Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Triumph of Wes Anderson, or Sympathy for John McCain

Slate's got a nice little slideshow up about the rise and fall of Wes Anderson: his fantastic debut, his two masterpieces, his two lesser but still wonderful films, and then (the primary subject) the ubiquity of his imitators. You can check out the slideshow yourself here: http://www.slate.com/id/2218420/

On the way, though, something wonderful happened, for me at least. One of the slideshow videos is a set of faux John McCain ads made in the style of three directors Woo, K. Smith, and Anderson. You can check out the Anderson clip at minute 2:21 of the video - and I do highly recommend it.



Something weird happened to me while watching the Anderson parody: I came to feel enormous empathy for John McCain. Here's what Slate has to say "Tweaking the surface pleasures of Anderson's work, the ad unwittingly (or, who knows, maybe intentionally) highlights the director's drift toward a cinema of extravagant artifice and the diminishing returns it offers."

First, I think the "extravagant artifice" of "diminishing returns" was certainly intentional - this video clearly takes some shots at Wes Anderson surface-obsessed quirkmaster. But I had a completely different reaction. Watching a John McCain semi-lookalike glumly acknowledge that he has no chance in the matter, then gamely stroll through a classic Anderson sequence, complete with pitch perfect Bowie and track suits, gave me the first twinge of sympathy I've had for McCain in years. This was a man who had real principles, who abandoned them to try to win an unwinnable election against the most gifted politician in half a century, and went to his inevitable defeat. For abandoning those principles and engaging in pathetic pandering I hated him. But when this actor deadpans that he probably won't win, then walks off to his failure, I finally felt sympathy for the man.

And that, as far as I'm concerned, is the bottom line with Wes Anderson's style: it works. Say what you want about The Darjeeling Limited and the Life Aquatic, Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite and the American Express ad (and granted, none of them reach the peaks of Rushmore or Tenenbaums), all of them have something going for them. That's because Anderson's style - the quirk, the colors, the props, the perfectly integrated pop music, and the heartfelt but off-kilter emotions - just plain works. In fact, it works so well that an obvious parody backfired to the point that I felt real sympathy for a man I've intensely disliked for years now.

Of course, the incongruity of the actual "I'm John McCain and I approve this message" bit snaps me out of it to a certain extent. It serves as a reminder that the Anderson aesthetic - the distillation of real emotional pain into whimsical scenes that retain emotional heft - is deeply in contrast to the look and sound of a real political campaign. Which, I think, just makes my point stronger: cutting through all that bullshit and making McCain a truly sympathetic figure is a seriously tough task. Faux-Anderson, though, was up to the job.

Just for fun: A Mike Gravel Campaign Ad

19 comments:

Fletch said...

Thanks for the links and highlighting the story. Overdone or not, and regardless of my initial reaction to Darjeeling, you're right - his films still have power, and even the lesser ones are better than much of what we see in theaters. I think, if anything, people (myself included) saw all of Anderson's work (and that of all his would-be clones) and hoped merely that he would change things up, to continue to grow as a filmmaker, even at the risk of flopping.

As for those McCain ads, I gotta say I enjoyed the Woo one most. Though by not including a slo-mo shot of a dove flying, they almost missed the boat.

Fletch said...

Oh, and welcome back to the blogosphere!

Eric said...

Rushmore and Bottle Rocket are great films, but The Royal Tenenbaums is Anderson' preeminent masterpiece. As much praise as it's received, I still believe it's vastly underrated.

MovieMan0283 said...

I have been running around (well, proverbially anyway) the blogosphere in an effort to get more people to list their favorite film books. In the process, I have been leaving a comment on everyone's latest post, without having time to read/comment on the post in question. But this one got me.

Great video (and sounds like an interesting article at Slate); I also enjoyed your comments on it, which are to the point. I concur with what Fletch said. It would be nice to see Anderson grow a bit more at this point, or even just return to the power of his earlier works, though again, that may not be possible without branching out a little (or, conversely, engaging Owen Wilson as his co-writer again).

And thanks for reviving that Gravel ad, though I had no idea it was so long.

Ah yes, my original message:

I am making the rounds to remind everyone about the "Reading the Movies" exercise. I'm going to compile everyone's lists into one master list in a week or two, so jump in! The original post can be found here:

http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2009/05/reading-movies.html

Timeshare Resales said...

Rushmore and Bottle Rocket are great films,I think, if anything, people (myself included) saw all of Anderson's work (and that of all his would-be clones) and hoped merely that he would change things up, to continue to grow as a filmmaker,like that.

Timeshare Resales

San Diego MLS said...

Great video and sounds like an interesting article at Slat; I also enjoyed your comments on it, which are to the point. I concur with what Fletch said. It would be nice to see Anderson grow a bit more at this point, or even just return to the power of his earlier works.
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Simi Valley Real Estate said...

McCain ads made in the style of three directors Woo, K. Smith, and Anderson. You can check out the Anderson clip at video - and I do highly recommend it.
Simi Valley Real Estate

MovieMan0283 said...

Hey, Graham if you're still out there:

I’m soliciting bloggers’ favorites (of their own posts) for my year-end round-up at The Dancing Image. Here’s the explanation (with a bit of a mea culpa):

http://thesunsnotyellow.blogspot.com/2009/12/best-of-blogosphere.html

Feel free to leave your own selection there – links to all submissions will be posted around the 30th, but I’ll certainly be taking them after that too.

Thanks & happy new year!

San Diego Real Estate said...

all of them have something going for them. That's because Anderson's style - the quirk, the colors, the props, the perfectly integrated pop music, and the heartfelt but off-kilter emotions - just plain works.
San Diego Real Estate

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Dog Life Jacket said...

McCain ads made in the style of three directors Woo, K. Smith, and Anderson. You can check out the Anderson clip at

zahir said...

I gotta say I enjoyed the Woo one most. Though by not including a slo-mo shot of a dove flying, they almost missed the boat.
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Ranjit said...

visulaized education is very affective. Documentaries are the best options for that.
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Awesome story. I agree that his movies have do potential to attract a large audience. I love his films.

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