Thursday, November 05, 2009


A few weeks back, I posted here how I attended a Q&A with Pedro Almodovar as part of the New York Film Festival. During the interview, it came out that Almodovar worshipped at the altar of John Cassavetes. Which was uncanny, as the man who fathered American independent film isn't necessarily the first person to spring to mind when I think of films like Live Flesh and Bad Education (though I did parse that a scene from Opening Night was appropriated for Almodovar's All About My Mother).
Anyhow, in the interim, I have had Cassavetes' name invoked time and time again. First is in a recent NY Times fluff piece feature about Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are. In my review of the film for Paste, I bemoaned the film's "infantile dialogue" and "plot devoid of conflict," spurring a reader to comment that I needed to "read Eggers' adaptation prior to seeing the movie...(so as) to pick up on a lot more of the subplot." Which I uh...geez, really? I need to read an adaptation of a children's book (but not the original book itself) in order to understand a movie that children (and or immature adults) will go see? Per the Times piece, it says that Spike Jonze and screenwriter Dave Eggers modeled such inanity on the films of Cassavetes.
Not even a few weeks on, I came across Richard Brody's fluff piece feature on Wes Anderson's new film, an adaptation of a Roald Dahl book Fantastic Mr. Fox, in the New Yorker. While we are fellow UT alums, Anderson is not my favorite director of the past generation. In my review of The Darjeeling Unlimited, I unpacked my distaste for his previous efforts:
Anderson’s men still behave like petulant children in the throes of arrested development, while the women—be they Margot Tenenbaum or Eleanor Zissou—are chilly and hastily sketched, serving mainly as objects of desire for the male leads to place on pedestals. All of Anderson’s characters blindly stumble about, emotionally estranged from family, relationships, themselves, and ultimately reality. And yet for all of their personal tumult, they exist in a cute, stylized world as tidy as any play or book.
Needless to say, Darjeeling did little to alleviate such concerns, existing in a bubble outside of modern-day concerns. (And Slate's grousing about Anderson's films and "the clumsy, discomfiting way he stages ineractions between white protagonists --typically upper-class élites-- and nonwhite foils" is dead-on but a whole other can of worms.) The piece asks if Anderson's films are apolitical, to which he responds: "The politics in them is the politics among the characters."

The Brody piece then reveals that a big influence on The Darjeeling Limited is Cassavetes' 1970 film, Husbands, about three grieving friends who go on the bender to end all benders: "'They're all on the cusp or in the middle of some kind of meltdown," Anderson said. "(We) watched 'Husbands' together and we really felt connected to it.'" For a director hellbent on lazily falling back on clichés: this stylized Louis Vuitton baggage made by Marc Jacobs explicitly for me represents "emotional baggage"; my female leads should be seen and not heard; these bandages mean he's emotionally injured, too; "rather than have my characters engage in agonizing yet crucial dialouge, I'm going to deploy a Elliott Smith Kinks song instead," this is unfathomable. I'm hard-pressed to think of a director less interested in what actually goes on between his characters and aesthetically unwilling (or wholly incapable) of deploying language and dialogue to chart or capture inchoate emotions to unearth said politics. Save for maybe Spike Jonze.
For two directors that trade in cleverness, stylishness, and neat'n'tidy characterizations, not to mention eternal childishness, can they be more any more opposed to the femme-centered, mentally-messy, confounding, irrational, uneasy, emotionally-draining, raw, yet totally mature and adult films of Cassavetes?