Tag: Matt Zoller Seitz
Dennis Hopper looms large in my mind as a weird hybrid of hippie and roughneck. I know him as an early Sunset Strip art scenester, showing photographs at Ferus; as the archvillain of Speed, an evil mastermind hiding out on the skids; and as the director of Easy Rider, which I half-saw one night in college. I picture him as a kind of Dog Soldiers Malibu-hills Don’t-Tread-On-Me cocaine libertarian, a portrait probably not entirely distinct from Hunter S. Thompson. I know he’s dying.
This video essay by Matt Zoller Seitz provokes a deeper consideration. Watching it, Hopper’s fragility leaps to the surface — the hard-luck cop in True Romance who dies rather than give his son up to Christopher Walken; the alcoholic coach from Hoosiers; flashes of tenderness, sensitivity, and weakness in dozens of Seitz’s clips. The art scenester appears an exponent of the avant-garde and a poet of nature and existence. It’s a moving tribute, well worth watching even at its considerable length for online video (24 min).
This, from Seitz’s short introductory essay, also rings true:
When I think about Hopper, I hear his voice in my head: the nasal Kansas vowels; the cowboy twang; and last but not least, the semicolons where periods would normally go, contributing to a sense that his thoughts, like works of art, are never finished, only abandoned, that he never really stops talking, that there’s always one more observation or pronouncement or dirty joke waiting just around the bend.
Jane Espenson’s warning against glib dialogue has been very helpful to my writing partner and me recently:
You probably loved it while you wrote it. You could feel the emotion and poetry in it. But when you reread it, it seems glib and overwritten. If you take the poetry out, it feels flat. In my opinion, the only thing wrong with the line is that it defies human psychology. We don’t get articulate when we’re emotional — the opposite happens. We get stumbly and tangled as we choke back our tears.
The trick, per Jane, is letting the poetry “creep back in when you write the next line, after the heat of the moment has passed”. Hopper seems particularly adept at a kind of unglib, poetic moment of rushing towards illuminated truth, as if the bends around which the observations wait all lead towards something bright, or fiery.
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.