There are only few artists’ projects that I am ever really interested in beforehand and who’s work I actually anticipate coming out. Ween’s new album La Cucaracha falls under that category and so does any new Wes Anderson film. This may indeed be a character flaw for some one who is trying to get a website off of the ground with a strong basis in pop-culture and media, but there is an intense interest to cover and promote only the projects that we feel actually have merit. Of course, if I feel equally as strong that a product is lacking, I am also apt to plunge on it like a pitbull attack to a toddler’s jugular.
I tried to see Anderson‘s latest film The Darjeeling Limited on multiple occasions but, everytime that I thought it was out, it wasn’t. It had one of those slow drawn out releases where it would only pop up in select theaters in certain states. That’s where the “LIMITED” part of the title comes into play I suppose. It’s sort of like, “If New Yorkers and folks in Monterey, Ca like it that’s how we’ll know it’s good“. Whatever, when it finally did hit Seattle it was playing at a LANDMARK theater which plays limited release films. I went and saw it there. I stopped smoking for a little while and, apparently, that inhibits my abilitly to write anything but, now that it finally has a much more accessable nationwide release, it still seems like a good enough time to do a review.
Even before the film had started, I was inspired by the previews. The new film by the Coen Bros., No Country For Old Men, looks really promising. It stars James Brolin’s son Josh who also appeared in Planet Terror, the Robert Rodriguez contribution to this years GRINDHOUSE. The Coen’s have fallen off a bit on recent projects, namely Lady Killers & Intolerable Cruelty, often by injecting them with characters that play more as forced parodies of their previous and more notable works. For those who feel the name Coen has lost credibility, this looks like a return to darker, more serious pieces that they have created along the lines of Blood Simple and Millers Crossing. Other film previews that looked like they might be interesting were director Noah Baumbach’s new film Margot at the Wedding, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s new vessel The Savages, and even a movie about a knocked up teen named JUNO which includes a soundtrack by K-Records recording artist and former Moldy Peaches front-woman Kimya Dawson. Of course, in this draught of quality cinema, people are often so thirsty that they are even willing to drink staph infected emulsion as long as it springs from an independent source. Far too often, these days, independent just means no budget, so I hope at least one of these movies isn’t complete shit.
Just prior to Darjeeling starting, an ad played for a Wes Anderson short film titled Hotel Chevalier which can be downloaded for free on iTunes. I understand that the short is now being shown before the film in theaters ever since it’s nationwide release. Apparently, before Hotel Chevalier plays, the screen reads “The Darjeeling Limited part 1” and then says “…Part 2” before the actual film. In interviews Anderson states that he had debated whetheror not to present the two together in the theaters but had decided against it, although he did plann to later include them both in the future DVD release. The films were intended to be able to be viewed as solid pieces apart from eachother, although they clearly complement one another; Jason Schwartzman even wears a “Hotel Chevalier” embroidered robe in The Darjeeling Limited. One fact that you may be unaware of is that the 13 min long short was actually written well before the full-length film and was even shot a full year before it’s production ever even started. Not until actually making the short, did both writers, Anderson and Schwartzman, decide at that point that they would take Jack, Schwartzman’s character, in the same direction when they made the film and basically make him. He wasn’t even originally intended to be the same character. Both films were supposed to be separate entities. I sort of appreciated the original concept to separate the two but it’s clear that even the original concept was determined, at least partially, to benefit some strategic product placement. In both Chevalier and Darjeeling, Jack is regularly seen operating his iPod. To then make it necessary to use iTunes to access the companion piece is not a coincidence. I can’t really hate because, he does integrate the placements smoothly and effectively enough to keep me wishing for a pair of those fresh Steve Zissou ADIDAS. My feeling is that, when 2 of the top box office draws right now are films like Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?“ and a film starring the Rock dealing with the troubles of young womanhood, it doesn’t hurt to add a naked Natalie Portman in the mix, as Chevalier does, to draw in the crowds and stack some box office paper.
The film itself deals with 3 brothers who have become somewhat estranged after their fathers death and are taking a train ride through India while ingesting myriad of painkillers, muscle relaxers, and other drugs. The aspect that really intrigued me was the concept of a forced spiritual journey and the age old concept of things coming to someone when they finally give up and stop trying to find it. Any shot of connection that starts to form between the characters is sabotaged by one or all of their their inherit natures. A deep part of them seems to know that they “need” something deeper to happen in their lives yet the only commonground that they find throughout most of the film is through mocking others who have what they are “searching” for.
There are definitely themes, such as those dealing with family structures and dynamics, which are repeated from from other Anderson films like The Royal Tenenbaums and Life Aquatic, but I honestly feel that this film stands on it’s own. I have seen the film maker attacked for repetetiveness but I never hear anyone attack Picasso for having a Blue Period. People seem to love both Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and those films even repeat character names. I feel that Anderson is still working with his own themes and concepts and finding more and more ways to utilize them. In The Royal Tennenbaums the director was working with a concept that gave the film an effect that made the home feel like a dollhousewith one ofthe main walls missing. This allowed the viewer to see into each little room or box and view all of the characters in individual compartments, which added the feeling of a stage play. He carried this on to the Belafonte in Life Aquatic and he even reuses it momentarily in Darjeeling. Although in this film it is seen even more sparingly, he has seemed to find a new way to use it that is possibly even more effective than in the prior films. He is honing his skills while adding to them and, for me, it is an enjoyable process to watch.
Owen Wilson co-wrote Anderson’s first 3 films with him and has appeared in all 5. He originally planned to be a writer and I feel that his best work has been in these films, with the exception of his minor uncredited role in Rushmore. Life Aquatic was co-written by Noah Baumbach, another auteur who’s Oscar Nominated film The Squid and the Whale was produced by Anderson and is working on the upcoming Roald Dahl animated film adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox with him. The Darjeeling Limited was co-written by Jason Schwartzman, who is not generally a screen-writer, and Schwartzman’s cousin Roman Coppola who is also Francis Ford Coppola’s son and Sophia’s brother. I used to have a copy of Baumbach’s first film, Kicking and Screaming, when it was released in 1995 so he has been in the game for a minute and is a respected filmmaker in his own right. Wes’ willingness and desire to work with others equally on these projects and to credit them accordingly seems to represent his focus on the projects as a whole. The overall product is something that I believe trumps any ego involved for him. If nothing else, I feel that he truly believes in manifesting a complete vision and that’s something that should be able to be appreciated regardless of taste. I’m not trying to kiss some random guys ass here, I love tearing Hollywood apart, but that’s how it honestly comes across to me. Perhaps it’s because all of the shit out there, but it’s nice to watch something and feel that it’s well thought out and that there was solid involvement from all parties involved. It helps make it engaging for the viewer as well.
When watching the film I thought of The Orchestra Boabab. They were a 1970’s Sengalize orchestra whose music I have heard referred to as exceptionally “clean“. When I finally saw them live I understood what that meant. If somebody played a guitar or saxophone solo, it didn’t stand out by itself as much as it helped the music travel as a whole. This film is very similar in that respect. It travels at a slow pace which may leave an expecting viewer wanting, but it is a pace that mirrors the pace of the characters and their growths. A few techniques were used which may have helped to establish a more natural film and smooth transitioning. Microphones were placed in the actors suits and they wore the same suits throughout the film while using a limited makeup and wardrobe department. The 3 brothers also haul an 11 piece luggage set around throughout the entire film, often on their backs through the dessert, and all of them were actually packed full of shit like books and clothing. I don’t know if these ideas themselves actually helped to benefit the film in the long run or not but I do know that William Friedkin set the thermostats to freezing cold temperatures and fired off guns at random while he was making The Exorcist and David O. Russell agitated the fuck out of people and actually made actors cry while filming I Heart Huckabees. Maybe there’s something to it.
Wes Anderson reminds me of another independent creative force but one that is in the music industry. He reminds me of Master P before he became a parental advocate and when he was still rapping about pushing crack rocks instead of pushing family values. The minute I saw The Darjeeling Limited poster I knew that it was one of his films. The old NO LIMIT records album covers all had a certain a patented look to them that let you know immediately that it was a NO LIMIT production. Eventually everyone started biting those graphic design concepts and even started using that slow gritty rap cadence and it effected the rap industry. I don’t feel that Darjeeling is an example of Anderson slipping in his films or becoming redundant. I feel that he is still using certain formulas that work for him and that are recognizable but that he is also evolving in other directions and, if you enjoy his style, you can follow his evolution as a filmmaker. I think that this film was being experienced by the actors and crew while it was being produced and the intention was to bring that experience to the viewers. It doesn’t belittle a foreign country’s concepts or it’s people but it also doesn’t put them on a pedestal. I think the lack of definition helps to slow the pace and define this as a journey. In certain ways the elements for a film and it’s ideas are handed to the audience more than a 3 act film itself. I believe that it is often important, although sometimes difficult, to view a product for what it is as opposed to what you may have expected from it. Those are the things that help to break walls and create new directions. I think that Wes Anderson, at least at this point in his career, is a valid director and that he is good for the film. I think that some of his concepts probably are even good for the rap industry.