Friday, February 29, 2008

Can You Do a .357 With a Bayonet?

I don’t go to the movies much. Even when it’s something I desperately want to see. Can’t justify the cost. Only P.T. Anderson and the Coen Brothers have lured me to the theater this year—There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men, respectively. Both fantastic films, the latter being the clear victor, as the Academy rightly noted last week. I loved There Will Be Blood, no question. I especially like that PT pulled off what I thought impossible: making oil prospecting interesting. But there were a few slow moments, and the end—well, another risky ending on PTs part that doesn’t quite come off as brilliantly as the frog rain in Magnolia. The end of There Will Be Blood felt too much like a punchline to something I didn’t think was a joke. “I’m finished.” Ha, ha, Plainview. You’re a riot.

Rent a lot of movies. Finally got to see The Darjeeling Limited this week. Been eager for that one for a while, being as I’m a huge fan of Wes Anderson, no relation to PT. His breakthrough movie Rushmore hit me at just the right moment in life—early in grad school, nostalgic for a high school life I didn’t actually lead. Max Fisher spoke to me, and I thought Anderson’s deadpan humor, mostly derived from camera movement and elaborate mise-en-scene was brilliant. Some people don’t get it at all, and I can hardly explain why. Anderson is one of the few, if only, directors who can make a camera movement funny. Sure, he borrows nearly all his techniques from French New Wave, but the French New Wave guys are dead or they’ve moved on to other ideas, so Anderson’s all we’ve got.

And, to the point—I loved The Darjeeling Limited. Perfect actors for the parts, and I loved the interplay between the “feature film” and the short film at the beginning. Bill Murray’s fantastic cameo during the intro credits. The flashback to the father’s funeral in the middle. The “imaginary train” scene—obvious in its metaphor, but still a brilliant idea. There’s just a treasure trove of pans, zooms and framings in this movie. Sure, the characters aren’t quite as deep or complex as in Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums, and you don’t get the truly moving sense of tragi-comedy you get in those other two films. I don’t think Anderson will ever make another Royal Tenenbaums. It’s tough for a guy who’s still so young and has already made his masterpiece. You’ve got to give him some slack. Luckily, I didn’t come to The Darjeeling Limited with too many expectations—mainly because of some lukewarm reviews I’d read and Anderson’s massive misstep, The Life Aquatic. Totally emotionless movie. Perhaps if he’d made Darjeeling right after Tenenbaums, I’d be disappointed. But he’s redeemed himself for Aquatic.

I still love Rushmore the best because it was my first Anderson film and because, well, Max Fischer is like my dream-self, which is pretty sad, I know. I know Tenenbaums is a superior movie, sure—much better character development and some real heart. My friend Danielle and I argue about this. She likes Tenenbaums better. I think probably because Margot Tenenbaum speaks to her the way Max speaks to me. In that sad/funny way I mentioned.

If you’ve never experienced Anderson at work, here’s a little primer. It’s a brilliant American Express commercial he made a couple years back, a veritable short film about making films. He’s drawing heavily from an equally brilliant 1973 Francois Truffaut film called (in English) Day For Night (La Nuit américaine). The background music is the same, just in case you don’t get the reference. And why would you unless you were a freakishly obsessed European cinemaphile? Anyway, Anderson uses the camera for comic purposes here. Look how static the first shot is until the right moment, when it quickly pans (and returns) to give us the (dark) joke. It’s like Anderson is using Hitchcock’s “talking camera,” but for laughs instead of suspense. There’s some real artistry, real subtlety in Anderson’s humor, I think, which is why it’s better than the all-too-easy laugh out loud stuff. Are those my birds? I need those.

2 comments:

S. Craig Renfroe, Jr. said...

Saw The Darjeeling Limited just this weekend, and had the same reaction. I was still a little let down, especially since I can relate to the three brother situation and was hoping for some of that sad/funny connection, but it felt distant. Though after Aquatic, it was a relief.

BellaVida said...

Hi, I found your blog while on a quest to find a good book to read that would be worth my time. I look forward to checking out Pyres.

Funny coincidence, I just watched Darjeeling Limited yesterday. I enjoyed it but I agree that the emotional aspects of their relationships were dealt with only superficially. I would have loved to connect more to the characters. They were each already so lovable.

Have a fabulous day.