By Matt Zoller Seitz
[The following is an excerpt from Part 3 of a five-part documentary analyzing the style of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums), commissioned by Moving Image Source, the online magazine of the Museum of the Moving Image. Part 1, on Bill Melendez, Orson Welles and Francois Truffaut is here. Part 2, on Scorsese, Richard Lester and Mike Nichols, here. Part 4 (on J.D. Salinger) will be published April 8; Part 5 (an annotated version of the prologue of The Royal Tenenbaums) will finish out the series April 10. By visiting the Moving Image Source website, you can read the series in transcript form or watch the documentaries by clicking on the "video" button in the right-hand column of the page.]
In Wes Anderson's pantheon of artistic heroes, Hal Ashby holds a special place. The former-editor-turned-director made most of his significant films in a 10-year period bracketed by two political satires, The Landlord (1970) and Being There (1979). In between, Ashby contributed some of the most unabashedly personal American films of an era that produced a disproportionate share of them, including The Last Detail (1973), about cynical sailors escorting a naive young military prisoner to jail; Bound for Glory (1976), a biography of leftist folksinger Woody Guthrie that demonstrated a palpable sense of time and place, and showcased the first-ever onscreen use of the Steadicam; Shampoo (1975), about a womanizing hairdresser screwing his way across Southern California and struggling to open his own place, set against the backdrop of the 1968 presidential election; and Coming Home (1978), a melodrama about a paraplegic antiwar vet, a hardline GI suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the nurse torn between them.
What did Anderson draw from Ashby exactly? At first it's hard to say. In terms of content, Ashby's movies are distinguished by a kind of matter-of-fact political engagement that Anderson, with a few conspicuous exceptions, could not care less about. No matter what story Ashby is telling or what era it's set in, he never sees his characters as purely autonomous individuals; he and his screenwriters are forever aware—and do their best to make us aware—that our personalities, goals, desires, and opinions don't bloom into existence like orchids.
To read the rest of the article, or watch the video, click here.