Nice Fur Coat

by on Dec.02, 2009, under Movies

Beyond their compatible tones and themes, though, Salinger’s and Anderson’s work display a similar approach to characterization—a kind of ornamental realism that suggests Gustave Flaubert’s journalistic romanticism, with its obsessive worrying over the rightness of each word and phrase, only updated and pushed to the brink of caricature, sometimes beyond. The style is rooted in the notion that character can be signified, revealed, perhaps even distilled, through observable details.

–Matt Zoller Seitz, The Substance of Style Pt 4

Margot Tenenbaum’s fur coat shimmies in slow-motion as she gets off a bus, recalling Franny Glass’s sheared-raccoon coat. Anderson’s objective correlatives evoke nostalgia for a bourgeois childhood as enveloping as a hot bubble bath. He personifies things and objectifies people, aiming always for a pleasantly underwhelming sumptuousness. So it’s hard not to see the lovingly manufactured puppets in The Fantastic Mr. Fox as the epitome of this process.

The story Anderson tells reinforces this sense of unecstatic pleasure rooted in precision and thinginess. “I’m a wild animal,” protests George Clooney’s fox at every turn, but the joys of Mr. Fox aren’t rooted in wildness at all. For the characters, pleasure comes via real estate, dinner parties, a supermarket smorgasborg laid out like a gridded city, and, somewhere in there, the wild-but-careful thieveries and acts of cunning. For the audience, the pleasure is in the superfine textures of the characters and their world: ornamental realism, a celebration of the finer things. These are the teddy bears that rich children miss.

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5 Comments for this entry

  • bitchphd

    I find this reassuring; the previews led me to worry that Clooney was going to dude up the fox, thus violating the spirit of the book (which I love, and the look of the film beautifully captures the illustrations to my edition). I’ll be sad if I see the movie and find it trying to capture the robo-hamster-spy audience.

  • Josh K-sky

    I’d pay to see a clever G-Force/Fantastic Mr. Fox mash-up.

  • Tamara Sussman

    Just watched the Royal T’s again, and yes, I totally agree, the set dressing is sort of the best part, the materiality of his films more thought out than the plots. Not that I don’t enjoy them…..

  • LL

    My question, which is more for Matt Z.S., I guess, is what can be possibly meant by “Flaubert’s journalistic romanticism.” Does he mean the period until The Temptation of Saint Anthony? Does he mean rare passages in Flaubert’s latter work where he waxes lyrical for a couple pages about nature?

    Because Bovary, Sentimental Education, Bouvard, you name it, are not Romanticism, but quite deliberately its cure. And no character in those books could be described as romantic — to a man, they are all too human. It’s sad, really.

    To continue the nitpicking: what does journalistic mean? An eye for detail? A talent for inaccuracies? Prose that reeks of alcohol and layoffs?

    Is this unfair? I mean, what the hell is he talking about? Are there characters out there who don’t wear clothes?

    But if romanticism is the word to describe Wes’s work, and it is applied to objects, what have we got? Fetishes. Screaming details. Effects that are overdone, because the audience cannot be trusted to grasp nuance.

  • Josh K-sky

    I think perhaps this is a little unfair. Does “obsessive worrying over the rightness of each word and phrase” help you out? The scope of my engagement with Flaubert doesn’t permit me to defend the analogy, but he does lay out a bit more than you’re suggesting.

    As for “the audience cannot be trusted to grasp nuance” — For me, it’s not helpful to make assumptions about the capacities of Anderson’s audience, or about his intention in using detail the way he does. I think you’re right to call them fetishes and screaming details, but I think there’s more to say about Anderson’s techniques than “he’s turning up the volume because art-film audiences are no longer smart enough for subtlety.”

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