Moonrise Keaton

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 —


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

16 Responses to “Moonrise Keaton”

  1. Robert Altman could be a great gag-man when he wanted to, since he was at heart, a comic film-maker.

    Wes Anderson said that one of the influences for Moonrise Kingdom was a British film called S.W.A.L.K(released as Melody). He put it in his list for Top Ten British Films.
    Basically saying that it described a pre-teen romance.

    I’m dying to see this film. Hopefully it will soon be possible.

  2. Good piece about a wonderful film. Anderson made me like Edward Norton again (and his use of sweetheart photos to tie up the loose ends of Norton’s story is like something from a Laurel and Hardy film).

  3. Interesting that Wes has OLIVER TWIST as his number two pick, as I was reminded of Lean’s film as I watched MOONRISE KINGDOM, the ending on the rooftop and the fact of the boy’s orphan status. I enjoyed MK, but felt things started to peter a bit as we reached the finish line. Still, I’d see it again in a heartbeat. Wes seems in love with a past that preceded him, but it’s one of the things I appreciate in this film especially.

  4. This is more Keaton than Anderson, but I watched Rolf de Heer’s DR. PLONK last night – a 2007 silent film shot on a hand-cranked camera, with tons of Melies -style disappearing tricks, hundreds of kicks in the ass and some nifty hat tricks (literally: tricks involving hats). Plenty of good gags and stunts (nothing terribly complex), and much more amusing than THE ARTIST.

  5. Sudarshan — you can find Melody in full on Youtube. I was looking for one of Hussein’s other films and found it there.

    Oddly enough, I saw Sherlock Jr on the big screen last night — haven’t laughed as much at the cinema for a long, long time. I hadn’t seen any Keaton for ages so it was a great reminder of just how fresh his work remains.

  6. I saw Melody once in the late ’80s/early ’90s at about 2 a.m. on television. I wish I could remember more of it, but I nodded off a couple of times. The nodding off is not a comment on the film, I used to nod off to Gene Scott (who I watched for amusement).

  7. Moonrise Kingdom is a total delight. Imagine leaving the theater with all your brain cells still intact!
    While Wes may indeed have been inspired by Melody, the thing about Moonrise Kingdon is that while it features child protagonists it’s not reall a film about childhood. it’s a film about moral resolve. Sam and Susie fall in love though mutual interests. And because of those interest they decided to go off and have an adventure together. The adults are bareyl able to communicate with one another Frances MacDormand’s bull horn embodies that lack of communication. Bill Murray is in costant retreat from his fatherly duites. Edward Norton is far too immature to run a troupe of Kalki Scouts. Jason Schwartzman is the exception that proves the rule as he recognizes that Sam and Susie are in love and has them performa a symbolic marriage. I love the shot (featured in the trailer) of Susie kissing Sam’s hand.

    You’re right about eaton but a far more profound influnece I feel is Joseph Cornell. Not his movies but his box sculptures. The house in The Royal Tenenbauns is a giant Cornell box Moonrise Kingdaom</i's mise en scene is a series of Cornell boxes.

  8. I loved MOONRISE KINGDOM, too. The Benjamin Britten on the soundtrack spoke to me, and something cotinues to amuse me about that sign saying that NOYES FLUDDE has been called off on account of rain.

  9. Keaton introduces the box sculpture set in The High Sign, and it recurs in Jerry Lewis’s The Ladies Man and all through Anderson (the cutaway submarine in The Life Aquatic being a particular favourite).

    Gerard Elson gave me a copy of Dr Plonk — I must watch it!

    Oliver Twist is an interesting thought: again, the rope, high place, adult pursuing child…

  10. My favorite movie of the year so far. It got me to go back and finally watch RUSHMORE and BOTTLE ROCKET. I really liked the former but found myself hating the latter to such an extent that I couldn’t finish watching it. I still haven’t seen DARJEELING EXPRESS, but other than that I’m caught up on Anderson now. MOONRISE KINGDOM is the only one I’ve really loved so far, although FANTASTIC MR FOX and RUSHMORE are pretty sweet too.

  11. And then there is his number nine pick, Cavalcanti’s THEY MADE ME A FUGITIVE, which also ends on a rooftop (“RIP”).

  12. Every movie should end with an Exciting Rooftop Chase, and for a while in the 40s, it almost seemed like every movie did.

    I get the feeling I’m getting too much credit for the above observations — a lot of it is stuff I thought everybody acknowledged, but the first and best detailed expression of it can be found here:

  13. My Keaton flash happened at the campground, when they were chasing Sam around the playing field in fast motion right before he gets hit by lightning. It looked like it was cut right out of Seven Chances.

  14. Good call, Harry! Yes, that has shades of Seven Chances and The Paleface and maybe Cops. It’s also a great example of how Anderson can function without lots of gags, just a funny situation filmed from the right distance. But I’d like to see him do more gags (or maybe dance) because he understands about comic distance.

  15. […] 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.  […]

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