by Andy Sturdevant
“I read this article that said all the Italian workers at Cinecitta are saying, like, ‘He’s the Maestro, he’s Fellini, come back to life!’”
– My friend Dave on Wes Anderson’s work on The Life Aquatic, 2005
“I’d blown it, Friedkin had blown it, Altman went into eclipse, one flop after another, Francis went crazy, even Raging Bull didn’t do any business. Everybody kind of blew it in varying shapes and sizes.”
– Peter Bogdanovich, 1997
“His often damaged characters are viewed in a compassionate light.”
The Dreyfus Affair (2014). Following two well-received films, The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012), 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isolates himself in an furnished apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for several months with the complete unpublished works of J.D. Salinger, obtained from an unscrupulous rare book dealer.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.
Rushmoreville (2035). 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, butWell-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. 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.