"ALL MOVIES, of course, are equally artificial; it's just that some are more honest about it than others," Michael Chabon writes in his introduction to Matt Zoller Seitz's The Wes Anderson Collection.
It's not the last time that honesty and artifice are examined in the oversized, 300-plus-page hardcover that digs deep into all seven of Anderson's films (so far), from Bottle Rocket to Moonrise Kingdom. There's talk of his influences, both the obvious (Salinger, Peanuts, The 400 Blows, Rear Window) and the less so (Star Wars); there are details of Anderson's methods (chopping a full-sized boat in half for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou); there are storyboards and concept art and script pages. Film critic Seitz introduces each film with an essay, and then an interview kicks in, with Seitz and Anderson going back and forth about each film.
Seitz is eager to rifle through the lives of Anderson and his characters; Anderson is less forthcoming. (He replies to a good number of Seitz's careful observations with a thoughtful, but not particularly enlightening, "Hmm.") Their dialogue, though, goes to great places, and while film nerds will latch onto the anecdotes and weird connections—like those between Rushmore and Heat—it's when Seitz's essays and Anderson's answers veer from the trivial to the philosophical that The Wes Anderson Collection becomes more than an encyclopedia. "Despite his fondness for ornate design and detail-packed compositions and music-fueled expressionist interludes, at heart, he's a fabulist who works in a borderline-minimalist vein," Seitz correctly notes of Anderson while writing about Fantastic Mr. Fox. In peeling back the layers of Anderson's films, Seitz—and, when the mood strikes him, Anderson—hit on some genuinely eye-opening stuff. You'll want to cap off each chapter with a viewing of the film in question.
Seitz's essays are insightful, but perhaps the most valuable are the ones that make the case that Anderson's less-popular films, The Darjeeling Limited and Life Aquatic, deserve just as much consideration as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Seitz takes the wide-angle view: In looking at Anderson's evolution, we see themes rise and fall, and quirks grow and fade; meanwhile, humor and melancholy, and rock 'n' roll and Bill Murray float around the edges. Somehow, it all comes back to that introduction: Anderson's always been honest about his artifices, and his artifices are profoundly honest.