Song of the Day #4,837: ‘Ooh La La’ – The Faces

I’m wrapping up my two-week deep dive into the films of Wes Anderson with a few summarizing thoughts and a look at my newly revised rankings.

The average shift from my old Wes list to the revised one was 1.4 slots per movie, with four of the nine not moving at all. The only films to move more than one position were Moonrise Kingdom and Bottle Rocket, which basically swapped their spots. Generally, my reactions were reinforced rather than changed by this rewatch.

In searching for some grand unifying theory of Wes Anderson, I came up with a few themes that are likely obvious to fans of his work.

The dynamic between parents and children is present in almost all of Anderson’s film, perhaps stemming from his parents’ divorce when he was 8. The Royal Tenenbaums most directly reflects his own family dynamic, but absent (or dead) mothers and fathers figure in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Isle of Dogs.

Only Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s one film adapted from another’s work, portrays an intact family unit. The other films depict characters forming new families with schoolmates, colleagues or friends (including man’s best friend in Isle of Dogs).

Another recurring motif is the use of framing devices (books in Budapest, Tenenbaums and Fox; a stage play in Rushmore; a documentary film in The Life Aquatic). Four of his films feature narrators.

Then you have Anderson’s distinct, often polarizing, visual style. The use of symmetry, consistent color palettes, title cards, insert shots, swish pans, the adherence to 90 degree angles… I can’t think of another filmmaker whose stamp is so easily identifiable. Most directors have go-to shots or compositions, but nothing so pervasive.

I get why some people are turned off by Anderson’s technique. It can be exhausting, even oppressive, if you aren’t in the mood. But I love the idea of a director bending the medium to his will, using the same tools as everybody else but creating a style entirely his own.

Finally, during this deep dive I latched on to a line from one of Anderson’s earliest films, Rushmore, as a sort of key to his whole filmography.

“Sic transit gloria… glory fades,” Max Fischer says when introducing himself to Miss Cross, before deciding he will impress her by saving the soon-to-be discontinued Latin course.

Glory has faded for the child geniuses of The Royal Tenenbaums, and for the aging ocean explorer Steve Zissou. For the former chicken thief Mr. Fox, resigned to domestic life, and the depressed adults of Moonrise Kingdom who fail to see the spark ignited in the young runaways.

Glory has faded for the three brothers of The Darjeeling Limited, spiraling with grief, and for the dogs on Trash Island, banished from their comfortable lives to a remote hellscape. For the young wannabe thieves of Bottle Rocket, disillusioned and dejected before they’ve even reached their mid-20s, and for misunderstood Max and miserable Mr. Blume in Rushmore.

And glory has certainly faded at the Grand Budapest Hotel, a once majestic and lively establishment reduced by war and economic decline to a sad shell.

Anderson’s next film, The French Dispatch, has been described as a love letter to journalism — talk about a glorious but fading institution.

All that fading glory, and yet Anderson’s films always manage to end on a high, if bittersweet, note. He’s interested in redemption, rebirth, second chances. Behind all the deadpan humor and fastidious framing lies a wounded but still beating heart.

Wes Anderson’s films, ranked:

1. Rushmore (1998) – No change from previous ranking
2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Up six slots
3. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – Down one slot
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – No change
5. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Up one
6. Isle of Dogs (2018) – Down one
7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) – No change
8. Bottle Rocket (1996) – Down five
9. The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – No change

[Verse 1]
Poor old Grandad
I laughed at all his words
I thought he was a bitter man
He spoke of women’s ways
“They trap you, then they use you
Before you even know
Well, love is blind and you’re far too kind
Don’t ever let it show”

[Chorus]
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger

[Verse 2]
The can-can such a pretty show
Will steal your heart away
But backstage back on Earth again
The dressing rooms are grey
They come on strong and it ain’t too long
‘Fore they make you feel a man
But love is blind and you soon will find
You’re just a boy again
[Piano Solo]

[Verse 3]
When you want her lips, you get her cheek
Makes you wonder where you are
If you want some more then she’s fast asleep
Leaves you twinkling with the stars
Poor young grandson, there’s nothing I can say
You’ll have to learn, just like me
And that’s the hardest way, ooh la la
Ooh la la la la, yeah

[Chorus]
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,837: ‘Ooh La La’ – The Faces

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    It’s nice that you so love Anderson’s style that you are a fan of each new entry into his filmography. For me, his style and technique, while fresh when I saw Royal Tenenbaums, has become less interesting and more annoying as he returned to the same well time and again, rather than doing what other great directors (and artists) do in expanding beyond their one trick.

    • Clay says:

      I appreciate that you aren’t a fan of Anderson”s work, but I think it’s unfair to dismiss him as having one trick. One could say the same thing about Alfred Hitchcock, whose movies all had an incredibly distinctive style. Or Tarantino, Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, Woody Allen and Spike Lee. You know you’re watching a movie by one of those directors without being told.

      If you don’t like the style, of course that’s a bad thing. But regardless, I think we need more directors with a visual language and point of view distinctly their own.

      • Dana Gallup says:

        I would say most of the directors you named, while perhaps having a few unique signature techniques have varied, sometimes considerably, from the type and style of film for which they were otherwise known – and have made more interesting movies as a result.

  2. Peg says:

    I truly enjoyed your deep dive with Anderson. I’m not sure how to rate my favorites as some I would definitely have to see again. But I know The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Royal Tennebaums’s are one and two. Since I recently watched Isle of Dogs and truly love dogs I probably would place it at 3. Also I found your commentary just wonderful ❤️

  3. Amy says:

    Love this love letter to Anderson’s films and your deep appreciation for his style. I’d like to see a few of these films again (perhaps without Dana 😜) to give them a fresh look as your analysis has piqued my interest.

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