We begin as a girl gazes at an iron bust of a long dead writer. In her hands she clutches his book, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Next, there is found footage of said writer dictating his thoughts on stories and the process by which authors come upon their ideas. He says that writers aren’t inspired, the circumstance of their lives unfolding offers stories which demand to be told. His dialog is interrupted by a precocious child firing a dart gun. The boy is uninterested with the air of seriousness the writer has for himself. Eventually, I realize that none of this matters.
There is a distracting voice over. It offers no insight about the events on screen. It is but a “charming” narration describing exactly what the visuals are already telling me. I sigh, and realize I’m balls deep in a typical Wes Anderson yarn. I start composing my review which cynically deconstructs his trite formula, when suddenly, I feel colder than a normal air conditioned theater should allow. It is indeed the last feeling I have during the film. In this moment, I die and drift out of step with reality. It is not unlike the sensation of waking from a recurring dream. I am both in the theater and far away. Wes Anderson had done it. He had bored me right to actual fucking death. Now what?
I evaporate across time and space winding up on the back of a vintage motorcycle driven by Willem Defoe. We travel down a highway wrapped in flame too the front row of a
heavy metal hard rock concert in hell. I hop off and Willem cackles before blasting off into the sky. Angus Young of AC/DC is duck-walking across the stage in the midst of a solo that sounds passably different from his last one. The band is cranking out a predictable mix of their greatest hits. It occurs to me that time doesn’t exist here, not in a linear sense anyway. Everything from my clothes, to the stadium itself has a sort of 60’s come 70’s come 30’s vibe. I sense we are as much in the past as we are the future. The crowd is packed with the usual suspects you’d expect wind up in hell. In fact I notice that I’m standing next to a young Wes Anderson himself! I recognize him though he has yet to grow into the auteur I would later know. Funny, maybe he died in his youth in an alternate reality. In any event we exchange a knowing look and high five to the beat as we headbang along with the rest of the overcapacity crowd.
The band rattles off shamelessly anthemic sound-alike songs about hell, thunder and dirty deeds with lusty ladies. Much to my own surprise I know most of the words to all of the songs. For me this is an enjoyable concert but I notice something in young Wes. There is a glimmer in his eye; he is inspired. Before the band plays their last song, Angus steps to the mic to say something that will change young undead Wes Anderson and indeed cinematic history as we know it. What I heard was a funny quote – the audience and I laughed and Angus ripped into ‘Highway to Hell.’ But what Wes Anderson heard was his calling. I am honoured to say that I was ground zero for the gamma bomb that would alter his DNA and turn Wes Anderson into the frothing Hulk of hipster cinema:
After the concert, I invite Wes out for some beer and burgers to get to know each other. I end up buying as Wes is a typical penniless artist. He looks like he hasn’t eaten in days. “It’s the little details, Jimmy,” he says to me between bites of his cheeseburger. Much to my surprise Wes Anderson is a huge AC/DC fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of their career and catalog. He earns that burger by regaling me with tales of all things AC/DC. “You could set your watch by the crushed velvet on Angus’s short pants,” he tells me. “The guy is never seen without his custom Gibson and he’s been wearing that outfit for decades. It’s iconic!” I’m charmed by Wes’s fanboying. “AC/DC lost their original singer but that didn’t stop them! They replaced Bon Scott with Brian Johnson who had the courtesy to wear the same fishing cap, black tank top and worn jeans as his predecessor. He even sounds exactly like him! It’s all of these little touches…” He continues, “It’s these little details about AC/DC that I love as much as the music.”
“Let’s be honest,” he says, eyes wandering around the flame licked atmosphere, mouth full of sweet potato fries. “They aren’t exactly the most original band in the world. Clearly they’ve got a formula and they stick to it… but what a formula!” I can’t argue with Wes. There is a part of me that wants to hate AC/DC for regurgitating the same song except I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy fist pumping and singing along. “I admire them, Jimmy. I mean that. I’m not being ironic. They cracked the code. They invented something that they and their fans love – and they offer it up with a reliable set of particular details every time. And the branding… I mean don’t even get me started on their logo”.
Wes had won me over with his fanaticism. I sensed the beginning of an after-life-long friendship when suddenly! He began to glow ice white. “Wow!” He said examining his now translucent hands as the burger dropped from them. “I’m getting another chance! Bye Jimmy, Thank you for the burger!” With that, he faded away. His mouth still full of fries. “Goodbye friend” I whisper into my pint of Hellbrew before pouring out a bit for my homie. There I was, alone in hell. Just like my mother always said I’d wind up. But I felt enlightened. If someone as cool as Wes Anderson could appreciate something as trite and formulaic as AC/DC (in hell no less) maybe there was still hope. WHOOSH! I felt cold again. The world around me began to dissipate like warm breath into winter air. A white light beamed me to the back of Willem’s motorbike now traveling backwards up the flaming highway. I awoke with a jolt in my old body, still in the theater. My journey to hell seemed to last hours but in reality it was only seconds. As I came back to life my memory of the preceding events seemed to disappear. I woke up exactly where I had left off…
The characters are introduced and I sigh while ticking off all the Wes Anderson cliches. But I find I’m not as satisfied with my ability to recognize and judge his style as I once was. Curious. Then I hear it, a nasal disembodied voice chanting “na na na na na na na”. It doesn’t seem to be coming from the movie but out of my heart itself. I’m overtaken by deja vu and begin to pound my fist rhythmically in the air. We meet a lovable bastard gigolo who schemes and hustles his way into and out of trouble. “Na na na na na na” the voice sings to a pounding 4/4 beat. The gigolo acts as a surrogate father to a precocious and driven boy of ambiguous ethnicity. “THUNDER!” A choir of voices scream. All of the characters and indeed the sets themselves are drowning in hyper-stylized kitsch. “THUNDER!” Now a spiraling guitar scale is spinning around me. “THUNDER!” I chant aloud, though I don’t know why. Every shot is intricately detailed and set in perfect symmetry. “THUNDER!” There is a quirky supporting cast full of familiar faces. “THUNDER!” The films exists only in one-point perspective. “THUNDER!” An ever increasing assortment of vintage twee. “THUNDER!”
I remembered it then. Yes, I remembered it all. The warmth in young Wes’s face as he described Malcom ringing the novelty bell, Angus’s horned hat, the derivative riffs, fashionable logo. I remembered and I knew I would never see Wes again. We had shared something special during our time in Hell and now he was sharing it with the world. “THUNDER!” I looked past the recycled characters. “THUNDER!” I didn’t mind the story I’d seen a half dozen times before. “THUNDER!” Everything was alright. The struggle was finished: “YOU’VE BEEN, THUNDERSTRUCK!” Goddamn right I have. I sang along joyfully to Jason Schwartzman crooning Brian Johnson. I had won the victory over myself, I loved Wes Anderson.