Recently RogerEbert.com editor and New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz wrote an impassioned call-to-arms for film critics to consider the formal elements of what they were evaluating. “I see a lot of writing that describes what a piece of art is about, not so much how it is about.” Consequently film criticism skates on surfaces, using adjectives regarding the artifice without digging in and asking why the artisans behind these ingenious visual and aural behemoths have made their decisions. The negation has increasingly fed into a film culture consumed by celebrity and easy to take political stands, while the idiosyncrasies of creativity, subject to myriad tools of machinery, are largely ignored.
Considering the author’s formal design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Seitz is a film lover fascinated by the sensual touch of authors, and he understands the pressing need to anatomically dissect a film’s connective tissue and sinews. Look at his visual essays on Michael Mann and Terrence Malick—two of the most accomplished formalists in feature narrative filmmaking—or his book The Wes Anderson Collection. Anderson’s newest project—and arguably 2014’s best film—The Grand Budapest Hotel, is as interested in its own storytelling medium as Cervantes was with Don Quixote, with fictions constructed within fictions through an artificial pre-war Europe of false capitals, liveries, and armies, Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman’s camera aspect ratio alternating through different historical periods, beginning and ending with a contemplation on the beguiling sepulcher of the “Author” and the mystery of what the creator wants to communicate to us.