by Chad Perman
In 1996, two filmmakers—unrelated but sharing the same last name—both released small, personal, independent films into the big wide world. Each film started out, first, as a shorter one—a promising calling card used to get the director’s foot in Hollywood’s door—before finding its legs (and some financing) and being developed, lovingly, into a full-length feature film. The two films, Bottle Rocket and Hard Eight (née Sydney), were quite different on the surface. One was a decidedly quirky comedy, and the other was an intense drama. Yet each film bore the unmistakable stamp of its creator, offering up tantalizing glimpses of style, talent, and vision. Both filmmakers clearly felt a great deal of love and affinity for the characters in their debut films, and both stories largely concerned themselves with the lives of men and mentors, novices and father figures.
The directors, Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight), were both 26 when these films were first released. Both were single, stood around six feet tall, and were almost freakishly well-versed in the language and history of film. Both of their films earned decent reviews and ardent admirers but were then, for the most part, largely ignored by American audiences. Still, the Andersons were young, and only getting started. And the next time around—armed with bigger budgets, bigger actors, and more studio backing—each crafted signature films (Rushmore and Boogie Nights), masterpieces that ultimately ranked among the finest American movies of the 1990s.
Ever since, each auteur has continued writing and directing highly idiosyncratic films—creating worlds that seem to bear their distinctive stamp in nearly every single frame—and has amassed a body of work that, nearly twenty years later, stands among the finest in contemporary cinema. Their visions, though wildly different in approach, content, and style, have remained, always, their own. (Amazingly, it appears the Andersons have never met—or if they have, no one was there to see it—have never spoken about one another, and have kept their careers almost entirely separate in every way. Despite the fourteen films made between them, and the big-name ensembles for which each is often known, only Gwenyth Paltrow has the honor of appearing in both Wes’s and PTA’s work.)
And so it is these “Magnificent Andersons” that we have decided to build an entire issue around this month. Elizabeth Cantwell, Andrew Root, and Michael Arbeiter take a look at three of Paul Thomas Anderson’s seminal films (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love), while Daniel Reynolds, Karina Wolf, Bebe Ballroom, and Michelle Said explore a selection of Wes Anderson films (Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Grand Budapest Hotel). Dutch artist Marieke Pras contributes the first comic to ever grace the pages of this magazine, and Alexandra Tanner ties the whole issue together with a thought-provoking piece on the ways in which each Anderson wrestles with themes of violence and love in their work. It’s a big issue—the largest one we’ve put out to date—and a wide-reaching one, despite its very specific focus.
The title of this issue, incidentally, is not incidental. Lifted, in slightly altered form, from the title of Orson Welles’ follow-up to Citizen Kane (The Magnificent Ambersons), it is meant to evoke both the youthful vigor and the bold artistic reach of Welles, who made Kane at the tender age of 25, and is one of the few overlapping cinematic touchstones that both Andersons site as a primary influence on their own filmmaking. Thankfully, though, neither Wes nor Paul seems headed toward the kind of thwarted, wasted mess that Welles’ cinematic career ultimately became. In fact, each Anderson, now sneaking into his mid–40s, is releasing a brand new film this year: Wes just put out The Grand Budapest Hotel to much critical acclaim—and the best international box office numbers of his career—and PTA’sInherent Vice, based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, is set to be released during awards season this December.
It’s a good year to be an Anderson fan.