The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz
Abrams, 2015; 256 pp
Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli
The critic and visual essayist Matt Zoller Seitz gave readers the first in-depth study into director Wes Anderson’s work with his 2013 book The Wes Anderson Collection. Both the author and the filmmaker first rose to prominence around the mid-1990s, with Seitz writing for the Dallas Observer and championing the Dallas-based filmmaker in the early days when he made Bottle Rocket. With The Wes Anderson Collection, Seitz adapts his visual investigations into Anderson’s work by offering a book of interviews with the filmmaker that is illustrated with stills, production photos, and archival material to guide the reader through the singular and visually dazzling imagination of the director. After Anderson's Oscar-winning 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel, Seitz did more than amend his previous book with a new chapter. Instead his companion book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, provides readers with the opportunity to explore elements in Anderson’s production history not offered in the previous book.
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson feels more open with Seitz than he did in the previous book, walking the author through the different elements of production like the screenplay process, shooting in different aspect ratios, and mining the books of Stefan Zweig for inspiration. The Grand Budapest Hotel, too, doesn’t force the weight of the book onto Anderson’s shoulders only. Seitz uses the book to interview other people who helped realize the elaborate, detailed world of the film, including the cinematographer, costume designer, composer, and production designer, among others. As many of these individuals have worked with Anderson before, they offer new angles to view the production history previously explored in The Wes Anderson Collection. Seitz is not alone either, having commissioned essays from other established critics, writers, and scholars.
As a longtime Anderson acolyte, I appreciated reading about facets of the director’s work I’d never seen explored in this detail before, particularly the research history and European influence that has shaped many recent works—but The Grand Budapest Hotel in particular. The book cites many of Anderson’s filmmaking influences like Ernst Lubitsch, Max Ophuls, and (surprisingly) James Bond. Despite the film taking place in a fairy tale European city straight out of classic Hollywood, Anderson discusses the strong influences of Europe in the parallel years, from the more Nazi-fied style of the villains and soldiers, to the crumbling, bland architecture of the hotel in the years that suggest the ravages of a communist-like government. Many details add richness to the story and the overwhelming melancholy of a movie that I didn’t think needed any more help in showing its hidden depths. Leave it to Matt Zoller Seitz, perhaps the finest critic around, to prove me wrong.