Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are, Wes Anderson & the making of new things

Maurice Sendak was asked recently to consider that his book may be a scary film:

Reporter: "What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?"

Sendak: "I would tell them to go to hell. That's a question I will not tolerate."

Reporter: "Because kids can handle it?"

Sendak: "If they can't handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it's not a question that can be answered."

This may be the best and most succinct response ever to that question. Even if the film turns out to be rubbish, it'll still be worth it for that comment.

In other news, Wes Anderson directed his all-singing, all-dancing version of my favourite children's book by email, while he stayed in Paris, because he could. Setting aside that I have a particular regard for Fantastic Mr Fox, and may therefore be biased, it seems fairly clear that this isn't the behaviour of someone who had a serious interest in either the story or the medium he chose to tell it. The thing I loved about his earlier films, Rushmore & The Royal Tenenbaums (never caught Bottle Rocket), was the passion they seemed to be created with and the hidden depths they alluded to. Having sat through The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, I'm starting to wonder where the passion went and if in fact, those depths were actually pretty shallow. Anderson is a great stylist, but it seems, little else.

Dave Eggers, screenwriter of Where The Wild Things Are, and Spike Jonze (director) seem to be coming from a very different place. Eggers' fiction, to my mind at least, is about reaching for a more irony-free viewpoint, as is Jonze's filmwork. Both come from the same time and space as Anderson, but whereas he is intent on creating a sort of Narnia filled with educated, well-dressed New Yorkers, they are the children of David Foster Wallace, who (I think) was intent on living in the world as it is, and rejoicing in it, because the strangeness of the everyday is the core of the most powerful stories.

In his book, Ulysses And Us (go and buy it), Declan Kiberd talks about Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in terms of the bohemian versus the bourgeois. Stephen, leading on from The Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man, wants to leave the world of the day-to-day, and escape to bohemia, where Art is all. He rejects the mundane, bourgeois world and largely cannot function in it, being an overeducated young man with overwheming self-interest. Bloom, on the other hand, understands that there can be no art without the everyday, because the point of it is to look at, reflect, decode and enrich daily life. Bloom, like Joyce himself, has to eat, has to feed his family, understands that he cannot absent himself from the world and his responsibilities to it and unlike Bill Hicks, does not see the contradiction in having to earn a crust by selling and embracing art as a concept.

Apart from my suspicion that shouldering comparisons with Joyce is more than Anderson can bear, I do think it illustrates my problem with his work. It is beautiful (although I'm not sold on the look of the latest film), but it's also repetitive. All art is. Whatever the medium, artists can only talk about the ideas that interest them, or that have a hold over them. David Mitchell talks about writing fiction as a kind of escapology; he finds something he's not sure he can pull off and works his way through it; but no matter the situation, his concerns, the underlying themes of his writing, remain the same. It doesn't matter, because his are honestly felt convictions and his often complex structures don't cloak them so much as show them in a new way.

The thing about Anderson is that he doesn't seem to have anything to say. He's like a really good sampler. He can tell you what the best records were, the most interesting colours and where the coolest people went, but he can't do any of it himself, nor can he talk about anything outside his immediate stylistic area. Now, a good sampler is like a good editor, taking a collection of scraps and making something new, but I don't believe Anderson is doing that, nor can he.

Excuse the ramble. I suppose, in the end, I'd rather take my children and myself to something that looks interesting and new, rather than what appears to be a throwback to the sort of thing that brought Disney to the wolf's door in the early eighties. One film feels as though it was made by people who were looking to make something new that might or might not work, the other by someone who knew what worked well before and sought to reproduce it.

Here's both trailers, for your edification:

Fantastic Mr Fox

Where The Wild Things Are

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Welcome to my blog. I'm a freelance writer/journalist/researcher/editor. I write about education and ideas I've had for the Irish Times. I also research, write and edit for writers, publications and websites. Here I put things that tend not to fit anywhere else. Enjoy.

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