Wednesday, September 05, 2007

beta's night in paris

So I came this close (imagine me squeezing my sore thumb and pointy finger together) to being flown to Paris for a cover story on Wes Anderson. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but who wants to go to Paris in August, much less interview Wes Anderson, whose most brilliant and penetrating work remains a self-mocking two-minute spot for American Express?

Regardless, I rewatched what I deemed my favorite movie of his, Rushmore, as research, only to be reminded that I find Anderson's very act of storytelling to be loathsome. Cute, over-stylized, precious, detail-obsessed to the point of being emotionally circumscribed, I remain unable to put my thumb exactly on what shuts me down whenever someone in mixed company gushes about how The Royal Tennenbaums changed their life. Call it the "IAAOTS" effect.

As consolation prize for not taking that transatlantic trip, I instead went to an afternoon screening of The Darjeeling Limited. The story of three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman) on a continental train through India, it won't soon get mistaken for Jean Renoir's The River, much less A Passage to India, but Anderson has never been about outer landscapes. And for all his hinting at inner landscape (dashed when his characters suddenly state exactly how they're feeling), he hasn't been really about that topography either.

Yet Darjeeling surprisingly is his most emotionally resonant effort, despite his seeming intention to dash that at almost every turn with his over-reliance on soundtrack (synched to sloooow-mooootion movements), meticulous set dec, and too-clever dialogue. Which he does, opting out of a low-key soundtrack of music cues from Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar so as to inject some klassic Kinks and Stones back into the characters' iPods. Even the movie's most emotional and hard-fought scene in India threatens to get dashed completely when Anderson inserts a slapstick flashback. And aside from perhaps a contractual obligation to Ms. Natalie Portman (for getting buck-ass naked for her one scene in a Paris hotel, which was then edited from the film), I still cannot fathom why you have to watch it as a separate mini-movie before the real movie even starts.

When the movie excels is when Anderson slackens the reigns and allows things like gesture and silence to accrue between the brothers. “Maybe we could express ourselves more fully without words” is the suggestion made by Owen Wilson's character. Thankfully, it's then followed. Acting through a thick swaddling of gauze and padding throughout, Wilson at one point unfurls this mask, revealing some truly hideous gashes. Staring into the mirror, unable to deny the truth of his injuries, he then carefully re-wraps his open wounds and mumbles "I've got some more healing to do." The psychoanalysts at US Weekly are gonna have a field day with that scene.

Invoking paparazzi (what's beta blog coming to?), a painter friend recently went out to LA, where he found himself not only at the dinner table with that other Paris, but subjected to the surreal strobe light gauntlet of flashing bulbs as they then made their way to some party. "So what's she really like?" I asked. He remarked that she was in complete control of the circus, expertly playing her part. So as to not post both a video link to YouTube and in one entry, you can look for his potato-head popping up here. He says that the clip does not adequately convey the hallucinatory gauntlet of popping bulbs that accompanied their every step, making for a strange trip down the block.