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Book Review: “The Wes Anderson Collection,” by Matt Zoller Seitz

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Wes Anderson collectionHere’s what I’ll say first about “The Wes Anderson Collection,” the new, gigantic book about the director’s work by film critic and RogerEbert.com editor Matt Zoller Seitz: If a book is going to be written in this format, it’s hard to imagine a better subject than Anderson, or an author for it than Seitz.

I came at this book, published this week by Abrams Books, with immense expectations, which were more than met. If you’re any kind of Anderson fan at all, you won’t be disappointed. (Disclosures: I interviewed Anderson once, in 1999, while he was promoting “Rushmore.” I’ve never met Seitz, although he and I have occasionally interacted online over the years.)

It’s a simple formula, rendered oh-so-beautifully, described by Seitz as “a tour of an artist’s mind”: for each of Anderson’s seven feature films to date, there’s an essay by Seitz, followed by longer interview between Seitz and Anderson.

The text is surrounded with artifacts, some of them rare:  stills from the movies themselves, storyboards, on-set notes and in some cases, shot-by-shot demonstrations of which films influenced Anderson. Included here are every shot from the yearbook in “Rushmore,” or all the different rooms on the ship in “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” and a few dozen examples of that sort of thing.

The large format makes for a breathtakingly beautiful book, while also giving us a ton of insight into the films themselves. You’ll be reminded of small moments from Anderson’s work that maybe you’ve forgotten about, and the book will also make you want to re-watch all the films at once.

Seitz, who was the first critic anywhere to review one of Anderson’s films (the short version of “Bottle Rocket,” in 1994) contributes essays that are first-rate and the interviews are illuminating as well. The discussion is as far away from the modern-day conventions of celebrity journalism as possible and interviews with directors that you’re probably used to.

If you were wondering “what it was like to work with George Clooney,” or about on-set gossip, or Anderson’s thoughts on that whole strange coincidence about Luke Wilson’s character attempting suicide to an Ellliott Smith song, when Smith later committed suicide, not to mention Owen Wilson’s later suicide attempt, referenced in “The Darjeeling Limited”- you won’t get that here. There’s also virtually no discussion of Anderson’s personal life.

It’s also a good thing Anderson, unlike a lot of directors, actually has interesting things to say about his work, although at times, especially when it comes to the older work, it appears Seitz has given the films deeper, or at least more recent thought than Anderson has. There are quite a few times in which Seitz gives a long disquisition on the the deeper meaning of “Rushmore” or “The Darjeeling Limited” and Anderson’s answer is “hmmm.”

The book points out so many observations about the Anderson canon that seem obvious, but that I’d never considered. I guess I never realized how much of an influence Charles Schultz’s Peanuts- both the comic strip and the TV specials- have had on Anderson’s work- but of course they have. Or the observation that “The Royal Tenenbaums” is set in a version of New York envisioned by someone who’s never been there and knows the city primarily from New Yorker covers. OF COURSE! And I don’t know how I missed that the first scene of “Rushmore” was a homage to “The 400 Blows.”

Seitz has said that he would consider writing similar books about other directors, or perhaps a second edition years from now once Anderson has made more films.   But even if there’s not another volume, “The Wes Anderson Collection” is an unquestionable home run.

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