Friday Happy: A little nonsense now and then

So hipsters apparently hate Wes Anderson for his brand


of corduroy shellacked, indie coopting and twee spewing. Perhaps this was justified as the decline in quality of his movies (and American Express commercial) in recent years has been noticeable.

But right now, don’t hate. Appreciate. Because The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a triumph, and Inverted Soapbox Heartily Endorses you going to see it.

Part of the reason it succeeds so well is that it uses the stylized talents of Anderson as a vehicle to let the speculative forces of Roald Dahl’s imagination push through. The film is funny and sweet, intelligent and creative in ways we haven’t seen in any films by Anderson (or any other director). Sitting in the theater last weekend, the first indication that everything with this movie is going to be all right is the opening shot and title card: a stop motion but realistic-looking hardcover version of the Dahl book looking like it was pulled directly from the shelves of my elementary school library, its Dewey Decimal System code visible on its spine. 

I owe a special debt to Dahl for being the linchpin author who first — an enduringly — tethered me to a love of reading, and, by extension, the world of words and writing which has landed me where I am today (wherever that might be). I couldn’t count the times I spent sitting in the elementary school library reading and re-reading Matilda or The Twits. And my ardent advocacy on behalf of reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was probably my first sliver of inclination toward hipster snobbishness (“Sure, Chocolate Factory is OK, if you like overly commercial products. But have you read the sequel? I didn’t think so. Now give me back my Lion-O sword and put your Mumm-Ra hood back on.”)

Roald Dahl’s appeal was in his portrayal of childhood subversiveness, the fighters of youth gathered against the conspiratorial brooding of parents, adults, farmers, giants, whathaveyou. It wasn’t all broad brush — he used sniveling children and kindly adults to demarcate shifting boundaries and identities in a world where hope remains that betting on the good in the world is still rewarding.

It’s part of the reason I got hooked on Harry Potter so instantly — JK Rowling merges imagination and plot at points of familial lineage to the ones Dahl created years ago. We should take this moment to appreciate the delicacy of crafting smart, enjoyable, richly-bodied children’s literature, as we watch less-skilled writers rake in the allowance money.

Scouring for Roald Dahl clips today, I found this, an excerpt from a most certainly bizarre and … quirky … British  programme, The South Bank Show from 1986. What he’s describing here to is essentially the set up for the plot of The Witches (also made into a movie starring Angelica Houston). It’s worth it just to see the random guest appearance (in witch drag!) at the very end of the clip.

Also, he was in the Royal Air Force and was an MI-6 agent.

6 responses to “Friday Happy: A little nonsense now and then

  1. I happen to believe his movies have gotten successively better. Life Aquatic is his masterpiece.

  2. I think Life Aquatic gets unfairly ripped on, but Darjeeling was pretty pasty pale and bland.

  3. I really liked Darjeeling, too.

  4. I don’t know why Schwartz like “Life Aquatic” or “Darjeeling” so much, but my guess is that he connects to certain ideas in those movies not expressed or focused on in Anderson’s previous movies.

    Regardless, it’s pretty obvious, I think, that “Rushmore” is his masterpiece if it could, in fact, be considered that. “Rushmore” is complete and flawless, and Anderson’s ideas and worldview are perfectly distilled through his sensibilities. Plus, it was the first time he had a budget that allowed him to realize his vision (his ridiculously ornate mise en scene and so forth) that was limited in “Bottle Rocket.” With most filmmakers, their great movies tend to be simple ones. And “Rushmore” is Anderson’s purest film. There isn’t a lot to distract you from Max and his needs as a protagonist.

    All that got much more convoluted and murkier beginning with “The Royal Tenenbaums.” That’s also a relatively simple movie, but it’s a massive, complicated ensemble cast. Then, in “Aquatic,” not only did he keep the ensemble, he started piling on all this other stuff — huge sets with CGI animals and stuff. Then he goes to frickin’ India in “Darjeeling” and all the characters get muddled by all the tertiary visual crap. His characters have become muddled by his style.

    That said, he’s not worth criticizing too much. Because he’s more interesting and more talented than 98 percent of film directors. Even when he fails or makes some mediocre, there’s always something worth seeing, some idea elegantly expressed, something visually interesting and, obviously, he’s a very funny guy. There’s more than enough to like there.

    That said, I would not be surprised if “Mr. Fox” is very good. In a lot ways, it sounds like it could be a return to simplicity for Anderson, which is what the dude has always needed.

  5. Cribbs you should write a movie blog

  6. That or my own copy editor. Christ. My fingers are too large to hit the proper keys and spell properly, and I skip words all the time.

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