Archive for July 11, 2012

Moonrise Keaton

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 11, 2012 by dcairns

As I believe I mentioned, Fiona and I (and houseguest Chris) really dug MOONRISE KINGDOM. Which opinion is of no use to anybody else, of course, so I thought I’d talk about the Keaton connection, which might even be of interest to people who don’t like the film, or Wes Anderson, or even Keaton.

Chris reminded me that it was David Bordwell who, borrowing the term from Heinrich Wölfflin, used the term “planimetric” to describe Anderson’s trademark shot, perpendicular to a flat surface such as a wall, characters arranged along it in a clothesline formation. Earlier, Steven Soderbergh had labeled what he called the “Lester tableau” in Richard Lester’s films –

HELP! “Nice boys, and still the same as they was before they was…”

Symmetry isn’t so important (though in the masked ball of  THE THREE MUSKETEERS Lester basically invents the whole Peter Greenaway style) as the arraying of the elements across the screen, treating the screen AS a screen rather that trying to create an illusion of depth. And Lester’s biggest influence as a director is Buster Keaton.

ONE WEEK. Buster has the house turned slightly at an angle to show off its dilapidation, but he still has the front porch fencing horizontal, and it plays as a continuation of the utterly perpendicular fence running through the background. Ozu-esque!

One of MOONRISE KINGDOM’s minor pleasures is the way it uses the Bruce Willisness of Bruce Willis while at the same time diminishing him to human status, a small town cop trapped in an unhappy adulterous relationship, dismissed as dumb and sad even by children. Yet by the climax he’s doing DIE HARD stuff with ropes and dangling and high places and exploding buildings, and it’s delightful.

But that’s Keaton schtick too. So at the risk of spoilers if you haven’t seen MOONRISE KINGDOM (or any Keaton films), here are some elements that MK appropriates from the Keaton oeuvre –

A hurricane  — STEAMBOAT BILL JNR

that results in flooding — STEAMBOAT BILL JNR

A bursting dam — THE GENERAL (and OUR HOSPITALITY)

Dangling, tied from a rope, with another character dangling from one’s wrists — OUR HOSPITALITY

MOONRISE KINGDOM is very funny and sweet and I find no flaws to pick on in it. If there’s anything I can imagine enhancing Andersons’ work further it’d be a collaborator with an unusual talent for devising gag sequences (a rare thing today), so that the Keatonesque framing and low-key performances could be augmented by Keatonesque gags which build upon on another. The last filmmakers with a real gift for that seem to me to be Lester and Tati, but I will accept other nominations from Shadowplayers

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