Thursday, June 03, 2010

Matt Zoller Seitz: The Substance of Style, Pts. 1-5

The Substance of Style, Pt 1: Wes Anderson and his pantheon of heroes (Schulz, Welles, Truffaut)
by Matt Zoller Seitz
Moving Image Source

This is the first in a five-part series of video essays analyzing the key influences on Wes Anderson’s style. Part 2 covers Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester, and Mike Nichols. Part 3 covers Hal Ashby. Part 4 covers J.D. Salinger. Part 5 is an annotated version of the prologue to The Royal Tenenbaums.

With just five features in 13 years, Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation. Supremely confident in his knowledge of film history and technique, he's a classic example of the sort of filmmaker that the Cahiers du cinéma critics labeled an auteur—an artist who imprints his personality and preoccupations on each work so strongly that, whatever the contributions of his collaborators, he deserves to be considered the primary author of the film. This series examines some of Anderson's many cinematic influences and his attempt to meld them into a striking, uniquely personal sensibility.

After the release of his second film, Rushmore, in 1998, it became obvious that Anderson was, love him or hate him, an idiosyncratic filmmaker worth discussing. In the decade-plus since then, dissecting Anderson's influences, and Anderson's influence on others, has become a bit of a parlor sport among cinephiles. Sight and Sound and Film Comment have been particularly rich resources. More recently, the Onion A.V. Club contributed a couple of playful, astute lists. Anderson himself has gotten into the act by paying tribute to his heroes in interviews and magazine articles.

This series will take the process a step further, juxtaposing Anderson's cultural influences against his films onscreen, the better to show how he integrates a staggeringly diverse array of source material into a recognizable, and widely imitated, whole. It will examine some, but certainly not all, of Anderson's evident inspirations. Along the way, it may incidentally illuminate why Anderson-esque movies—from Garden State to Son of Rambow—can seem, no matter what their virtues or pleasures, a weak substitute for the real thing.

Anderson’s scavenger-hunt aesthetic stands him in good company, alongside Quentin Tarantino, David Gordon Green, James Gray, and the other Anderson, P.T. But what makes Wes Anderson distinctive is the sheer range of art that has fed his imagination—not just recent American and foreign films, but films from 30, 50, even 70 years ago, plus newspaper comics, illustrations, and fiction. The spectrum of influence gives his work a diversity of tone that his imitators typically lack. It is a style of substance.

To Watch the Video Essay and Access all Five Parts


Anonymous said...

incredible-thanks for sharing this. i'll seek out more from seitz, his analysis was informed and even-handed. he is able to appreciate anderson while criticizing his lack of political engagement.

found other good stuff on that site. there's a cool 5 part analysis of the wire's title sequences (seitz ed.). just click on seitz's name and his other stuff pops up.

Thivai Abhor said...

dear anonymous, thank you for your comments and for mentioning the wire video essays (a favorite)... i don't know if you have noticed, if you look on the right of this website and go down there is a section for "film studies" links.

these video essays are a great new innovation in film criticism ... the moving image sources is a great site!

Anonymous said...

oh I didn't notice that, thanks. the deleuzian film studies will make for some light reading.
if I can put you on the spot for a minute, which post-modern movie do you think is the most inaccessible/difficult to understand, and which pomo film critique do you think is the most virtuosic for its erudition? thanks

Thivai Abhor said...

Well, first, could you give me a name/identity to help situate who you are (anything) so you are not just anonymous :)

Second, I guess I need to understand what you mean by Postmodern... as there are many definitions of that term from many disciplines and perspectives (although off the top of my head the mind-fuck genre discussed by Jonathan Eig in his essay "A beautiful mind(fuck): Hollywood structures of identity." is a good example of an essay and list of films)

The reason why I would point to that example, is because I view the PM as the destabilization of human certainty in regards to identity/knowledge/institutions.

Are you studying and/or teaching film (or another subject?)


Thivai Abhor said...

of course for unreflective/lack-of-affect PM aesthetics Tarantino is a prime example (i have serious problems with his film style)

as a more positive counter-example, perhaps Chan Wook Park's 2003 film Oldboy (positive in the sense that it does affect the viewer, a film that Tarantino championed)

Anonymous said...

i'm studying critical theory for an ma.
i would add that another 'brand' of pomo is oppositional. a resistance to coherence, unity, program, etc can imply a critique of same, as opposed to the charge of nihilism/art for art's sake.
i haven't considered film in a serious way, but i've noticed how productive film analysis can be in current cultural studies and psychoanalysis, so i'm trying to apply myself to it. your site will be a great help to me.
thanks for your recommendations.

Thivai Abhor said...

Where are you doing the MA?

As for "resistance" PM I'm very skeptical... can you give me examples and how they are resistant?

Having matriculated in grad school during the whole PM trend, it seemed as if the Clinton/Bush administrations where the ultimate realization of PM thinking... esp. the latter's understanding of Reality.

Also why the insistence on the artificial designation of PM? How is it useful?

Anonymous said...

i accept your characterization of one form/aspect of pomo as mere capitalist ideology. i'd associate that with baudrillard. but post can mean a continuation, as in, after modernism, or it can represent a break from modernism.
post as a continuity can be understood historically as the development of capitalism. in art, post as continuity can be seen as the persistence of themes and influence, as in the pomo use of pastiche.
as a break, in an historical frame, one can understand post as a radical departure from a previous concept of value-this is where financialization comes into play. in an aesthetic frame, post as a break has to do with the subversion of modernist values, with its individualist subjectivity rethought in terms of the fascism of stable identity, narrative coherence, etc.
this is where i think pomo can be uniquely oppositional or critical: its resistance to ideology is a critique of it. pastiche accomplishes a surplus of reference and context that resists the old new criticism, for example, a technique that privileges the authority of the artist, etc.
Pamuk is an example of critical hyper referentiality.
but the main place where my idea of an oppositional pomo comes from d&g's two books, with its radical critique of identity, hierarchy, authority, and most importantly, representation itself. this last has profound implications, and is supported by the literature on the so-called crisis of representation, the context in which pomo lit, esp. its humor, must be read. humor/parody as opposition

Thivai Abhor said...

Dear Anonymous,

Sorry, but it just sounds like empty theorization to me (without concrete examples of its suposed resistance/radical nature).... also I can't see D & G as PM (PM is an american thing--and that of some european theorists who saw they could use it to make bank).


Anonymous said...

don't want to share examples publicly

Anonymous said...

also, it's not like i pulled this out of thin air-there is plenty of discussion along these lines.
you obviously have a strong opinion on this issue. all i can say is that there is an equally strong argument for and against a radical pomo-i'm not sure you're familiar with the former. sounds like you have some resistance to theory in general too.

Thivai Abhor said...

right.... wouldn't want to share your ideas :)

Thivai Abhor said...

PM, as a theory, is kind of used-up and people have moved on.

I really enjoy good critical theory, but it can't "pretend" to be resistance/revolutionary without concrete examples/praxis...

You seem kind of defensive about your ideas? Could be a problem as theories are best developed through engagement with the world and other perspectives--otherwise where is the "critical" nature of your theory?

this is all moot anyway, because you are unable to provide an example of "radical" PM

Anonymous said...

i meant i don't want to give concrete examples from lit because i don't want somebody to steal something. pamuk's the black book is something i've been working on.
i don't know why d&g isn't pomo. but their argument against representation is the most radical i can fathom. against representation/mimesis they propose something like identity as a process, as action. when you take away representation as the basic mediator between terms within a philosophic, political, psychoanalytic theory, etc, these ideological formations are deconstructed, and what you're left with is the concrete power formations that accompany the ideology. d&g use a structuralist approach in order to equate the ego, the state, the noumena, etc, and show how the theoretical development of these proceeds mimetically.
but when you posit a divided subject, representation/mimesis is undermined.
the divided subject is a theme of post modern literature. unstable identity, (think lynch, with multiple actresses in the same role)and the related theme of schizophrenia (this is also related to the lacanian subject, and existentialist psychology (which pamuk parodies) are divided subjects.
the same process can be used as a critique of nationalism. world lit is moving in this direction, nothing new, but what is new is the method by which they proceed, which involved a larger critique of globalization...go to go will write more

Anonymous said...

to continue-it seems we disagree on what is pomo, what is radical, and have different frames of reference.

you might know better than i what pomo is-i am thinking of it basically as everything since 1965, and as an opposition to the modernisms that became institutional. this opposition takes different forms, and i've pointed to a couple of them.
i don't think it's controversial to say that pomo as an opposition to modernism is radical. but i acknowledge the charge that the inaccessibility of pomo theory is a potential barrier to a radical practice-which i think is what you are getting at. i've noticed some discussion of contemporary world lit as a parallel development of the current reglobalization, and that as authors begin to increasingly address a global audience, they create a cosmopolitanism at odds with nationalism, which is a component of modernism.

i wonder if you can point out some trends that you consider post-post modernism, to clarify what you mean by those who have "moved on."

Thivai Abhor said...

My anonymous friend.... sorry, but I don't see why I should continue to debate something I don't recognize with someone who has no identity for me (and no stake--or purpose i cdan identify).

I know you will be annoyed by this, but this is a clear reason why literature studies is a dying discipline... and there is no "post, post modernism" because the idea of PM is a fantasy (much like the fall of the soviet union meant we were at the "end of history").

D & G are not structuralists .... sigh

Anonymous said...

right, d&g aren't structuralists, but they do compare structures of thought across disciplines as part of their critique-this is very clear

have no idea where you're coming from. obviously too radical to be bothered by the mountain of literature on post modernism, and literature generally.

will continue to use the links you provide. wonder if you even read any of them. nice dialogic-later

Thivai Abhor said...

You have no idea what structuralism and post-structuralism is?


you claim you are a radical PM who is working on resistance theories, yet you take a proprietary stance toward knowledge... as if you own it and should control it so no one will "steal" it from you, rather than engage in a dialogue and work with people to develop ideas.

i have graduate degrees in cultural studies and literary studies, but that shouldn't be necessary to talk to you about these ideas. the problem is you are unable to put your thoughts into a straightforward statement of how they are radical/resistant irl, as opposed to just the masturbatory world of literary studies. the problem isn't that i'm unfamiliar with the discipline
you are talking about, instead it is that I am all-too-familiar with it and recognize it bs when i see it. don't fall for the arcane mystification of reality that insecure academics use to justify their existence--engage with the world, both in your actions and with your language/vision.

i encourage you to come here to this site b/c it is set up for the free-sharing of ideas (you should think about the absurdity of radicals claiming to own ideas)

its telling though that you will come here to poach ideas without engaging in a true dialogue... is that radical?

if you are in the beginning stages of your literary studies career i would encourage you to take a very clear view of your bleak job prospects (i'm a humanities professor)

good luck