What attracts me to film is that it’s a funneling of different art forms into one. Film is acting, cinematography, music, design, costumes, writing, and all the other hundreds of jobs listed in the credits of any film or video (which I’ll hopefully learn more about as I embark on my cinematic journey to graduation). The fact that it’s an artistically complete sum of extraordinary little parts that all work together gets me so hot ‘n’ bothered. I may not be a film buff – my watch-list keeps growing, and my library of watched films is v. random – but when I watch a film, I get all introspective and I love it. Why it took me this long to let myself admit that I want to make art, I don’t know. I thought it was selfish of me to do something I really want to do. (?!?!)
Anyway, in an indulgent celebration of my new major, here is the beginning of what will become a long series of posts about scenes that I have the biggest crushes on. This is but one scene of many that I rewind and rewatch until I’ve had enough to continue watching the film. In this case, the significance of the music of the scene is particularly why I love it because music is the easiest way to manipulate my mood. (Also, the singer of the song is from Cologne, Germany so that makes me love it even more!!)
If you do not already know, you will soon learn that I think Wes Anderson is just so dang neat. My favorite film of his (and otherwise) is The Royal Tenenbaums. And my favorite scene ever is this one:
oh my good lord.
Anderson is a master of extras: there are dozens of suitcases full of people’s belongings, and dozens of people milling about; there’s a bunch of older men in brown trench coats, and ship workers in uniform, and all these other people and shit moving around on those golf cart-things. Most importantly – in my opinion – this amounts to the strongest lines in the scene being horizontal: the ROYAL ARCTIC LINES sign, the logo on the Green Line Buses, Richie’s (Luke Wilson) headband, the rows of suitcases; the pedestrians and cars criss-crossing from left to right and vice versa… There’s also a feeling of smallness among all the “things” in the scene and because there’s a big-ass boat in the background of Richie and behind the bus Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) arrives in, there’s a bunch of big-ass buildings.
Richie came by a boat and Margot still managed to come later than him, too, which I love because it agrees with their characters, as Margot is rebellious and secretive, and Richie, a peacekeeper.
Alec Baldwin narrates the scene – and, really, the whole film – in this sophisticated, formal diction, with words like “request for his usual escort” and “by way of the Green Line Bus,” making everything seem just that much more organized. And once he says those magic words – “as always, she was late” – the people and things shift away for the bus to arrive and the camera to zoom in on Margot, whose identity as “his usual escort” was only supposed and not revealed until now.
The entire feeling of the scene shifts very literally. Suddenly there is one strong line in the landscape that is not going horizontal and that is the path Margot walks, straight towards Richie. (Even the other bus riders act as part of the traffic of the scene, following in the same horizontal paths.) Funnily enough, the traffic lights parallel to Margot’s path are red, but Margot goes anyway, in true Margot fashion. As the bus releases steam, it sounds like an exhale, which fades into a held silence, like that of an inhale: THIS is the moment that grips my chest, holds my breath, because for a perfectly timed beat of silence, we are Richie and Margot, making eye-contact after how many years of physical and emotional separation… This moment serves to show that no matter how late Margot was to “escort” Richie – no matter how secretive she is, hiding in her fur coat – her feelings for him are undoubtedly strong.
The cars behind the bus slow down and Margot “exhales” and some exhaust smoke rises around her, blurring the background traffic. The music tumbles in and it’s the perfect release. How does he do it? Anderson might as well drop the mic now because he nailed it. Just look at the lyrics to “These Days,” by Nico that we hear in the film:
I’ve been out walking
I don’t do too much talking
These days, these days.
These days I seem to think a lot
About the things that I forgot to do
And all the times I had the chance to.
I’ve stopped my rambling,
I don’t do too much gambling
These days, these days.
Also, the music starts when the time slows, which is fascinating because music is art set in time. But music is also an expression of feeling and emotion, which, for Richie and Margot, survived time and miles of ocean between them, among other obstacles. Because time around them slowed, but the music still represents ideas that are concentrated within time, it’s clear that the relationship between Margot and Richie – their romantic feelings – feels like it isn’t set by the same rules as the rest of the world. (And it really isn’t, because they legally are brother and sister.) Every movement in a world occupied by one’s lover is pregnant with complicated emotion, especially when they are adoptive siblings in a dysfunctional family…
After all this, they have the most concentrated conversation (all Margot’s lines):
“Stand up straight, let me get a look at you.
What’s so funny?
Well it’s nice to see you too.”
The understatement is so great…Richie barely straightens, he doesn’t laugh, and he doesn’t say he’s glad to see her, but she perceives all this anyway. Yet then the smallest movement of their faces shows their emotions shift – Richie’s arms drop a little, Margot’s smile drops a little – and they forget trying words altogether and embrace. They don’t do much talking, but they understand each other. Maybe the slowed-down meeting they had was a glimpse into their world together, they see everything as richly and choreographed as we did. Maybe things fit together as geometrically and organized as we see them when they’re together.
I’ve heard some (dumb) people criticize Wes Anderson’s movies for looking “fake,” as if they are over-choreographed, too colorful, and not set in a real-life setting. Firstly, I’ve already proven that this over-choreographing serves a role in this scene particularly, but there is also certain bittersweetness that haunts each of his characters’ lives that is completely cohesive with an over-choreographed, too colorful, and not set in a real-life setting because even in that kind of “fake” world, shit happens – life isn’t organized no matter how much one tries to organize it. The Tenenbaums were hailed as a family of geniuses – encouraged by their parents -but that plan failed in too many ways to recount, and it couldn’t cover up their personal demons, anyway.
There are a series of books published throughout the movie by most of the characters, also, and this in itself mimics a public facade of organization when the life behind the novelist is not always revealed or truly known. Heck, the whole movie “is” a book that Alec Baldwin narrates from: their life is planned out, choreographed and illustrated, but the hallmark of good fiction is conflict. (This is why the narration is sophisticated prose and not a sort of stream-of-consciousness dialogue.) It’s bittersweet that the best tales always have complex conflicts, and The Royal Tenenbaums is no exception.
Fiction suspends reality to make a comment on it, and I think Wes Anderson does it extremely well in his films, particularly this one, and I LOVE HIM.