautiful is the kind of person going to see ‘Jump Street’ today is the same person who watched the comedy-action shit in the 80s. It’s not aimed at the savvy film snob set (i.e. people who watch Wes Anderson movies). It’s a mass market, broad-appeal summer blockbuster. Yet ‘Jump Street’ openly fixates on the absurdity and redundancy of its own existence. It’s more clever and satirical than any movie like it could have been, even just a few years ago. Now it’s commonplace.
Anderson fans may be more sophisticated than average. However, the average film-goer is also more sophisticated than she was in the recent past. (Again, this is a bold claim in light of a FOURTH FUCKING ‘TRANSFORMERS’ MOVIE.) Perhaps Anderson agrees with me. Though he is known for his love of all that is vintage, I think he could appreciate the heightened self-awareness that is so modern in movies today.
Truly, he is one of the fathers of our current situation. He, along with QT, made self-awareness soar to new heights when it first went mainstream in the nineties. Now, it’s the law of the land. While Anderson probably will never have the mainsteam appeal of Tarantino, he can still appreciate how the landscape has shifted around him. Maybe hist latest is an acknowledgement of this fact. As even a casual glance at the state of film will tell you, all trains lead to the Grand Budapest.
A comedian (I forget who) once pointed out the bliss of being next in line. The mere fact of being ‘next’ is as good as whatever you are waiting for. You’re even open to someone jumping in front of you at that point. Because, of course, you’re STILL next. And that’s about as good as it gets.
The brink. The precipice. The verge. A special magic inhabits this space. When working on an orgasm, we try to loiter here as long as possible. There’s good reason for this. We tell ourselves the longer we can spend anticipating, the better the event will be.This is why people go to grad school. The build up, in effect, defines the release.
The release creates the purest ecstasy, but it also carries a dark inevitability: the end. Once the event hits, we know we’ve peaked. Things can only cool from here. The brink is where potential and realization are the most intimate. Most of human life is spent either waiting or remembering. That’s why we are so drawn to this third animal. A frothy blend of the two.
The past two weeks of summer the sky has lived only here. You step outside, the air is concrete thick. Furnace heat from 9 a.m. on. Wind bullies you. Clouds linger. Something is coming. The atmosphere is ready to pounce. Always ready to attack.
I’ll help you kill the buffalo.
The older I get the more I realize the conventional wisdom about art and people is backwards. Art welcomes the dialogue more than people do. A painting won’t argue with you, or be suddenly distant, or change the subject. It doesn’t actively struggle against its own fulfillment. Art is fundamentally unfinished and needs the audience to be complete. A pop song can belong to you in a way that a person never can.
Tug the volume nob to the right and sink the accelerator into the floor. Hoping to feel something. Anything. The dull vibration from the speakers and motor don’t connect me to anything. I’m just more crumpled under the droning whirl of machinery around me. More muffled. Why do we drown under the things we trust to empower us?
That’s why painters live so long. While I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque. — Picasso