Identifying motifs in Wes Anderson films

The writer Michael Chabon likens the films of Wes Anderson to “scale models” or “boxed assemblages” built from “the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience.”

These “models” are carefully constructed out of wood and paint, text and image, long tracking shots and carefully framed subjects. Anderson is a meticulous world builder in both visual and thematic construction.

The Life Aquatic was the first Anderson movie I really fell in love with, and as I continue to watch more of them, I find myself pondering just what it is that makes an Anderson film Andersonian. Is it the carefully chosen color schemes or the symmetrical compositions? The recurring themes of family and fracture, of discovery and triumph? Or is it the brief magical flashes of the surreal?

Anderson certainly has a style, and his visual motifs are what I want to explore in this essay.

Machine Visions

This is a fascinating look at how to perform machine learning on a data set: in this case, the visual motifs of Wes Anderson films. Nicely presented too. Better on desktop.

A plea for The Replicant Edit – Snakes and Ladders

Alan Jacobs:

I do not believe that there are any exceptions to the rule that big-budget Hollywood action movies today — within which I include many SF and all superhero movies — possess the following traits:

  • They’re at least 30 minutes too long;
  • Most of that excessive length results from the decision to stage one massive action set-piece too many;
  • The decision to stage one massive action set-piece too many stems, in turn, from the catastrophically erroneous belief that raising the stakes — putting a city or (better) a country or (better still) a planet or (even more better) the universe or (best of all) ALL THE UNIVERSES THERE EVER WERE OR EVER COULD BE at risk — will increase viewers’ emotional investment in the story;
  • In order to turn the screw of tension ever tighter, some characters will be made to behave in ways wildly inconsistent with what they appear to be throughout most of the movie, while other characters will be pressed towards the absolute extremes of heroism or wickedness.

A plea for The Replicant Edit – Snakes and Ladders

Impossible to disagree. I’m yet to see the new Bladerunner film, to which the rest of the short post is concerned, but Jacobs confirms these traits still apply.

That time I was on Halt and Catch Fire

*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up back in the 1970s with such a sweet jacket and bitchin’ mustac— Ok all jokey tropes aside, I got to appear on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire last night as a background extra. (Mild spoilers follow.) This season of the show is set in the 90s, but this episode flashes back to the 70s when Gordon and Donna first meet. My scene takes place during this flashback and is pretty short. Gordon is at a gas station, waiting to use the pay phone. A man (that’s me!) exits the station with a 6-pack of beer, gets into his car, and drives off after Gordon crosses the pavement to the phone. And that was it! But as a big fan of the show — and I refuse to have any chill about this — it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in forever.

My favourite blogger got to be an extra on his favourite TV show.

75 years of Desert Island Discs

To celebrate 75 years of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, The Guardian has selected 75 ‘defining moments’ from the show. Here some highlights:

  • Asking guests to choose a luxury only began on 16 September 1951, when the actor Sally Ann Howes modestly requested garlic – this was still the era of rationing, remember.
  • The singer and comedian George Formby appeared in November 1951. He chose his trademark instrument, the ukulele, as his luxury. But not just any old ukulele. “I’d take the first one I ever had – the one I serenaded Beryl [his wife] with when we were courting, the one I taught myself to play on first of all. It would keep my spirits up, and I might even be able to find a monkey who liked listening to it.”
  • Alfred Hitchcock was cast away on 19 October 1959. Just seven and a half minutes of the interview survive. Plomley asks if he is working on a new film. “I’m planning a psychological film,” replies Hitchcock in that unforgettably slow, mournful voice. “It’s called Psycho. It’s in the nature, shall we say, of a rather gentle horror picture.”
  • In the first of his two appearances, in July 1971, the comic writer and actor John Cleese chose a “life-sized model of Margaret Thatcher and a baseball bat”. On his second appearance, in January 1997, Cleese chose Michael Palin – as long as he was stuffed.
  • The rumbustious Oliver Reed was cast away in November 1974. All that remains is a six-minute segment, which sadly doesn’t include Reed’s infamous luxury – a blow-up doll.
  • The castaway on 15 December 1979 was another legend, the American writer Norman Mailer. He chose “a stick of the best marijuana” as his luxury. “This is illegal talk, Mr Mailer,” says Plomley sternly.
  • The most controversial guest ever, cast away in November 1989 when she was almost 80, was Lady Mosley – Diana Mitford before she married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. Lawley asks her what she felt when she met Hitler. “Of course at that moment he was the person who was making the news, and therefore extremely interesting to talk to,” she replies. “He had extraordinary, mesmeric eyes, and had so much to say. He was so interesting, fascinating.” And the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis? “Oh, I don’t think it was that many,” says Mosley.
  • It is frequently claimed that Brigitte Bardot caused consternation when she asked for “a penis” as her luxury item, only for it to become quickly apparent that she was asking for “happiness”. It’s a lovely story – and completely apocryphal. La Bardot has never been on the programme. The closest we have is artist Cornelia Parker’s choice, in February 2003, of a “solar-powered vibrator”. “Not that I’ve ever used one,” she says, “but I’d love to have the chance.”
  • George Michael’s death this past Christmas Day was accompanied by clips from his memorable Desert Island Discs interview in September 2007 – how often this archive provides a significant memorial. Michael was ready to talk truthfully about his life – the public successes and private traumas – and Young didn’t need to do much more than prompt and pace him. He is likable, funny, clever, highly articulate, painfully honest: he explains how difficult it was to be a young gay man in the 1980s living in the shadow of Aids, and talks movingly of his first love, Anselmo Feleppa, who died from the disease in 1993. He chooses Amy Winehouse’s Love is a Losing Game as his favourite disc – prophetically wondering if she might succumb to unnamed demons – and an Aston Martin DB9 as his luxury.

The popular genie movie that never existed

Amelia Tait for the New Statesman, on a ’90s movie starring Sinbad that never existed but to some Redditors is proof of media conspiracy and/or alternate universe timelines. Obviously.

On 11 August 2015, the popular gonzo news site VICE published a story about a conspiracy theory surrounding the children’s storybook characters the Berenstain Bears. The theory went like this: many people remember that the bears’ name was spelt “Berenstein” – with an “e” – but pictures and old copies proved it was always spelt with an “a”. The fact that so many people had the same false memory was seen as concrete proof of the supernatural.

“Berenstein” truthers believe in something called the “Mandela Effect”: a theory that a large group of people with the same false memory used to live in a parallel universe (the name comes from those who fervently believe that Nelson Mandela died while in prison). VICE’s article about the theory was shared widely, leading thousands of people to r/MandelaEffect, a subreddit for those with false memories to share their experiences.

It was there, just a few hours after the article was posted, that discussions of Shazaam – or the “Sinbad Genie movie” – took off.

The Simpsons “You Only Move Twice”‘ with Hank Scorpio

A couple of things I learned while reading Alan Siegel’s piece for The Ringer about the nearly twenty-year-old(!) episode.

Albert Brooks improvised a lot of his lines as villain Hank Scorpio:

“Albert Brooks is a brilliant, insane ad-libber,” Weinstein said. “We knew that we didn’t have to get the jokes perfect.” During the marathon recording session, Brooks was hard on himself in a way that may sound familiar to those who know his work. “No, that’s not good,” Weinstein recalled him saying. “That’s not funny. Let me try something else.” Weinstein, who has a fantasy of finding the two-hour tape of Brooks as Scorpio and making an extended version of “You Only Move Twice” with it, said that 80 percent of the lines the actor came up with were funny.

“By the end of that session, I don’t think I had another comedy thought in my head for a month,” Brooks said in 2012. “I said every funny thing I had as Hank Scorpio.”

Brooks delivered an all-time great performance, but what made it even better was that while he repeatedly went off script, Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, riffed off of him in character. So in the episode, Homer’s reactions to Scorpio are real.

Secretive, possibly mythical Simpsons writer John Swartzwelder is on Twitter. (He’s the guy behind so many of those classic early episodes.)

Swartzwelder’s frame of reference often fell outside of the television age. His comedy was informed by all sorts of old-timey entertainment — W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Preston Sturges, radio crime dramas. In a New Yorker article published in 2000, fellow Simpsons writer George Meyer described one great Swartzwelder joke as “a horrifying idea juxtaposed with something really banal — and yet there’s a kind of logic to it.”

A Swartzwelderian juxtaposition can be found early in “You Only Move Twice.” After Homer is offered the job from Globex, he shows his family a short film promoting the company town of Cypress Creek. The movie begins with shots of dilapidated buildings and a man saying, “Somebody oughta build a town that works!” The narrator then responds with, “Somebody did!” At that moment, parking meters magically become trees, four different storefronts transform into coffee shops, a dumpster morphs into a coffee cart, and finally — and most disturbingly — a homeless man turns into a mailbox.

Everything’s coming up Milhouse

Mallory Ortberg celebrates (?) Milhouse Van Houten for The Toast:

There is a well-known scene on Parks and Recreation where Ron Swanson describes his coworker Jerry thusly: “A schlemiel is the guy who spills soup at a fancy party. A schlamazel is the guy he spills it on. Jerry is both the schlemiel and the schlamazel.”

Milhouse, too, is both the schlemiel and the schlamazel. Even his best friend’s dad refers to him as “that little weiner kid.”