He’s young, geeky and shy, and he’s made the most life enhancing comedy
you’ll see this year. Wes Anderson shares his enthusiasm for fags, fashion and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. Words: Paul Dale
bullying brutes who like putting their cigars out in
the cupped hands of their second PA and individuals so self-effacing and humble it is diﬁicult to believe they could have created anything without locking themselves in a darkened cupboard for a long time.
Wes Anderson is the latter. At a geeky 6ft, he looks like he hasn’t had a good meal since Thanksgiving. All unruly sandy hair and glasses, he has a curious penchant for American casual clothing favoured by an older guard of directors (heavy purple jumbo cords, thick puce coloured casual blazer and a pastel scarf wrapped high onto his chin thanks to a bout of lovely British influenza). At 32, however, this intelligent, gentle spoken boy from Texas is the great white hope of US cinema, as wild and innovative a spirit to comic drama as Woody Allen was in his day. Critics are beginning to mention him in the same sentence as legends such as Preston Sturges and Jean Renoir.
It’s not difﬁcult to see why. From the opening frame of Anderson’s remarkable debut Bottle Rocket to the ﬁnal scene in his new film The Royal Tenenbaums, there is little doubt that he has a vision steeped in the influence of great ﬁlmmakers and even greater storytellers.
Fixated on failure, hesitation, depression and class envy, he sets his films in rarefied, semi-exclusive worlds. In his last ﬁlm, Rushmore. a boys boarding school was the canvas on which he splattered his eccentricin and tales of meandering madness. In The Royal Tenenbaums, a comedy as poignant as it is idiosyncratic, it’s the sprawling New York home of an old- guard family of fallen geniuses onto which he works his shambolic magic realism. ‘I like characters who have something that they are aspiring to,
F ilm directors fall into two categories. Wheezing,
‘Ben, Gwyneth and Anjelica are from families of high achievers; fame is an issue for
documentary about Hackman that caught me off guard.
‘He was working on this programme at the same time as the Tenenbaums called Inside The Actors Studio and on it he was talking about when his father left his family when he was about thirteen. He and his friends were playing in the street and they see his father drive by and wave from the window, but his dad doesn’t stop and that was the last time he saw him for ten years. He was really choked up when he told the story, but then he comes onto the set and plays this eccentric father who abandons his family. There was no dialogue between us about it, but it was clearly something he could not have helped but tap into.’
Cigarettes and kooky fashion are constant features in Anderson’s ﬁlms. Few who have seen Rushmore will forget the beautiful Olivia Williams pufﬁng her way through sparkling dialogue with the green velour-suited Max Schwartzman and the equally nicotine-stained Bill Murray. ‘I don’t smoke myself, but I like the look of it,’ says Anderson. ‘I just think it’s really beautiful looking and it always photographs well. Also it means there is something edgy, not so wholesome about a character. As for the fashion, I respond to characters having something iconic and strong in the way they dress. Some people comment on how certain characters wear the same thing all the way through my movies; that’s true, but they tend to wear the same thing until something changes in the story,
‘That’s the way in a lot of movies. Look at On The Waterfront or A Streetcar Named Desire: they wear the same thing all the way through, it is just that in those ﬁlms what they wear is very realistic and in mine it tends to be a little odd, kind of invented costumes, so they are more noticeable.’
In The Royal Tenenbaums, Bill
that is beyond their grasp,’ he says. Murray plays Raleigh St Clair, a ‘They are not embarrassed or reluctant the Whale slightly pompous human to try and achieve something. I famﬂy’ behaviourologist who is married to
identify with that.’
Anderson likes to talk in vagaries. Chomskyesque digressions make it difﬁcult to pin him down. He becomes lucid only when he can talk about the work of others and their inﬂuence on his new star-heavy masterpiece. ‘I got really into Salinger, Edith Wharton, Scott Fitzgerald and I was also inﬂuenced by a Kaufman and Hart ﬁlm You Can’t Take It With You, which is one movie I love,’ he says. ‘It was George S. Kaufman, of course, who wrote the book The Royals that I based the Tenenbaums on. I was also looking for New York inﬂuences, so there was Rear Window, a very conﬁned, distinctive NY auteur ﬁlm, and things like The French Connection, The Warriors, Scorsese and The New Yorker magazine.’
The Royal Tenenbaums has a million dollar cast that includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller in roles that seem to reﬂect the dysfunctional nature of their own showbiz families (Hackman excepted). Was this a cunning ploy on Anderson’s part as screenwriter, director and casting obsessive? ‘Well, you know, Ben, Gwyneth and Anjelica are all from families that are high achievers,’ he says. ‘Fame is an issue for the whole family. Anjelica could probably most relate to this story in the character she plays. But it was the revelations that came out in this TV
the elusive Margot Tenenbaum (Paltrow), the adopted playwright fruitcake of the Tenenbaum brood. It is a subtle, funny turn from Anderson’s favourite actor. ‘My favourite performance by him is in Mad Dog And Glory, but I also loved him in Ed Wood. He’s so crazy. I mean, Murray is different. He’s the one actor I would most like to describe as a genius, which is a high compliment I know, but he really can be very surprising. He just seems connected to something I can’t put my ﬁnger on. Things will come out of his mouth which will be the last thing I expected to hear. I also enjoy his company so much.’
Anderson coughs and winces beneath his thick glasses as he expounds on his other heroes, Louis Malle, Roman Polanski and Peter Bogdanovich. ‘Have you seen Saint Jack”? Bogdanovich is brilliant in that; he’s not just a great director, but a fantastic actor.’
Then he starts wiggling in his seat. He needs to go to the plush men’s room in Claridge’s Hotel. We end the interview. He scuttles off. He’ll probably stay in there for a while. It is difﬁcult to believe this shy, evasive man is enjoying all this attention.
The Royal Tenenbaums is on general release from Fri 15 Mar. See review, page 30.
The Tenenbaums may be an odd bunch but they're not the first bunch of filmic famin misﬁts
East Is last The Khans Dad shouts ‘I kill you, you bastard’ to mum a lot while the youngest son slouches on the sofa with his parka zipped right up.
Happiness ’ The Jordans Three sisters with a ﬁstful of ﬂaws. One of them even makes the crucial error of marrying a paedophile and getting a pooch with a taste for spermatozoa.
The Burnhams Dad Lester is i going through a midlife crisis. : which involves wanking in the shower, smoking pot with his daughter's pal and noising up his Wet vet neighbour.
The War Zone
The Unsurnameds ls Flay Winstone‘s ‘Dad' a loving papa or an incestuous beast? Tim Roth’s directorial debut took the fun right out of dysfunction. '
Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Cannibals Family problems here include not having enough 1 human bones to chomp on and ’ buying their adorable son Leatherface the right chainsaw for Christmas.
Foston % The Klingenfeldts An abject lesson in what not to do at your dad's birthday party. such as announcing that he abused you as a child and drove your twin to suicide.
0mm The Flynns 'Are your parents a i burden?’ queries the tagline to Peter Mullan's directorial debut. They are when you have to carry mum's coffin on your own back.
14-28 Mar 2002 THE LIST 1 1