Toward the end of 2013, we featured a series of video essays by Matt Zoller Seitz on the films of Wes Anderson. They first came out to accompany The Wes Anderson Collection, the critic’s coffee-table retrospective of that auteur of whimsical handcrafted films’ career to date — to the date of late 2013, anyway. Even then, fans had already geared themselves up in anticipation of the then-imminent release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s eighth and latest picture, which at the moment has resurfaced in awards-season buzz.
The diminishing number of you who have proven still impervious to Anderson’s peculiar brand of movie magic might, actually, feel you’ve heard a bit too much about The Grand Budapest Hotel over the past year or so. What, pray tell, is the big deal? Here to answer that question, we have Zoller Seitz’s brand new video essay on Anderson’s tale of that titular once-grand mountain hotel and the 20th-century Europe of the imagination (eventually giving way to the 20th-century Europe of history) that swirls around and through it.
“All of Wes Anderson’s films are comedies,” says Zoller Seitz, “and none are.” Throughout the following fifteen minutes, he analyzes exactly how, with The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson climbs to the top of both of his personal twin peaks of frivolity and seriousness — or seriousness expressed through frivolity, or vice versa. In the director’s “most structurally ambitious film,” we see not just layers of comedy and melancholy but of history, literature, artistry, and anxiety, all tied in with the Andersonian characters’ endless quest to master their own sense of loss by mastering the world around them — which Anderson shows us, to a fuller extent in The Grand Budapest Hotel, than in any of his live-action movies before, with his own mastery of the world he and his collaborators create.
For another look into what this requires in filmmaking terms, see also “Here’s How Wes Anderson Uses Matte Paintings in His Incredible Set Designs” by The Creators Project’s Beckett Mufson. That interview with Grand Budapest Hotel matte painter Simone de Salvatore reveals, by looking at just one aspect of the whole, how much goes into the design of a Wes Anderson production. Viewers who love Anderson’s pictures, of course, love them in large part for exactly that, and even viewers who hate them have to concede their impeccability on that count. Both groups now have only to wait for this Sunday to see how the Academy feels about it.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.