AND ON THE CONTINUING EVOLUTION OF AMERICAN FILMMAKERS FROM THE 1970s
The photo above is from 2015, at the New York premiere of Noah Baumbach's Mistress America. That night, Baumbach was interviewed on stage by Wes Anderson. As Anderson's Asteroid City opens in theaters, several new interviews with the filmmaker have been posted online.
Here's a portion from Eric Kohn's interview with Wes Anderson at IndieWire:
Earlier you mentioned how ’70s American cinema inspired you. Many of the filmmakers you’ve cited as your favorites from that period are still working today. What do you make of their evolution as you consider your own evolving body of work?
People are sort of obligated to compete with themselves and everything they do is compared to their earlier work. There’s a certain view that people do their best work as movie directors in their 30s or 40s and 50s, not really their 60s or 70s. They don’t say that about conductors. But with this group, there has been a lot of especially good work from them in their 70s. Martin Scorsese is over 80 and he’s got a big movie coming out. I haven’t seen “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and I wouldn’t say that “Wolf of Wall Street” has the kind of blast of originality and inspiration that gives us “Goodfellas,” but it used all these kind of tools and techniques that he sort of invented. He was working with actors in a way he hadn’t in years, in an improvisational way that he’s so great at it. He made this great, huge movie that’s endlessly entertaining.
Now we see Paul Schrader with a whole set of later movies that are sort of Bressonian, where he’s taken a sort of focus and taken back something for himself. Spielberg’s collaborations with Tony Kushner have produced such interesting work and it’s all later period stuff. Even Frances Coppola who hasn’t made a movie in some time is now making something gigantic. He’s taking on a tremendously personal project he’s been wanting to do all these years. It’s a twist on the whole that’s been interesting and surprising. But I’d say each one has a different kind of virtuosity that’s totally unique to them.
Brian De Palma has given you a lot of guidance over the years. How much has he inspired the way you approach filmmaking?
You could always say that De Palma follows Hitchcock’s path, but a lot of people have followed De Palma’s path. His point of departure from Hitchcock’s influence is so strong. I have tried to do bits like a De Palma scene, setting up a sequence like De Palma would, but it’s almost impossible for me to do. Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson have done scenes where they set things up like De Palma and do it well. Not me. I had to find other things in his work. There are certain things he does that I certainly steal but others that I can’t steal, because I’m not capable of it.
And here's a portion from Nick Schager's interview with Wes Anderson at Daily Beast:
Do you think of yourself as having a distinctive “style?” Or does considering it in that way interfere with the creative process?
I think about how I want to stage a scene, and I might have some ideas about what we’re going to go for, for this particular movie, but that’s probably not the thing you’re talking about. You’re talking about the thing that’s the same, or at least is recognizable—which is to say, “I think I know who might have done this one” [laughs]. That is maybe something I’m in control of, but I’m not in control of what I want. I’m not in control of the way I’d like to do it.
At a certain point, I began to realize, I have a recognizable handwriting that’s beginning to take shape in these movies, and it’s happening because I’m learning something here, and finding something I like to do, and it’s many different things mixed together. It changes, but it’s still somehow [similar].
Is it difficult to stay true to yourself in that way?
I say to myself, do I want to do this? Do I want to force myself to do things in a way that I don’t want to do, or am I OK with making my movies in my way, and accepting this idiosyncrasy of my own voice? I felt like it was right for my stories and the way I was doing them. This is the way I want to do them. It’s not something I deliberately choose to continue. It’s just me doing what I want.
I think the more someone develops a voice, the more it becomes natural, and spontaneous.
I would say I’m aware of some of my own parameters that I like. And I’m aware of the stuff that I don’t want to do. I’m aware of maybe a way that I could shoot something that would be almost unnoticeable. And then there’s my way of shooting, where you say, “Oh, I see, we’re doing it like this. OK.” [laughs] I’m aware of it, but it’s just what I’m actually drawn to for some reason. I’m sure one day, they’ll be able to do some neural analysis and say, here's why you like to do it like that.
Given the homogeneity of so much mainstream American cinema, does being unique pose a challenge, professionally speaking? Or is it still a benefit, since there’s only one you?
It doesn’t do you a lot of good to absorb criticism of your own work unless you’re going to use it. If you’re not really going to use it—if you have your thing that you’re going to do—then it’s not. But I’m definitely aware of, for instance, the idea that a movie director should be able to do things in all different kinds of ways. Why do you work in just this lane? Why don’t you do Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder, and do one that’s a mystery and one that’s a comedy?
Well, for me, every time I start a movie, I feel like I’m doing something completely different. I’ve not made a movie like this before, to me. But people see the continuation of some thread. To me, I think—why do you need me to do the other stuff? You’ve got loads of people! You’ve got so many to choose from! [laughs]
I wish there were more people who were just as strange in their approach as my approach, and that were doing completely different things than me, and also developed their approach like a painter who might have a very recognizable path—this period he’s working in this way, and maybe it shifts a bit, and then maybe it goes elsewhere—but it isn’t like, each step of the way there are things going in all different directions. In cinema, it’s more expected to play in that manner.
There are exceptions, though—right?
Brian De Palma, for example– his body of work, like Hitchcock, really does rely on a certain kind of filmmaking.
There have been a few recent AI-generated trailers that imagine classic movies (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Dune) in “your” style. Have you seen them?
I’ve only been exposed to it verbally. I haven’t seen any of it. Obviously, it’s easy for me to go to the right web page and see it. I choose not to really engage. I guess it’s because I don’t want to get distracted by that. It’s a bit like if you’re told, “Your friend does a great version of you.” Maybe you say, I’d really like to see it, and maybe you say, I don’t want to see a version of me, even if it’s good. It can be like, “Is that me?” That’s not necessarily the thing you want.
At some point, I’m sure I’ll go in there and see. But I’ve never seen a TikTok, for instance, of anything. I’m not going to start with me. [laughs]