Wes Anderson’s style of filmmaking is easy to pigeonhole as overly twee and susceptible to parody, but that’s because past the affect and omnipresent Moonrise Kingdom couples Halloween costumes, he’s a gifted director with a well-defined, consistent voice. Matt Zoller Seitz, New York magazine television critic, editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, and a long-time acquaintance of Anderson has examined that voice for years, starting with the first-ever profile of Anderson and frequent collaborator Owen Wilson. In The Wes Anderson Collection, Seitz expands a series of video essays on Anderson’s influences, illuminating as much of Anderson’s process as possible in a massive, beautifully rendered volume. Although it looks (and sometimes reads) like a coffee table book, The Wes Anderson Collection brings together style and substance to provide a loving homage to Anderson’s films and moviemaking in general.
The meat of the book is a series of interviews between Seitz and Anderson, conducted over several years and organized chronologically through Anderson’s filmography. Where that conceit might prove tiresome over 300 pages with another director-critic combination, Seitz and Anderson’s intelligence, deep knowledge of the history of cinema, and comfortable personal relationship prevent their discussion from getting boring. (Seitz was coming up as a journalist at the Dallas Observer at the same time Anderson was filming Bottle Rocket, and hearing the ways their paths cross is one of the book’s many pleasures.) In its best moments, the interview is just an elevated, captivating barroom conversation between two thoughtful lifelong cinephiles.
The interviews mostly cover the basics, from particular production and directing choices (the first use of Anderson’s signature crosshatch shot in Rushmore was an accident) to Anderson’s influences (a lengthy discussion of François Truffaut is a highlight). One of the benefits of the book’s size and lack of space constraints is a sense that the answers to these simple questions are given room to unfold. Seitz’s introductory essays for each chapter are compelling arguments for different readings of each film, but Anderson is generally cagey about the meaning of his work. With so much room to discuss the broader themes and subject matter of Anderson’s films, those passages are occasionally frustrating, yet even without definitive commentary confirming some of his grand unified theories of Wes Anderson, Seitz still elicits a hefty amount of insight into his process. A decent amount of this information might be surprising—especially Anderson’s continued protestations that his films don’t entail nearly as much obsessive planning as fans might expect.
It doesn’t hurt that The Wes Anderson Collection comes as close as a book can to reading like a Wes Anderson film. The design is meticulously crafted, with gorgeous full-page photos and touches like a still representation of Rushmore’s opening montage. Illustrator Max Dalton deserves a hefty share of the book’s credit, finding an expressive, warm style that both clearly evokes Anderson’s visual palette and works independently. And where another coffee table-sized book might include images just to look pretty and fill pages, The Wes Anderson Collection deploys stills and hand-drawn storyboards as part of Seitz’s analysis of Anderson’s films. Fully laid out shot-for-shot comparisons display the attention to detail in each of Anderson’s visual homages (often to Truffaut), and the various production drawings contribute to a sense of what it’s like for Anderson to make a movie.
It’s possible to nitpick: If readers are on the fence about Anderson, the interviews can drag a bit or seem like navel-gazing, and the endless supply of hand-drawn storyboards and exotica can replicate a quality some find grating in his films. But The Wes Anderson Collection provides such rich insight into the work of a distinctive filmmaker and is so aesthetically confident in translating that filmmaker’s work into a book that it’d be a shame to let a little thing like not liking Wes Anderson get in the way of appreciating it.