American Empirical Theory: “It’s a theory, it’s probably wrong”

One of my favorite filmmakers is Wes Anderson. There are a broad number of people who feel the same way; unfortunately at this point most of them are “hipsters” who see his films as clever and cool. Most of these people do not understand how much he was influenced by J.D. Salinger, Francois Truffaut, and Woody Allen.

All that said, to express my great love of his films, every single one of them. A few have a lasting impact on my life. The thing that is wonderful about Anderson is that he can appeal to such large audience, people who like British pop music, who like comedy, who are into fashion, etc. He really is a master at his craft; he is involved in the writing of, direction, editing, acting of all his films.

Now to the theory. American Empirical Pictures is the production company started by Wes Anderson, thus The American Empirical Theory. Over the years I have run into many people who “love” Wes Anderson films, this is great. The theory states that most people, who know Anderson’s movies, typically prefer their first experience to the other similar experience. Whichever Wes Anderson movie a person sees first, it usually ends up being their favorite. I know this to be true for me, I saw Rushmore for the first time in 2002, and this is still my favorite film by Anderson. Rushmore spoke to me on many levels including private school, perceived exclusion, misguided energy, etc. It also started my love of Jason Schwartzman and reignited my love of Bill Murray. My wife saw Bottle Rocket before any other Wes Anderson movie and this is her favorite. On Christmas Day 2004, my cousin Jered and I went to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, his first Wes Anderson film; as far as I know it is still his favorite. A recent conversation with our friend Jessica revealed that The Royal Tenenbaums is her favorite Anderson film, and it was her first exposure to his films. I find that only about 50% of the people I talk to about this theory have seen every single Wes Anderson film, so it is obviously not scientific. As with any theory, there are exceptions, some people I have talked to have a different favorite Anderson film then the one they first saw. I believe them. If you do, by any chance test this theory, you will find that the vast majority will say that The Royal Tenenbaums is their favorite; this is because it was and is the most popular and widely known of all the Wes Anderson films. This is a situation that the popularity is justified; Tenenbaums is a fantastic film that has many characters inspired by Salinger’s Glass Family, which I love.

I think the thing that stands out to me is that it is the experience of seeing a Wes Anderson film for the very first time that makes thevery first time that makes the impression on people. It is new and exciting and refreshing, like listening to The Beatles for the first time, or your first bite if ice cream. You have never seen artistic expression like it and now you are hooked. Tenenbaums was a movie with Luke and Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Bill Murray, these actors are typically slap stick comedy guys, and this movie was not that. People still loved it and thought it was funny.

 

P.S. Sorry about the lack of any The Fantastic Mr. Fox footage, I could not find any that I liked.


It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be grey, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.

Has anyone else noticed they do not make PG comedies anymore? (I mean for adults). I am watching one of my favorite Bill Murray movies, directed my Harold Ramis, and as I always do, I check the MPAA rating. I was kind of surprised and then disappointed. I was surprised to see that Groundhog Day was only rated PG. I was not shocked because there is adult content like language, sex, and violence, because there is very little in this movie. I just figured it was PG-13. Do the math, Ramis plus Murray plus the typical comedies I like and most adults for that matter. I have very little problem with the ratings system other than its inconsistency, but that’s a whole other story. I was disappointed when I realized they don’t make comedies like this anymore. This is sad! I do not necessarily blame studios or the press, I blame the consumer. A movie like this isn’t made because it will not make money, that’s a deep barrel friends.

I thought hard of some other PG comedies that are often overlooked and most definitely extinct. Two that immediately came to mind were What About Bob? (1991) and Houseguest (1995). These are all three movies that I was able to watch as a kid and helped shape my love of the comedy genre. What About Bob again stars Murray alongside the amazing Richard Dreyfuss and is about a lunatic who follows his therapist on vacation, it is hilarious! Houseguest stars Sinbad as a loser who cons Phil Hartman and his family into letting him stay with them until they both realize they all actually need each other. These may sound boring, but I stand firmly behind them.

Do not misunderstand me, I love raunchy, foul comedy that involves cheap and crude humor. This is not about any issue I have with modern comedies, far from it. I just find it sad that we have lost a dimension of filmmaking that I hold so dear to myself.

Of these three Groundhog Day is the best, it has many aspects of what the main character goes through. He goes from being inconvenienced jerk, to annoyed with the universe suicidal maniac, to caring for an elderly homeless guy, to the ultimate George Bailey. Bill Murray uses his greatest talent. He is a terrible person who you cheer relentlessly for the entire movie.

Maybe I am just partial to Bill Murray, but I just think the modern comedy relies too heavily on the crutch of edginess. I strongly suggest these films and will continue to think of them fondly.