You’re likely to know if you’re watching a Wes Anderson film from the second the first frame hits the screen; the director carefully crafts every inch of celluloid creating a world that feels truly and uniquely his own. This aesthetic attention is carried over in Matt Zoller Seitz’s half-coffee-table-half-interview book, The Wes Anderson Collection. Having unquestionably solidified his status as one of the few contemporary auteurs, it seems crazy that a Wes Anderson book didn’t already exist, but then you think about how controlled Anderson is about his films and you can imagine that it would take someone special to get this project green-lit.
Matt Zoller Seitz’s, perhaps known to most as the TV critic for New York magazine, holds the distinct honor of being the first person to review Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket; although this honor comes to him fairly coincidentally, as he was covering the film as a rookie reporter for his hometown Dallas newspaper. Bottle Rocket was just a local short at the time, part of the city’s film festival, but it sparked a fairly consistent relationship between the two men, giving MSZ the ability to have lengthy interviews with the fairly guarded director and access to rarely-seen archival material. It also provides commentary and essays by the author that glow with personal resonance. He references the thoughts or theories he had when watching the film the first time, or the fifth time or the tenth time with his own kids.
MSZ structures the book chronologically through Anderson’s filmography—starting with the feature length Bottle Rocket and ending with Moonrise Kingdom—and each film is given a brief essay by MSZ and a lengthy interview between him and Anderson. I imagine for each interview Anderson sat displaying a casual thoughtfulness, in a tan suit and Clarks wallabee boots. What he doesn’t often allude to is the greater meaning or theme behind a scene, or film, or character, despite MSZ’s abundance of such ideas. Anderson doesn’t mean to say his films are devoid of a deeper meaning but that, “it all kind of gets churned through such a whole routine by the time it’s up on the screen; I’ve had twelve different ideas about what it’s all about.” It’s fun to see the two find common ground on the films, despite coming at them from two completely separate perspectives. You get a sense that both are gaining insight from the interview process. MSZ thinks about Anderson’s films in a way the director never did, and Anderson provides insight MSZ didn’t know.
What surprised me is Anderson’s incredible depth and diversity of film history and cultural references — he easily moves from quoting Charles Schultz’s Peanuts trivia to rare Louis Malle documentaries. His film knowledge rivals that of most tenured film history professors. In an attempt to enter the technicolor world of Anderson’s thinking, MSZ compliments the endless inspirations with frame by frame pictorial comparisons or film stills from some of Anderson’s favorites at the time.
The book’s coffee table identity crisis means you can easily pick it up and read one film’s chapter before coming back weeks later to read another, or better yet, between Netflix viewings of the discussed films. With specific scenes dissected to their very skeletons, it helps to have the final product fresh in one’s mind. But of course, the book is a visual delight first and foremost; applying its own interpretation to the overarching style of Anderson. With an abundance of finely colored (no shortage of that perfect pastel pink here) illustrations by Max Dalton and a treasure trove of Laura Wilson (mother to Anderson BFFs and frequent collaborators Owen and Luke Wilson) production photographs, the pages are often laid out to resemble a scrapbook by way of Anderson’s famously stylized title cards. Vintage patterns and boxed text provide a wealth font porn, but with an appreciation and homage that reads more genuine on the page rather than on thousands of Tumblrs. And the book truly proves you can never tire at looking at pictures of Bill Murray. Spectacled Bill Murray. Bare-chested Billy Murray. Eccentric-Prep Bill Murray. They’re all captured in the book, and they’re all fantastic.
The book or “book length conversation” as MSZ calls it, is probably best with those somewhat familiar and appreciative of Anderson’s work, but don’t be surprised if by the time you finish it your Netflix queue has grown ten-fold and suddenly you’re singing the praises of Elia Kazan, the editing of John Ford, or the trilogy of Bengali director Satyajit Ray. That’s just the one of the pleasant, if not dizzying, effects of exploring Wes Anderson’s work though this immersive archive.