THE LANDMARK ON WEST PICO by Noah Buschel

I recently saw Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, in limited release, surrounded by other under-40-year-old white people. It was a clean theater with ferociously terrific air conditioning, and the scent of early summer suntan lotion, and the thrill of early summer promise in the air. Here we all were. And Wes Anderson had tailor-made his tailor-made movie just for such a crowd. Just for such a scene.

Before the trailers, in the seat ahead of me, the girl in the newsboy hat talked about Lena Dunham’s Girls. About how everyone should leave the show alone, stop questioning its politics or lack thereof, and how there was nothing wrong with a little youthful navel gazing after all. Not everything, she declared, had to be, like, socially relevant to everyone everywhere. Her partner—who I sensed, like me, had been dragged to this movie by his girlfriend—wondered out loud why the four actresses that made up the cast of Girls were all the daughters of celebrities. He mumbled that watching four celeb daughters imitate regular 20-somethings was sorta like watching Will Smith pretend he wasn’t one of the aliens in MIB 3. It was a cheap shot and his beloved huffed and puffed and turned her attention to Zooey Deschanel’s Siri commercial on the big screen. The commercial seemed to soothe her frayed nerves.

The theater was packed like an airplane on Thanksgiving Eve, but no one was going anywhere. This was a movie that had to be seen. This was a movie that would be central to small talk conversations in the coming months. My girlfriend went to go piss, and I had a while to explore the tattoos that went up and down the guy’s arm next to me. There was a Chinese dragon, a Native American owl, something in Hawaiian about surfing, a Talmudical turtle, John Belushi’s face, and the logo for Best Western hotels.

I remembered back to being in high school, and cutting class, and going to see Bottle Rocket matinees four or five times in the empty and ratty basement theater of the Imax on 68th and Broadway. That was before Wes Anderson got the budgets to make big dollhouses—dollhouses so big you could run away from your own self in them. And Owen Wilson was his co-writer. Together they made a character named Dignan. A character so true to life and unique, that even now, over a decade later, I could still recall everything about him—even if now Anderson had replaced Dignan with specific submarines, big suicide stakes, quips upon quips, and legions of perfectly placed luggage.

Before going into the Landmark, I read an interview with Anderson at a little book store down the street. He was saying how his palette was limited because he mostly doesn’t adapt his scripts, they’re originals. The way he figured it, he was bound to play his Francoise Hardy note over and over again, because he was just one person with one set of experiences. Then I read an interview with the recently deceased writer, Nanao Sakaki. Here’s a quote from that Sakaki interview:

We think we are the slave of experience, but not so, we are more free! Yeah, we can be more separated from our own experience. Most people think experience, experience, experience, but it’s not true! We can jump over experience! Like—if you come from poor society then you think this way. What!? I don’t think so, no need of such stuff. We have bigger riches, the world we live in. We’re not slaves of experience, our life is something else. Something else is more interesting stuff.

My girlfriend got back from the bathroom. The lights went down some. The nice thing about this crowd was they didn’t really eat much—so no one was stinking up the theater with hotdogs or nacho cheese and if they had a bag of popcorn it was a small bag and thus didn’t make a ton of rumple noise. Mostly it was a crowd of Dasani sippers.

The trailers didn’t play so well. It would be almost impossible to find the right trailers for such an elegant and refined crowd. Maybe P.T. Anderson’s next film and a Jim Jarmusch preview would have worked—heck, that would be like shooting fish in a barrel—but other than that… Sly Stallone never stood a ghost of a chance with this crowd.

Once the movie got going… I have to be honest, I fell asleep about a half hour into it. I do remember the esteemed audience chuckling in knowing delight at good old Wes’s now familiar and endearing, melancholy and zany auteurial bag of tricks. And there seemed to be a good communal gladness at seeing Bruce Willis and Bill Murray and Frances McDormand in 1960s eyeglass frames. There were even a few moments of outright laughter. But it’s funny—it was a strange kind of laughter. Almost desperate like. A nervousness and timidity inside the guffaws. Almost like the crowd knew that if they didn’t laugh, they wouldn’t collectively validate their choices and tastes and lives. And then the whole summer would be a bummer. Anyways, I fell asleep. The lead kid, who didn’t seem human to me at all, in his own mini retro eyeglass frames, did something charmingly troubled—and everyone laughed—and as I drifted away, the laughter almost sounded like crying.

— Noah Buschel

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15 Responses to “THE LANDMARK ON WEST PICO by Noah Buschel”

  1. Ryan Says:

    You fell asleep during a movie and misread the audience’s laughter? You must be really smart.

  2. Lizaodoul Says:

    This is very smart. Thanks to Hammer To Nail. I cannot believe this turd of a film is getting raves and 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Depressing.

  3. Mbrotchie Says:

    Noah, your right, the kid wasn’t human. He was more like an affected, deadpan version of the man with no name from a Sergio Leon movie. While walking today I listened to a podcast where your were interviewed about the whole indie scene and your honesty made a real impression on me. You said nothing made recently has blown you away in terms of genius. Has that changed? Everyones talking about Dunham like she’s the reincarnation of Cassavetes but I don’t see it. Thanks again for your essays, If you could somehow do video forms of them I bet they woud be fantastic. Looking forward to your next movie.

  4. Razcunningham Says:

    Noah, your essays are wonderful. I completely agree…. and I worked on this flick. Ha.

  5. Lorca Says:

    good essay

  6. Graig Says:

    I haven’t seen any of Mr. Bushel’s movies, though I am a fan of Michael Shannon, so I’m tempted to give THE MISSING PERSON a sit.  I do wonder, however, if he evinces the same level of contempt for the audience in his filmmaking that is on display in this article.  Yuck.  If his films are as hateful as this piece of writing, I think I may skip ’em. 

  7. Guest Says:

    Better that Anderson should have made a turgid neo-noir (good cast, though) that is secretly about 9/11, for depth.

  8. Guest Says:

    How you ever got through “Bottle Rocket” is perhaps the greater mystery, though since the High School sensibility has always figured large in the Anderson canon, maybe it was age-appropriate at the time.

  9. Lanecawthorn Says:

    I saw New Yorker critic Richard Brody tweeting about this article. Now that I have read it of course he did not like it. It is about him. He tweeted that Wes was doing work too far out for simpletons to comprehend. Wes is maverick. Wait Isn’t this movie like 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Kudos to Hammer To Nail for saying what many of us think and no kudos to the capitalist white nihilist intellectual precious

  10. Terminal Says:

    It just sucks that one of the very few people out there attacking the heavily armored indie twee takeover has to be so hateful and subjective. In this world of Beasts of the Southern Wild and Tiny Furniture, we need you to make more convincing arguments than that the typical audience has tattoos and drinks bottled water.

  11. Relzt Says:

    Terminal,
    Buschel’s piece here is not hateful so much as descriptive accurate portrait of a culture without any direction or spirituality. I am pretty sure that is what the description of the tattoos is about. He is saying it is Godless group. What are you saying? Tiny Furniture and Beasts are what to you? Your post is vague

  12. Terminal Says:

    I guess what they represent to me is a sort of insincere perspective, the act of making a movie in order to be making a movie versus any comment on experience, humanity, or sociology. A boutique ad agencies idea of what it means to be post college in NY or post Katrina outside New Orleans. Unreal and uninteresting but championed by film festivals and critics as not only the best things made outside of Hollywood currently, but the best things period in some cases. In my opinion neither of these films are bad films but they lack the sort of insight, ingenuity or just simple spontaneity and fun that would better explain such hype. I often find myself agreeing with Noah in these articles, which is why I had a knee jerk reaction to this post as it just came off as negative and not productive in the sense that criticism or even simple blogging can be if done differently. Reading my comment one week later I realize I’m more or less addressing myself in the sense that I feel my criticism and dismissals only come off as jealousy and hatefulness if they’re not more carefully thought out. It’s not enough anymore… for me… personally. That’s all.

  13. Noah Buschel Says:

    I think it’s ok to say Wes Anderson’s recent work feels hollow. The fear of being called a jealous hater stops a lot of people from saying a lot of things these days– or at least saying it with name behind it, not just anonymously on the web. I think it’s ok to say some work that is being so celebrated is actually pretty shallow, and if anything it just holds up a mirror to the hollowness of culture celebrating it. I probably could dissect it more– but ya know, it’s ok to be angry too. It’s ok to be angry about Lena Dunham writing about Nora Ephron teaching her how to go to Barney’s for lunch and saying ‘this is what ladies do!’ It’s okay to find this stuff inappropriate. These filmmakers are being inappropriate. They’re response to the world is a non-response. It’s okay to say Sofia Coppola’s work is a woefully inadequate and sociopathic and perhaps even suicidal. Anyways, I’ll stop. I hear you, Terminal. But the thing about player hating is– don’t be a player. Ya know? Be a person, don’t be a player. Don’t put on big dumb show with empty style. Be a person.
    Oy. I dunno. Maybe you’re right.

  14. Susanastover Says:

    I find Noah Buschel’s pieces to be very eloquent and not all blindly furious. I wish there was more writing about film like his.

  15. Ninirota Says:

    Buschel has done more to explain the overriding starchness and overstylized vacantness of the Sundance system than the New Yorker or New York Times has done in explaining why these films are so fucking masterful.   

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