Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

I haven't read many reviews of Wes Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom (which just made it to us here in our own little moonrise kingdom).  But I can well imagine that this might prove to be a divisive film.  Those who like Wes Anderson but think he goes a little heavy on the quirkiness - those who like him in spite of his style, in other words - might find this one a bridge too far, while those who like him because of his style might decide this is his best film yet.  I'm in the latter jamboree.

For a description of that style and how it's manifest in this film I'd commend you to Jim Emerson's description.  I agree with every word except two.  He writes:
How many more distancing devices can we get?
Now, I think I know why he's calling Anderson's obsessions "distancing devices."  That is, they are such from the point of view of traditional Hollywood filmmaking, which developed a film language of shot designs, acting styles, editing techniques, etc. that we have all become so thoroughly accustomed to through repetition that their use allows us to, or seduces us to, forget that we're watching a film, an artificial creation, and believe that we're watching real life unfold before our eyes.  This point of view privileges realism, and therefore artifices that produce an illusion of realism.  Artifices that are thought to destroy an illusion of realism, that take us out of the suspension of disbelief, are thought to do so by distancing us from what should (from the p.o.v. of realism) be an intimate immersion in story.  That is, if we're thinking about shot composition or set design rather than story, it's because shot composition or set design have alienated us from what should be the natural experience of watching a film.  Turned what should be an emotional catharsis into a coldly intellectual exercise.

This privileging of realism, of immersion in the illusion of reality, is the film-world equivalent, I think, of the mid-20th-century literary fetish for clear, direct prose in fiction - the Hemingway-inspired worship of journalistic writing as the most effective and truest because it rejects all the Victorian ornamention of rhetoric.  Style, in this view, is essentially a distraction from what should be the business of fiction:  telling stories.  Communicating.

As a lover of popular fiction and popular film I can see the utility of such prose, or such filmmaking - as I wrote about Walter Mosley, I love to be immersed in a good story almost more than anything else.  But I no longer, and I'm pretty sure Jim Emerson no longer does either, believe that this point of view is right or true in any absolute way.  In other words, we're long past the point where many of us would seriously argue that the realist point of view should be privileged, should be the norm. 

So the term "distancing device" doesn't work for me when describing Wes Anderson.  Partly because he takes these devices so far, particularly in this film, that immersion in style becomes immersion in story.  This is another way of saying that here, to a degree not quite true of his previous live-action films, story and style are utterly fused.  You can't separate the story being told from the way that story is told.  Well, you never can - the invisibility of the Hollywood realistic style is a kind of deception, as we all know - but in any case I don't find "distancing" as a concept to be informative when talking about Anderson's style in this film.  I want another concept.

I found this film as fascinating as his others for its art direction, its scene construction, its camerawork and editing.  But I also found it utterly entrancing and even moving on an emotional level.  The term "distancing device" seems to say that this shouldn't be possible.  But it is.

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