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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The House Next Door and Moving Image are running a five-part series on Wes Anderson, "the most influential American filmmaker of the post-Baby Boom generation." (Tarantino who?) Here's Part 1.

When I interviewed Anderson for a 1998 Star-Ledger article about A Charlie Brown Christmas, directed by the late animator Bill Melendez, Anderson cited Melendez as one of three major influences on his work, so we’ll start there. Anderson told me that he and his screenwriting collaborator, Owen Wilson, conceived Rushmore hero Max Fischer as Charlie Brown plus Snoopy. He said that Miss Cross, the teacher Max adores and will draw into a weirdly Freudian love triangle with the industrialist Mr. Blume, is a combination of Charlie Brown’s teacher and his unattainable love object, the little red-haired girl. Anderson and Wilson even made Max a working-class barber’s son, just like Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, and gave Seymour Cassel, the actor playing Bert Fischer, glasses similar to Schulz’s.

But Schulz’s impact manifests itself in deeper, more persistent ways—particularly in Anderson’s characters who, regardless of age, seem, like Schulz’s preternaturally eloquent kids, to be frozen in a dream space between childhood and maturity. Think of how Rushmore’s Blume pauses during a phone conversation to run across a basketball court and slap down a student’s would-be layup; the now-adult children in The Royal Tenenbaums navigating adult emotional minefields within the confines of a childhood home crammed with toys, grade-school art, and nostalgic knickknacks; Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic transforming a submarine into a gigantic clubhouse and rec center; and the brothers of The Darjeeling Limited turning a supposed spiritual voyage through India into a more affluent, adult cousin of a summer camp stint.
The arrested adolescence thing is right on the money—we've talked about this before—but the Peanuts thing is strange. What a weirdly intriguing misreading of one's own film...