Thursday, February 18, 2021

RW400 - Wes Anderson Rewatch - The Royal Tenenbaums


In this episode of The Wes ANDERSON Rewatch, Cory and Nathan may not be so let down by "The Royal Tenenbaums."


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A starting point for the story's concept was the divorce of director Wes Anderson's mother and father, though the evolved story bore little resemblance to it. French director Louis Malle's works, such as his 1971 Murmur of the Heart, were an influence on Anderson, with The Royal Tenenbaums particularly drawing from The Fire Within (1963), where a suicidal man tries to meet his friends. A line from The Fire Within is translated into English and appears as "I'm going to kill myself tomorrow." Orson Welles' 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons was also an influence.

J.D. Salinger's characters in the 1961 book Franny and Zooey inspired much of the child prodigy material. The children of the Glass family in Salinger's work are precocious with an abundance of exceptional talents. Franny and Zooey also feature characters wearing distinctive fashions and a character with the name Tannenbaum.

Gene Hackman was Anderson's choice for Royal, with Anderson saying, "It was written for him against his wishes." Etheline Tenenbaum was written with Anjelica Huston in mind. Hackman was hesitant about accepting the role, citing his lack of understanding of, or commonalities with Royal. Hackman's agent persuaded him to take the role, though his reluctance led to Michael Caine being considered for the part. Gene Wilder was also rumored to be a possible choice.

Gene Hackman mentioned in interviews that he was somewhat hesitant to accept the part, as he felt that he himself had been insensitive to his own family at different points in his life. He asked them if they would find him playing this character uncomfortable for their own sakes. They all agreed he should accept the part.

Hackman's decision to star made it easier to assemble a cast of high-profile actors to appear with him. However, Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow were available only for a limited time, requiring the shooting schedule to work around them.

Gene Hackman, knowing that he was near the end of his career, signed on to this movie under the agreed promise from Wes Anderson that it would be a fun and relaxing experience. This did not transpire and led to Hackman becoming frustrated and verbally abusing Anderson on-set over trivial matters. Such was the extent of his frustration that cast members became angered and felt that what Hackman was doing amounted to bullying, leading to Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelica Houston avoiding Hackman on-set. Bill Murray saw this happening and decided to intervene, calling Hackman out on his verbal abuse of Anderson and choosing to come to work on his days off as a show of solidarity with Anderson.

Throughout the movie, everyone wears the same clothing (or some variation of the same clothing). All of the clothing is also from the 1970s. For example, Richie wears a Fila tennis shirt and headband made famous by Björn Borg around 1976. Wes Anderson did this intentionally, so that it would appear that the Tenenbaums are trapped in the era of their heyday, while time moves on (the gravestone at the end reads 2001). Much of the setting, including the use of gypsy cabs and Green Line buses, are also in keeping with this theme.

The brand of cigarettes Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) smokes throughout the movie were only sold in Ireland, and were discontinued in the 1970s. According to Wes Anderson in the DVD insert (detailing all of the setting and props and the reasons why he used them), this was intentional, because of the 1970s theme, and to make Margot's secret smoking habit just a little stranger.

Ben Stiller asked co-writer and director Wes Anderson why his character and his sons wore red track suits. Anderson replied that because Chas was so obsessed with safety after the death of his wife, red would make everyone easier to see in case of an emergency. Anderson later admitted on the DVD audio commentary that he had no real reason behind the costumes, he just always imagined those characters in red Adidas track suits.

The film received a nomination at the 74th Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay. CNN reported that it had been considered as a possibility for nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Actor for Hackman. Hackman did win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but was unable to accept the award in person.

What's Up Next?

Next week we discuss "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou."

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