Sunday, May 18, 2014

A balmy week in Melbourne

Seems like all I am talking about at the moment is the weather.

Last night I took my mum to see two Wes Anderson movies at The Astor. The Astor, for those who don't know, is a wonderful old-time movie cinema in Chapel Street, just this side (south side) of Dandenong Road. The address listed is Melbourne but I'd say it's St Kilda East or maybe St Kilda, not sure where the boundary lies. I always thought Chapel was the boundary.

The Astor does double billings and their choc tops are really good. Old style as well, and big.

So we went along, it was busy. Lots of Wes fans but also, curiously, quite a few older people, like my mum's vintage. They can be Wes fans as well of course. People can have a drink, it's pretty relaxed (though there is a man on the microphone who introduces each movie and woe betide you if you think you can still be looking at your phone after the lights have dimmed ready for the film. Last night he came back on the mike and said 'Still waiting for some of you who still have your phones out.' I reckon he was up the back in the box and could see the lighted phone screens. And there used to be a cat Marzipan who would slink through and sit on people's laps, walk along the top front ledge of the upper seating area.

The Astor Cat

Marzipan died in March last year and her facebook page is still up with more than 2,000 friends.

The double show cost $15. I don't know of a cinema in Melbourne where you can get to see ONE movie for that price. The first show last night was The Grand Budapest Hotel. I'd seen it already with Clokes a few weeks ago when it came out. Like with all Anderson films so far*, I LOVED it. There is something about Wes. His colour palettes, the whimsy and quirk, the nostalgia. The symmetrical framing. Some people, who like to be all serieux with bearded chin in hands and talk about filmography and major versus minor artistes say Anderson is not a major. Well, good then. I think there's something too playful and childlike about his movies for some people. I think possibly they are confronted by, and taken surprise by, the intense emotion that can spring in your eyes when watching these films. You recognise yourself, or you recognise a better self, and either of these realisations can be sad in a way. You miss things about your younger self, or if not, are glad to not be in that place anymore. You meet characters you can admire, but they can be heroic one moment, like M. Gustave in Budapest standing up against the 'Nazis' for Zero the Bell Boy and then in another scene, berating the dogged, faithful Zero for forgetting to bring something, and then lapsing into a nasty tirade about refugees staying where they belong and not getting above themselves by seeking a better life. It's wonderfully nuanced and reminds me of the way Chris Lilley manages to set you up to think one way about a character, lulls you into a false sense of comfort by encouraging you to think it's 'just a comedy' (although some people don't find any of it funny at all) and he lets you think you know that character on the screen because so far it's only a stereotyped view and we can't get away from preconceived notions and then showing Jonah, say, vulnerable and motherless and showing you why he is so angry, reactive and well-defended with all his tagging and swearing and hostile behaviour. He is seeking attention. He is craving someone to show him love and patience and affection. All he gets is the opposite of those but of course it's because he provokes it. (I know there is criticism about Lilley and his cultural appropriation in the Jonah character and storyline. Some people have said it's offensive and I get that. Everyone's going to have a different reaction to this as well as film as well as books. But for me, Jonah is the character with the most pathos about him. And he's realistic. Maybe not a realistic portrayal of the way Tongan boys would behave in general, but surely there's one Tongan boy out there off the rails and in pain like Jonah? Sometimes when people accept stereotypes they expect to then be fixed but that's the very thing about individuals. Maybe Jonah is an example of a boy, just one, and if there's truth in one then that's worth showing. And what's true in Jonah might then be true of other boys of his circumstance, regardless of cultural or linguistic background, and so you get commonalities across large groups of people.

I'd love to hear what other people think about this.

Anyway. Back to Wes. Mum loved Budapest too. Then we watched The Darjeeling Limited, which is possibly my favourite if I had to pick a favourite but it's too hard to separate the joy of Rushmore, Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom. The Life Aquatic I love but maybe not quite as much as the others. I'm not sure maybe I have to look at it again. I cried again in Darjeeling. I see it as a beautiful, sad and real portrayal of family with comments on competing birth order, grief over lost parents, messy relationships, and how people want a spiritual experience and can do all the things, visit the temples, wear the beads and flowing clothes but it's not deep in the end. It's only things that happen in life, the full-on real things, like birth and death, events like these that can cause real transformation. Also that you might be looking for something and you won't find it; it's when you're not looking that things sneak up on you.

I think another reason people poo-poo the Wes is because he uses humour, his films can be so funny, and of course you can't have serious themes and commentary if there is humour, right? No, you must be all self-important and grave. Also his strong styling and occasional use of very fixed and fake-looking sets, in Budapest there were quaint little funiculars and a very faux ski scene which to me was hilarious but others might go what the fuck, it's so fake, couldn't he be more realistic about it? Another thing is actor faces are very blank, they deliver their lines with little affect often, so the whole feel is artificial and stilted (apart from Owen Wilson, in Darjeeling. He is the 'animated' elder brother.)

Me, I love it, all of it. I think Anderson is a genius. I think he was either like the guy in Rushmore or wanted to be like the guy in Rushmore. And the boy in Moonrise. And he is possibly one of the brothers in Darjeeling (although I just looked up an article and it seems that movie came from him travelling around India by train with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. Article here). But yep, he's got two brothers.

24 Things About Wes Anderson

* Apart from Fantastic Mr Fox. I didn't really like that. Not sure why.


Alex said...

Weather's great here. I'm wearing a light coat, shorts, and socks around the house.

I stopped going to the flicks unless my mate at the cinema invites me. 20 bucks is too much for me, unless I know I'm in for a top quality show; and there's just so much shit around these days. When I'm at home, there always seems to be more pressing things to do.

Having said that, I was looking at the computer of someone I know, yesterday, and ended up watching the first 2 Hunger Games movies. I was so impressed, I've spent the rest of the weekend reading the books. They are quite short and simply written, so I've only got a bit left to go on the last one, but I'm quite impressed with those as well.

But back to Anderson. A huge portion of my film watching was done in the 90s, so I probably haven't seen as much of his work as most people have. I definitely remember watching Bottle Rocket, but can't seem to recall anything about it other than that I thought it was ho-hum. I feel like I've seen Life Aquatic and Royal Tenembaums too, but I'm blanking on those as well. Probably not a good sign if I find his films completely forgettable. I do remember Moonrise Kingdom though. Sort of. I remember really liking it up until a point right near the end where I thought it got so silly that I "fell out" of the movie. I don't mind silliness in movies, but I do like to have a fairly uniform suspension of disbelief throughout. I think I've said before that I love Citizen Kane and I love Naked Gun, but I can't see myself loving a movie that's Citizen Kane 90% of the time and Naked Gun for the other 10%.

The same goes for things that are "fake" looking. I love Dogville and it's just a bunch of actors on an empty stage with cardboard cutout props. Everything is left to the imagination of the audience (like a play). But once again, the key is consistency.

As for talking about filmography and how much of an Artiste Anderson is, that's where it all gets a little to wanky for my tastes. I don't much think about directors/authors/artists like that. I like to judge each work on its own merits as much as I can. I think if you start loving or hating a creator too much, you run the risk that half of what you see in their work is stuff you project into it from your own head.

As for Jonah, I did watch the first episode, and like the other Chris Lilley stuff I've seen, no, I did not find it the least bit funny. But then I'm pretty picky when it comes to comedy. And I certainly didn't think it was offensive. I know there's people who think any white person doing black-face, or any man in drag is disgusting, but I'm not one of them. On the other hand, I did wonder if the show would have been improved if they'd just got a young Island fella to play the lead, rather than Lilley in makeup.

The Polynesian side of my family isn't Tongan and I don't really know any Tongans that well, so I can't speak to the level of ethnic authenticity, but from the episode I saw, I don't think that was the point of the character anyway. I think he was trying to portray something that was reflective of circumstance more than culture, as you say. And in that regard, I don't even think it was inaccurate. It's just a shame I couldn't find anything in it to laugh at.

squib said...

I wanted to see The Grand Budapest but somehow missed it. I have seen Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited and to be honest I can't remember them but this could just be a symptom of me getting old. I loved Moonrise Kingdom though, just so visually beautiful and quirky. Also loved Fantastic Mr Fox

Have you seen Frank? And have you seen Fresh Meat yet?

Alex said...

Oooh, new look ...

Very nice.

Tejal Chawla said...

I would love to go to Melbourne. Seems really cool. Visit my blog:
It will help me be excused from one of my final exams.


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