Illusion Travels By Streetcar #8

The cast for episode #8

Joseph Garza Medina
Steve Pulaski
Brian Risselada
Tom Sutpen
Peter L. Winkler


hushmore said...

Anderson suffers from what befell Fellini after 8 1/2, in which he grappled with the conflict between the pressure to be a public spokesman with something to say and the desire to a personal pursuer of dreams. The fantasy press conference where journalists taunt him with "he has nothing to say!" is sort of like Dylan facing a hostile crowd at Newport in the mid-60s. He wanted to make personal music but the folk community and media wanted him to be the conscientious 'spokesman of his generation'. This tension produced their greatest works: 8 1/2 and Highway 61 Revisited/Blonde on Blonde. But immersion into obsessive personalism also made Dylan lose his mind with too much drugs; he wised up and moved onto something else. Fellini didn't wise up. Almost all of his films after 8 1/2 are mindless exercises in self-indulgence, as if even his fart was gift from the gods.

I see RUSHMORE as something like 8 1/2--and also like Death of a Salesman insofar as Fischer is forced to let go of his delusions and face up to reality. I like the push and pull between a boy(or young man)pursuing his outlandish dreams and watching helplessly as his dreams crash-and-burn. It's like the opening of 8 1/2 where Guido flies off into the air, only to be pulled back down to reality. Thus, Rushmore is both whimsical and (mildly)tragic. The tragic and realistic element paradoxically adds to the poetry as the beauty of life is found not only in sweetness but in bitterness. An element of noble failure, of lost cause.

But the accolades from Rushmore may have emboldened Anderson to wallow narcissistic in his neurotic obsessions without much irony or reflection. Gone is the element of doubt, shame, and self-realization. Instead, neurosis has been turned into a joyride at the miniature golf course. His films have gotten bigger but also more infantile.

I sense a passive/aggressive quality in his films. On the one hand, Anderson is something of a maverick who identifies with oddball characters in Rushmore, Tenenbaums, and etc. That's the bold and aggressive side of him. And yet, he's lost without some adult or authoritarian structure to play in. He wants to toss the sand but also the safety of the sandbox.
As individualistic and strong-willed as Fisher in Rushmore is, he also wants to be part of an institution. Indeed, it's almost as if he never wants to leave school--which is like his paradise--and deal with the real world. He wants to be a student forever, dreaming and scheming inside a bubble. And the preponderance of hotels in Tenenbaums and Grand Budapest Hotel suggest as much. Hackman in Tenenbaums is like Fisher in Rushmore as a much older man. His residence in a hotel suggests both nomadism and insularism. He rejects domesticity and responsibilities, but he wants to be coddled, taken care of, watched over. Also, some hotels feel like museums; even as the world changes, they remain the same in decor and service, and one who lives there could believe that time stands still, something we feel in The Shining as well.
And of course, there's the summer camp in Moonrise Kingdom. Again, there's a passive/aggressive attitude toward authority. The oddball kid in Moonrise doesn't fit in and subverts the rules of the camp, but he's also drawn to the camp because it offers a structure against which he can rebel. It's the contradiction we find in Catcher in the Rye. Caulfield is a rebel, but without something to rebel against, he's nothing. As long as he's young, he can pit himself against the school, adults, and parents. But once he's an adult and free to do as he wishes, what is he? Nothing. Thus, he's both hateful of and dependent on authority. Same with Anderson. Anderson indulges in oddballism but oddballism has meaning only within the structure of authority and order, so in an oddball way, he's drawn to authority and order.

hushmore said...

Is Anderson white or Jewish? I recall hearing he's half-Jewish, though I might have heard wrong. Even if not, he seems to have been profoundly influenced by Jewish culture, sensibilities, and creativity. Of course, this is true of everyone in the 20th and 21st century as we all grew up on Kafka, Dylan, Kubrick, Spielberg. Larry David, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Marx Brothers, Freud, Sontag, Kael, and etc. Even so, Anderson seems to be more inspired than most.

The coltrane remark. Why didn't the black guy whup the Jewish or white guy's butt? According to Garza, in the world he grew up in , a badass black guy would beat up the white guy if he was called 'Coltrane' or something like that--though I highly doubt if most rap-obsessed blacks today even know who Coltrane was or is.

But it's foolish to project the world one knows onto the entire world, especially a movie world. The social milieu of Tenenbaums is somewhat fancier than one most of us are accustomed to, and people of a certain social class--black or white--don't act like 'white trash' or homeboys in the hood. Also, both Hackman and Glover seem to be of an earlier generation before black power consciousness took hold in the black community. People feel and act differently in different places and times. Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson certainly didn't act like Roy Jones or Michael Vick. And to expect the world of movies to validate or conform our ideological biases at every turn is a kind of insularity in and of itself. Anyway, the acknowledgement of some measure of racial tension in Tenenbaums seems to suggest that Anderson isn't as insular or fanciful as Hollywood people who give us the Morgan Freeman fantasies of the magic negro. And I like the fact that Hackman is a flawed character like Fischer in Rushmore. Both are willful, jealous, resentful, and self-centered. And they will fight for what they want, if only for the thrill of fighting. The restaurant scene in Rushmore where Fischer gets all jealous over the teacher is both funny and pathetic. The mask drops and we see Fischer as something like knight with eggshell armor. So feisty, so vulnerable. So tough, so childish.

Is insularity such a bad thing? Perhaps the most insular film-maker ever was Ozu. Japan went through the hell of war and defeat, but most of his films register little of that. Ozu never made a film like Ikiru though some of his films do address social problems to a degree. Ozu developed his idea of a perfect style that almost never wavered from the formula. His characters are all about polite manners and the daily rituals of greetings and farewells.
There's a scene in Autumn Afternoon where a war veteran sings a military song in a fun delightful way that might offend some Asians who were tortured, raped, or murdered by the bushel by the Japanese war machine.

If a German filmmaker had done a scene like that with a Nazi war veteran singing Horst Wessel or SS song in some 'cute' manner, it might have been a scandal. And yet, no one calls Ozu on this. And neither do I. I don't find any offense in it because I just see an artist being true to his vision. He's not denying Japanese war crimes but showing how social life is cloistered around certain insular manners and signals.

Sure, we can politicize everything or connect everything to something wicked. Fourth of July celebrates America's independence and birth of freedom, but we can also connect the founding of America with the mass extermination of Indians, the hypocrisy of founders who owned slaves, and etc.
We can denounce animal dolls for rendering cute the horrible bloody world of nature.

hushmore said...

Radical vs insular. Paradoxically, radicalism is also a kind of insularism for radicalism prefers to see everything with a set of narrow theories, which is why we still have Marxist groups who discuss world affairs with 19th century concepts, as if nothing had changed since the days of early capitalism. Or consider Cuba, once a radical nation, that is now a museum that is still stuck in the ideological struggles of the 50s and 60s. Punk culture was insular in its own way. We often overlook the insularity of radicalism because of its conceit of addressing social issues and changing the world. But notice how most radicals hide between the walls of universities and would rather spout the same slogans than see the actual world for what it is. I don't see how Fassbinder, Godard, and Akerman were any less insular than Anderson. Did Godard ponder the real nature of Maoism before deciding to be a 'Maoist'? Or did he concoct his own idea of Marxism-Maoism within the closed bubble of his mind. His so-called Dziga Vertov group had how many members? 2 or 3? And take Akerman's Je Tu Il El where she thinks being radical means standing naked and eating sugar from a paper bag for 20 min. Even Dunham isn't as insular as all that. But radicalism gets a pass all too often because it pretends to deal with oppression and injustice. But really, did some starving African child eat better because a bunch of college students rock-and-rolled to London Calling or some Gang of Four album? Also, with WWII receding into history, with Cold War long over, with the social struggles of civil rights and women's rights having been achieved long ago, radicalism nowadays seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to find some new compelling cause. It doesn't help that the generation that labeled itself as 'radical'--the boomers--are now in the seats of power and don't want successive generations to pull the carpet under them, which is the why the sacred cows of the 60s must not be messed with.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Great comments, hushmore.

Tom, you should invite him to the podcast.

Loye said...

Granted, I'm white, but what exactly would you have had the Danny Glover character do to be "black" in The Royal Tenenbaums? Doesn't suggesting a black character act more black sound a tad questionable? Or maybe I misinterpreted what you meant.

Loye R said...

Just to be clear, my comment was not a response to hushmore. It was a response to the podcast.