If cinephiles spend a lot of time studying Wes Anderson films, it’s for good reason. Over the past two decades, the writer-director has emerged as arguably one of the most aesthetically unique filmmakers working in the industry today. One film buff, aficionado, and well-respected critic in particular has made a sweet little side career for himself studying Anderson’s filmography. That man is Matt Zoller Seitz, and in this five-part video essay, dubbed “The Substance of Style,” he digs deep into the other filmmakers and bards who influenced Anderson.
The roughly 50-minute exploration actually dates back to 2009, when Zoller Seitz made the series for the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York. It was reposted in late 2013 to correspond with the release of Zoller Seitz’s first book on Anderson, “The Wes Anderson Study.” Now — three weeks after the February 10 release of Zoller Seitz’s updated tome, “The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel” — is a great time to revisit the series and take a keener look at Anderson’s influences, considering his films that have come out since the videos were first produced.
With two books on his subject, positions as editor-in-chief for RogerEbert.com and TV critic for New York Magazine, and a Pulitzer Prize in Criticism finalist, it’s safe to say Zoller Seitz knows what he’s talking about, and he does so with passion. Right off the bat, he claims “Wes Anderson has established himself as the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation” who is “supremely confident in his knowledge of film history and technique.”
“An artist and a prince’s personality,” Anderson’s influences are many and (perhaps surprisingly) quite varied, according to the respected critic. In fact, Zoller Seitz breaks them up, devoting different videos to individuals or groups. In the first video, he examines Anderson’s greatest influences: Orson Welles, François Truffaut, and…”Peanuts” (as in, Charlie Brown).
Zoller Seitz clarified back in 2009. “When I interviewed Anderson for a 1998 Star-Ledger article about ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas,’ directed by the late animator Bill Melendez, Anderson cited Melendez as one of three major influences on his work….” and then broke down a number of instances in which Charlie Brown served as a model for specific Anderson characters. “But,” Zoller Seitz continued, “Schulz’s impact manifests itself in deeper, more persistent ways—particularly in Anderson’s characters who, regardless of age, seem, like Schulz’s preternaturally eloquent kids, to be frozen in a dream space between childhood and maturity.”
The second of the five videos explores similarities between Anderson’s films, and those of Martin Scorsese, Richard Lester, and Mike Nichols.
The next two videos are devoted to a sole artist each. Video three compares Anderson to Hal Ashby, with emphasis on “Harold and Maude.” From the get-go, the point is very well-made. The fourth part diverts focus from other filmmakers, turning rather to how Anderson was influenced by J.D. Salinger. It professes, “Both Anderson’s privileged settings, and his articulate, gregarious, but often naïve and maladjusted characters are Salinger-esque.”
Finally, the fifth installment is an annotated prologue to “The Royal Tenenbaums” that showcases and amalgamates Zoller Seitz’s entire thesis.