This week had me revisit the early efforts of directors who made it big in the indie circle before breaking into the mainstream.
The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
Rushmore is generally considered the film that put Wes Anderson on the map, but in all honesty, I don’t think he was quite there yet. The pieces were in place for brilliance, but there were a few opposing forces that got in the way of Mr. Anderson’s goals. No, for my money, The Royal Tenenbaums is where Wes Anderson hit his stride and made his unapologetically quirky writing style work wonders. Being about a quietly dysfunctional family, The Royal Tenenbaums effectively blends comedy and drama, allowing its audience to appreciate all the highs and lows of its cast.
sex, lies, and videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989)
One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of artists is that the ones who manage to be good for an extended period of time generally don’t have strong debuts. With cinema in particular, revisiting the early works of long-term auteurs such as Martin Scorsese or Alfred Hitchcock reveals that while they did indeed have a lot of talent when they started, they would need a few more films under their belt before they created something worthy of their lofty statuses. Extreme cases such as Krzysztof Kieślowski didn’t create their best works until near the end of their lives. Conversely, I find many of those who have an explosively popular debut end up fizzling out very quickly (i.e. John Singleton and M. Night Shyamalan, though it seems to be more common in music). I think the idea is that those with a strong debut have been working with ideas they’ve had years to develop and are given a much shorter amount of time to create a follow-up whereas those who have decent-but-not-stand-out debuts have a longer amount of time to get good.
I say all of this because Steven Soderbergh absolutely does not conform to this strange pattern. He is actually a lot like Sidney Lumet in that he was great right out of the gate and has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Indeed, his debut, sex, lies, and videotape, managed to win the Palme d’Or in 1989 at age 26, making him the youngest person to do so. The film is remarkable for having so many moving parts for such a simplistic story centered around a complicated love triangle (or perhaps love square given how many participants there are), yet they all work remarkably well. It’s considered a landmark for independent filmmaking, and it is definitely worth seeing for yourself.