If someone asked me to write a profile of Wes Anderson, I would start with corduroy. His stovepipe corduroy suits, I think, are the key to his personal mythology, one that’s a little bit country earl, a little bit little kid, and a whole lot self conscious. While I too love corduroy, particularly printed skinny wale corduroy, I do not like Wes Anderson. Rushmore was very funny, but Bottle Rocket was boring, The Royal Tenebaums was in love with its own tableaux, The Life Aquatic was boring and in love with its own tableaux, The Darjeeling Limited ditto. (Maybe it all went awry when he started writing titles that start with the somewhat pompous The.) I will see Fantastic Mr. Fox—my father read the Roald Dahl book out loud to me and my brother, and I can still hear him doing the farmer’s voice—but I am worried. As Richard Brody’s new New Yorker profile of Anderson points out…and then fails to follow up on…Mr. Fox is wearing a corduroy suit just like one of Anderson’s. If you were casting the stop-motion animated version of your life, wouldn’t you also want to be voiced by George Clooney?
Brody is an Anderson fan, and his profile is so much better than the recent design and architecture features I have complained about. Brody writes the New Yorker’s film blog, and knows his stuff, and makes a case for Anderson while checking off all the biographical boxes, discussing his retrospective use of technologies and defending his allergy to forward plot momentum. What he obviously does not care so much about is Anderson’s visual world. When I see one of Anderson’s movies that’s all I can see, and I think that is a problem. The people in The Royal Tenenbaums move about their crazy house as if they were stop-motion animated puppets. Fantastic Mr. Fox sounds perfect for him, since he has a team of hundreds willing to do his bidding in a way many actors would not (though he does have his core group). Brody talks about the way Anderson filmed on the street in India for The Darjeeling Limited, but I don’t remember any fluidity or unplanned grace, only the train (above), decorated to within an inch of its life.
To me any deeper understanding of Anderson’s films would have required a look at his life. What does his Paris apartment look like? What’s he wearing? That girlfriend (Juman Malouf) mentioned in passing is a costume designer. Does she have anything to say about the corduroy? Maybe this approach seems shallow, fashionable or all-on-the-surface, but I feel there is a whole visual language that isn’t being explicated in this profile, or in lots of other profiles of people working visibly who aren’t designers. Design criticism isn’t just about designed objects, it should be about everything we are forced to look at.