This little experiment of writing is brutal. Humbling at first because you discover what a shite writer you are. You confront your own lack of ability. Creative atrophy. Something you devoted years of your life to, left out in the sun to rot. Then it’s further demoralizing as you have to push yourself to simply engage in the act. There are no requirements, other than you must write SOMETHING. It somehow manages to feels like a chore. Like you don’t have ‘time’.
I hope your new albums flops
I hope critics ridicule it
I hope you barely chart
I hope you play smaller venues
I hope people ask for the ‘old stuff’
I hope people stop returning calls
I hope you have to open for a band that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you
I hope your label drops you
I hope you post a message on your website to make it seem like you quit the label
I hope it’s an “exciting chance to connect more directly with the fans”
I hope your self-released shit flops worse
I hope you drunkenly tweet embarrassing jabs at other artists
I hope you announce the next day your twitter was “hacked”
I hope you announce the next week you are checking into rehab
I hope you do a Vh1 reality show
I hope the ex wife gets it all
I hope you lose everything
I hope you lose everyone
I hope there’s nothing in the way
Then it will just be us
You better pass the flask
"Welp, only a few minutes left, someone is going to die. He’s gonna get shot or she’s gonna get shot or they’re both gonna get shot."
We’ve all thought something like this in the closing moments of a movie. Or expected a sudden revelation in the final chapter of a novel. All art struggles against the limitations of the given medium. Length, in particular, is a fucking huge one.
As audiences we consciously or unconsciously anticipate the movement of film and literature. Their ebb and flow. This robs them of some of their mystery. Their ability to enchant us.
I want a pure experience. I would love to watch a movie unsure if it lasts 10 minutes or four hours. The advent of new media makes this prospect more realistic than ever. I don’t want a running time, a synopsis, or even a title. I just want hit ‘play’ and let the work wash over me. I want to bestow on the artist an ever-increasing ability to take us on a journey.
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.