Peanuts. Saul Bass. François Truffaut. J. D. Salinger. Jacques Cousteau. Satyajit Ray. Roald Dahl. Star Wars… The Wes Anderson Collection, a hardback “tour of an artist’s mind”, makes one thing abundantly clear: for all the neat, aesthetic unity of his work — whether set in a crisp public school, on vivid turquoise oceans, in autumnal stop-motion countryside, or beneath the baking sun of India — there is seemingly no limit to the variety of Wes Anderson’s influences. In an eye-wateringly eloquent introduction, novelist Michael Chabon praises Anderson’s “total command of detail” and describes his work as having a “‘miniature’ quality”, comparing it with the work of artist Joseph Cornell, who arranged found objects in display boxes. Well, ‘boxed’ here you’ll find a Devo LP, an early drawing of Snoopy, a Monopoly Community Chest card, a painting by Hans Holbein The Elder, a copy of Frank Herbert’s Dune, a one-sheet for The Apple Dumpling Gang and a series of grabs from Marion’s drinking contest in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
As you’d expect, all this is assembled alongside behind-the-scenes photography, storyboards, concept art, prototype models, mood boards, full-bleed film stills and storybook-style illustrations which chart Anderson’s career. Writer Matt Zoller Seitz, though, doesn’t cut through this with a single, narrative line. This is not a biography, and Seitz’s insights are more into the work than the man. For each film he provides a short essay, followed by a sprawling interview transcript. These appear to be barely edited, complete with digressions and rambling questions; at one point, Sietz expounds a “grand unified theory” for 31 lines and is met with an equivocal, “Hmmm.” In his preface, Seitz fairly warns us that this is “a book-length conversation”, less an interview than “a long talk between a filmmaker and journalist who know each other pretty well”.
If this feels undisciplined, perhaps even professionally indolent, it at least matches the copy to the appealing ‘rawness’ of the visual materials, not entirely unlike those strange, random trinkets plucked from thrift-stores and arranged so artfully by Cornell. It is hard to imagine a single one of Anderson’s (metaphorically) brown-corduroyed acolytes feeling let down by this book, or that they’ll learn nothing new from it. Empire’s favourite Thing We Learned from The Wes Anderson Collection? “Roman Coppola is actually member number one of the Star Wars fan club”. Although Anderson himself — naturally — wasn’t “ever a member of anything...”
Reviewed by Dan Jolin