"Thats the last time you put a blade in me, y'hear?"
Wes Anderson releases a new film, "The Darjeeling Limited", this Autumn, and before I've even seen the trailer, I know exactly what it'll be like. Partly because he possesses perhaps the most distinctive tone of any current American filmaker, his interests were apparent after two films, and I can't imagine him ever doing anything different. But the synopsis and the poster just make me feel even more certain. This is a good thing, if you're a fan of his work and the strange little world he's created in each film, which I am.
"Rushmore" remains his best film, for me, finely balancing the deadpan absurdism of his comedy with a weighty emotional impact that neither "The Royal Tenenbaums" or "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" can match, despite their many pleasures. Indeed, I worry about his development as a director based on that last film. It was beautifully directed, of course, with Anderson's deliberate framing and lovely use of colour evident in every shot. It used actors as well as he always does, giving even the smallest characters quirks and interesting elements. Bill Murray obviously likes working with Anderson because Anderson understands how Murray's persona is best put to use, and nobody else has ever gotten work from Owen Wilson as well as Anderson has. But it was another step deep into Anderson's insular world of quirky characters and pulpy plot devices given comedic twists, of accumulated detail instead of depth. The new film is co-written by Roman Coppola and Jason Schwarzman, and it will be interesting to see just how much they effect the Anderson worldview.
I've written before about Film Directors working in advertising, and Anderson has also taken some corporate cash in exchange for lending his talent to a brand name. But of course he did it his way. Indeed, perhaps his best work besides "Rushmore" is a commercial he made for American Express in 2006. It manages to play like a long reference to Truffaut's "Day for Night" while being as stuffed with detail and infused with Anderson's sensibility as any of his films do. Plus, its all one long shot:
Contrast that with M Night Shyamalan's cringe-inducing advert, part of the same campaign. Shyamalan is a talented director with a great visual sense and a style unlike that of any of his peers: his films are full of examples of great suspense filmaking. Those comparisons to a young Spielberg after "The Sixth Sense" may have gone to his head, but they were made with good reason. He uses long takes, few ostentatious camera movements, and like Anderson, he is extremely good with actors. But as a writer he has sabotaged his own directorial career, first with "The Village", where he stuck to his own formula when it may have made for a better film if he had not done so. Then with "Lady In the Water", a grand folly if ever there was one, worsened by the debacle of the book written about Shyamalan during its production ("the Man Who Heard Voices" by Michael Bamberger, which portrays the director as a bit of a diva). "Lady In the Water" is full of moments where Shyamalan's skill as a director is obvious, despite its terrifyingly simple-minded, egotistical script. This advert resembles it in a couple of ways. Shyamalan proves he can't act, even when he is playing himself and has no dialogue, and his hokey potrayal of the magic of the everyday - "the dream" he is searching for - works very rarely, and not in the context of a 1 minute tv spot: