A Speculative Wes Anderson Filmography (2015-2065)
(illustration by Brianna Ashby)
by Andy Sturdevant
The Dreyfus Affair (2015)
Following two well-received films, Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Anderson writes and directs a bizarre remake of the 1937 Paul Muni biopic The Life of Emile Zola, with Jason Schwartzmann in the lead role as Zola. Though the film wins praise for its meticulous art direction, carefully composed 19th-century Paris setting, and anachronistic Yves Montand soundtrack, critics savage the film. “He seems more interested in getting the waxed mustaches of French military officials correct than in understanding the life of Emile Zola,” complains one. Some over-analytical critics feel the film is a misguided attempt to refute the type of unsentimental naturalism Zola championed; others find this over-analytical criticism ridiculous and suspect Anderson simply wanted an excuse to make a movie with lots and lots of beautiful 19th-century Paris interiors. A slow-motion scene of Emile Zola purchasing a live lobster at the Saxe-Breteuil Market for dinner and silently walking back to his apartment to the strains of Montand’s “Les Feuilles Mortes” is particularly celebrated and/or lambasted.
The Last and Best of the Peter Pans (2017)
Anderson isolates himself in an furnished apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for several months with the complete unpublished works of J.D. Salinger, obtained from an unscrupulous rare book dealer. The screenplay he emerges with is an account of a wealthy young heir (played by John W. Stillman, Jr., son of Whit Stillman, in a breakout performance) who becomes the first male to graduate from a prestigious eastern women’s college. He subsequently strikes up an odd friendship with a self-sacrificing Pakistani ice cream man in Central Park. Some hail it as a return to form. Detractors agree, noting that the form being returned to is the form of “youthful, damaged elites in a romanticized New York City interacting with near-mute foreign-born stock characters.” Reviews are mixed.
The Sisters Tagliatelli (2019)
Anderson seems here to be self-consciously addressing his reputation for consistently writing thinly-developed female characters. “Three chic, mysterious women (Kat Denning, Kristen Stewart, and Emma Watson) silently and mirthlessly sit around an apartment in Venice smoking for two hours and listening to Leonard Cohen,” complains one critic. “Barely a movie,” grouses another. The film is light on dialogue, heavy on “Famous Blue Raincoat.”
Mission: Impossible X:II [aka M:I:X:II] (2022)
Inexplicable commercial forces compel Anderson to step in for an ailing Paul Thomas Anderson to direct Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible XII. Tom Cruise weighs 275 pounds and is former governor of Ohio. Adrien Brody and Luke Wilson play estranged twin brothers that force Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character out of retirement when they threaten to destroy Connecticut with invisible Tesla frequencies. The soundtrack is entirely pre-T. Rex Marc Bolan solo recordings. A box office disaster—and the beloved franchise lies dormant until it is reinvigorated four years later with Sofia Coppola’s reboot, The Impossible Mission.
The Black Maria (2025)
Anderson’s audacious attempt to make a feature-length commercial film using turn-of-the-twentieth-century silent kinetoscopic technology gets him exiled to France for ten years. The film features a grainy, stand-out performance from Anjelica Huston in her final role. The film is celebrated in certain neo-Luddite circles as America enters its sixth SuperRecession in ten years, but distribution is limited. Anderson’s insistence on a live piano score any time the film is publicly screened further cripples the film’s commercial prospects.
Anderson’s 35-years-later sequel to Rushmore, written with Owen Wilson and 100-year old fellow Texan Larry McMurtry, proves one of his most controversial films. Adrien Brody steps in for the tragically deceased Jason Schwartzmann. Max Fischer is now in his fifties and president of Bloom Amalgamated Offshore Manufacturing, Inc. He is confronted with the return to town of Margaret Yang, who harbors a painful secret. All assume Max and Margaret will resume their high school romance. Can these friends find equilibrium in middle age? Mixed reviews.
Seen Those English Dramas! (2037)
A well-received 4D concert film of peerless rock icons Vampire Weekend’s legendary thirtieth anniversary residency at Madison Square Garden. “Two timeless institutions make rock music history together,” enthuses one respected Internet commenter. “A bunch of twee old farts reliving the Noughties,” gripes a college-aged Internet commenter.
Well-Respected Men (2040)
The death of Ray Davies in 2040 at age 96 seems to have shaken Anderson and plunged him into a period of reflection. He isolates himself in an apartment in Lambeth, London for several months. The screenplay he emerges with is an account of two eccentric, emotionally-shattered musician brothers whose 1960s beat group travels from the UK to India in search of enlightenment with a large supporting cast of oddball characters. Internet commenters complain Anderson has been repeating himself for forty years, but Well-Respected Men sweeps the Oscars, including prizes for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and a long-denied award for Best Director. A generation of young American filmmakers, having weathered the hardships of a near-continuous series of SuperRecessions, idolize Anderson and admire the now-vanished, never-was world of affluence and whimsy his characters inhabit. The turbulent 2040s are marked by a resurgence of interest in Anderson’s work in the American film industry. However, by this time, the American film industry is generally considered by the rest of the world to be an inconsequential outpost for crass, post-Empire nostalgia; the world film establishment is unquestionably dominated by Bollywood. The new generation of celebrated young Indian filmmakers are unimpressed with Anderson’s body of work, and his popularity remains a strictly provincial Western phenomenon. The hero of all young Bollywood filmmakers during the 2040s? Andrew Bujalski.
This is Anderson’s final film before War Between the States II: This Time, It’s Personal tears the Republic into small warring factions in 2049, bringing large-scale American film production to a halt. Anderson retires to a villa in the People’s Republic of Greater Maine, where he dies peacefully in April 2065.
Andy Sturdevant is a writer and artist living in Minneapolis. He has written about art, history and culture for a variety of Twin Cities-based publications and websites, including mnartists.org, Rain Taxi, Mpls. St. Paul, and heavytable.com. He also writes "The Stroll," a weekly column on art and visual culture in the neighborhoods of Minneapolis-St. Paul for MinnPost. Many of these pieces are collected in his first book, Potluck Supper with Meeting to Follow, published by Coffee House Press in 2013.
Editor’s note: in honor of today’s release of Wes Anderson’s brand new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, we are running Andy Sturdevant’s essay from the inaugural issue of BW/DR Magazine on the site today in its entirety, for the very first time, for free. Happy Wes Anderson Release Day!
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
The Day Of The Jackal And Getting On With It
by Alexander Newton
All films have style, but a ‘stylish’ film has come to mean something else entirely. It implies certain cinematic elements are being telegraphed in some provocative or appealing way, like a spoonful of icing that tantalizes the palate. In this regard, no one would ever single out The Day Of The Jackal as being particularly stylish. The plot is simple yet tedious, the images well-crafted but not overly stimulating, the acting good, but at times a bit stuffy. The film as a whole, in all of its cold objectivity, never claims to be anything other than what it is, nor does it go out of its way to impress you. It has larger concerns.
The Day of the Jackal's partially factual, partially fabricated story follows the scrupulous plans of a hired assassin in pursuit of French President Charles de Gaulle during the summer of 1963, and, in parallel fashion, also covers the inner workings of the authorities determined to stop him before he completes his objective. It has all the makings of a potboiler—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that—except that the film’s true style precludes it from such overwrought trickery: everything here is just, well, dull. And that’s the trick. Because when it comes down to getting the job done, as its eponymous character notes, one simply can’t afford to be emotional.
The music is nearly nonexistent (if a revisionist trailer were to be made, however, I’d be tempted to go against everything being said here and suggest this track). The images are just as muted. What the film offers up instead is a collection of silent and curious set pieces: a leisurely night of planning on the couch, where all of three words are written down—How-Where-When—followed by a check mark next to How before the light is switched off; a Parisian apartment where a house key’s shape is lifted and imprinted into clay; a stroll through a flea market where an old blazer, a beret, and a set of vintage military medals are purchased. The meaning behind these happenings is left to the viewer to decipher. The Day of the Jackal won’t be holding any hands as it moves along.
The film employs plenty of zooms and long lenses, staples of 1970s filmmaking which have since become a clichéd nod to the era (e.g. Spielberg’s Munich). Here they are used as a way of finding the story amidst larger real life situations, adding a healthy dose of authenticity to the atmosphere. The climax was shot in this manner, formed around a real parade where onlookers, unaware of the production, were shocked to see ‘suspects’ being stopped and hauled off for questioning.
Many thrillers today are still following this cinematic tradition—protagonists continue to run through crowded city squares where, every now and again, bystanders can be caught quizzically gazing into the camera lens. But Jackal differs from its contemporary cinematic offspring when it comes to its emotional DNA. Unlike many thrillers dripping with dewy melodrama, The Jackal is not a sociopath constructing some elaborate puzzle by scattering purposeful pieces about for earnest authorities to track down, nor is he a religious fanatic driven by events later learned about in flashbacks set in exotic locales (the often shoddily concocted global-friendly tactic clearly designed for better box office returns). Instead the man behind this film’s dreaded moniker is that most frightening of things – ordinary. The film relays that he’s a contract killer, paid to complete a mission, and that he will see the job through. Anything else that’s deduced is done merely from one’s own observations. Few, least of all the aforementioned Spielberg, would dare be this disinterested in character motivation.
Since all the usual melodramatic and bombastic cues are nowhere to be found, one’s sole responsibility as a viewer becomes to take in the film’s details, both large and small. The old man hired to build the Jackal’s unique rifle who inexplicably wears a mourner’s black armband. The hotel housekeeper who, when questioned about a guest who may have spent the night with the Jackal, confirms she’s certain two people slept in the bed because, as she deadpans, “You can always tell.” The considerable amount of chain smoking (somebody seems to have one lit in nearly every scene). Commissioner Lebel’s frantic and varied list of demands as dictated to his aide at the start of the round-the-clock manhunt:
- a camp bed with linens
- something to wash in
- shaving products
- a percolator and lots of coffee
- the best person on the switch board with 10 outside lines to be open 24 hours a day
- immediate calls to the homicide divisions in Holland, Belgium, Italy, West Germany, South Africa
The investigation itself, a full-on study in exactitude, is both painful and inspiring to behold. Consider the 8,041 passport applications that need to be checked manually. “You’ll be there a week,” their supervisor says, and sends over more staff. They skip lunch in order to speed up their efforts. Ties are loosened, top buttons undone. When they finally find their suspect, in one of the comically over-sized record books, they must still go through the minutia of dialing on a rotary telephone before they can convey the news.
As the film progresses, the authority’s ability to crunch its data slowly begins to catch up with its target. The 21st century can rightly laugh at all the fussing over manila folders and card catalogs, the agonizingly endless searches that could now be conducted in a few seconds on Google. Innovation would no doubt speed up their movements (and the film’s pacing) as well as greatly improve their chances of success were it made today, but that would be a Jason Bourne film—a whiplash affair where every intelligence employee is five seconds away from a coronary at all times while barking at their computer screen. The meticulous analog nature of The Day of the Jackal's world allows for quieter moments instead, like meetings between colleagues in smoke-filled pubs where years of established trust are put to use in moments of crisis, or ponderous late-night card games over whiskey and cigarettes that just might help spur the next day’s new directives. In this world, all things take time, and sleep is a definite sign of weakness. It stands to reason that work of a creative or intense nature might best be accomplished in the wee small hours of the morning, when the unfettered mind has time and space to stretch out and do its thing. and that is on full display here: the entire film is caught in a lurid state of determinism.
Whether it’s the assassin, his pursuers, or the filmmakers (inspired by Frederick Forsyth’s novel), there is never anything as important as simply executing the next step towards completing the mission. And why not: there’s nothing worse than the forced and shallow quibbling that’s often tacked on to these types of films. A screenplay will often overcompensate in the hopes that it can elicit empathy for individuals who otherwise spend their waking lives hunting and killing people, when in truth such characters need only a hint of flavor to keep things moving. Jackal clearly subscribes to this theory. The weepy complexities and elaborate backstories will be better served in other worlds; the mission statement of the entire enterprise is, quite simply, to get on with it.
The film’s most formidable weapon on this front has to be its transitions—nothing but hard cuts slamming up against one another, occasionally jettisoned by overlapping dialogue. The scenes themselves are composed of openings or closings with their halves lopped off, as if to say you get the idea. Its quiet and ferocious pacing accelerates right up to the very end, when the parallel structure of Jackal vs. Authority vanishes entirely, leaving one to hopelessly scan crowded images for a recognized face, an expression, a gun barrel, any hint at all of what’s to come, and how, and from where. Every step of the way has been predetermined, and yet there is a definite uneasiness here. Ultimately it should be assumed de Gaulle survives, but the pseudo real-time methodology that has been in place all along now fuels a creeping and enthralling uncertainty that can’t be denied.
Steven Soderbergh, a devoted fan of the film, has said there is no logical reason for The Day of the Jackal to be as riveting as it is. “You know de Gaulle’s not going to be killed…and yet that movie’s two hours and 15 minutes, and I could watch it once a week.” Some works warrant such obsessive revisits - the track that begs to be put on repeat, the paperback that develops a crumpled spine. These kinds of creations always contain some kind of notable and rare element missing from everything else that’s consumed and then quickly lost to the ether. In this case, the key must be the hypnotic, methodical rhythm which exists not to enthrall or embellish, but to detail and inform. It’s ultimately why this seemingly unstylish affair is in truth a relentless beast, one best initiated at day’s end, when there’s ample time for the brain to soak in all that nourishing tedium.
Alexander Newton works in distribution for independent film and is a freelance video editor for companies such as Vice and The New York Times. He lives in Brooklyn where he is currently finishing a draft for his first feature film.