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Michael Chabon (#110 of 7)

Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection

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Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection
Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection

Reading and flipping through The Wes Anderson Collection, which is one of the most purely beautiful films books to be released in recent memory, one is immediately struck by the rightness of the subject/author pairing of director Wes Anderson with critic and House Next Door founder Matt Zoller Seitz. Both have misleadingly delicate sensibilities as artists, as they both produce work that’s characterized by a guiding benevolence that’s bracing, but dangerously prone to distracting the inattentive eye away from the underlying toughness of their respective worldviews. In Anderson’s films, as well as Seitz’s writing, human life is a great bruising, relentless, terrifying entity, and all the more precious for it.

The Wes Anderson Collection is organized in a fashion that’s as rigorously and deceptively straightforward as either artist’s work. A poignant introduction by author Michael Chabon kicks things off, with Seitz then proceeding to address each of Anderson’s seven films in chronological order. Each film merits its own section of the book, all of which are more or less of equal length, and each of those sections opens with an essay by Seitz that follows with a long interview in which he and Anderson discuss the director’s working methods as well as a few tellingly stray personal anecdotes that provide social and practical context. Interspersed throughout is an exhaustive collection of pictures, footnotes, annotations, asides, illustrations, and storyboards that collectively capture the intricate personal obsessiveness of the world as offered in Anderson’s films.

Language As Body Horror Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet

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Language As Body Horror: Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet
Language As Body Horror: Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet

It’s no hyperbole to say that language defines us as a species. It allows us to communicate on a level required to develop peculiarities like art, history, science, and religion, laying the way for our unique place among animals. In The Flame Alphabet, Ben Marcus imagines our species becoming allergic to this ubiquitous byproduct of its civilizations. In it, language becomes so toxic in all its forms that communication itself becomes a lethal plague that only children are immune to. One might imagine the result to be a descent into feral post-apocalypse, with humans becoming more overtly animalistic, but Marcus surprises with a truly strange, original vision of a post-linguistic world.

The novel is a first-person account told from the point of view of Sam, a husband and father. We see the unfolding epidemic through his eyes, from its early phases where children like his daughter Esther become the primary vectors, to the total societal breakdown that follows. Complicating things is the fact that Sam and his wife Claire are members of a deeply secretive sect of Judaism. These “forest Jews,” as they are known by detractors, keep their faith secret, worshipping around hidden “Jew holes” that transmit radio sermons from unknown sources, activated by inserting orange wires into bilious, bag-like conductive devices called “listeners.” This religion turns out to be of special interest to some once the language toxicity spreads.