If you haven’t attended any of the Phoenix Picturehouse screenings of Wes Anderson’s back catalogue as part of the cinema’s “Culture Shock” series, then you’ve been missing out. At the time of writing this article, you’ve missed out on amateur heists, the saviour of Latin and the man who rescued his family from a sinking ship.
But fear not, dear reader, because there are still various enjoyments to be had, including brotherly dysfunctions, the endearing stiff leg dancing of animated foxes and the jarringly jovial voice tones of Ralph Fiennes, to name but a few highlights.
If you still haven’t been convinced by the prospect of witnessing Anderson’s indie filmography, then you’ll surely be drawn in by the Phoenix’s fine seating structure. Not only do those seats have a fine, velvety softness, but the chair spacing is also refreshingly generous and therefore not particularly claustrophobic even in a crowded auditorium, which is more than can be said for various cinema outlets.
Even if you’ve seen all of Wes Anderson’s films multiple times at home on DVD like my good self, there’s still nothing like viewing a movie on the big screen, as the director originally intended. It’s also particularly heartwarming to attend these kind of screenings with a packed audience who know and understand the same humour and eccentricities of Wes Anderson as you do. Although the director’s image as the indie poster child has garnered much attention and love from the student bracket, his bohemian style also seems to appeal to a wide range of ages. An elderly couple sitting beside me at a recent screening were laughing at every moment of witty dialogue; this communal sense of enjoyment and cinematic nostalgia is something you’ll find in few other cinemas in Oxford.
Moving on to the films themselves, it was definitely worthwhile watching Bottle Rocket, Anderson’s debut, for a further analysis. I still feel like it’s the weakest installment in his filmography, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have moments of brilliance. The eccentric seeds of genius are definitely present, but they haven’t been sufficiently sown within a screenplay that never achieves the tight combination of wit and pathos that are much stronger in Anderson’s later efforts.
Jason Schwartzman’s debut in the Wes Anderson canon is particularly impressive, however. There are now a lot of eccentric characters in the Wes ensemble, but Rushmore’s Max Fisher Max was the stand-out in Anderson’s early career. And Max is surely a comic reminder to the modern student that a huge amount of extra-curricular activities may result in unimpressive exam results. Then again, he does stop a dead language being excluded from the school curriculum. And we also witness the introduction of Anderson regular Bill Murray in the morose character of Herman Blume, whose deadpan facial expressions are some of the most amusing to grace modern cinema.
And finally, my most recent venture to the Phoenix gave me the opportunity to watch my favourite Wes Anderson film in high definition. Many directors are known for including a killer film soundtrack like Scorsese or Edgar Wright, but Anderson’s eclectic variety of tunes are particularly strong, and The Royal Tenenbaums marks his strongest compilation. It’s starts off strong with the The Mutato Muzika Orchestra’s cover of “Hey Jude”, and continues in the same vein with classics like Nico’s “These Days” and the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday”. And if you haven’t appreciated the musical genius that is Nick Drake, then hopefully the inclusion of his song “Fly” in the film should put you on the right path.
We’re met with the same familiar faces from the previous entries, with all at the top of their comic game. Gene Hackman delivers some brilliant dialogue, much of which has become part of my familial discourse, and if there was any justice, then Owen Wilson’s Wildcat scene would have won awards. Indeed, Eli Cash is one of the finest comic creations in recent years, and watching the Wildcat scene in the Pheonix’s biggest screen packed full of loud, uncontrollable laughter from every individual has been one of my best cinema experiences for a while.
Steve Zissou and the Life Aquatic will have already been shown by the time these words reach you, but if you haven’t been to any of these screenings already, then I thoroughly recommend you witness at least a few before the release of Anderson’s upcoming film The Isle of Dogs, preferably at the Phoenix. Until then, adios.