Asteroid City, Wes Anderson’s brilliant and delicious new film
We are huge fans of Wes Anderson films. And that doesn’t mean that we like all of his cinematic creations to the same extent, but what is indeed clear is that we share the love for his stories, his aesthetic, his faithful cast of actors and his particular way of filming and narrating fictitious tales, where the brilliant focal points are love and those things that really matter.
With that in mind, this weekend we had the pleasure of seeing his new work: Asteroid City, at the Cine Yelmo Luxury Palafox de Madrid, and the truth is it was a marvellous experience.
Asteroid City is a really beautiful film from beginning to end, written by Anderson together with Roman Coppola and produced by Focus Features. Everything in it is pure reminiscence, sensibility and good taste.
When theatre and cinema go hand in hand
The film starts in a studio setting that takes us back to the programs of television’s Golden Era, such as “Playhouse 90”, that showed work directed by John Frankenheimer and Sidney Lumet, and that included the participation of stars such as Lee Cobb and James Dean. At that time, there was no theatre group more famous than the Actors Studio, where legends such as Dean, Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger studied with Kazan and Lee Strasberg. That’s why for many actors of this generation (together with future film directors and screenwriters), the leap from the stage to the big screen included a stop at these televised dramas.
“Theatre is deeply rooted in Anderson’s narrative style, and he is also a great fan of Sam Shepard.”
As you will be able to see for yourselves, the first scenes of Asteroid City are in black and white. Bryan Cranston, the famous main character in “Breaking Bad”, appears on TV, explaining the different parts in the process of creating a written play by a successful playwright, played by Edward Norton. The setting of this story is the desert, where its striking and symmetrical visual composition, together with its particular colour palette of primary colours in pastel tones, is once again the undeniable focus point.
“I feel that a movie for me is not just one idea. It’s at least two separate things that come together and start to become a movie.”
This duality that takes place between these two antagonistic scenarios is really interesting, and allows us to flow from one genre to another without it affecting the essence of the narrative.
The film is divided into three acts with interludes. The setting is the desert town of Asteroid City, where different and extravagant stories will unfold during the summer of 1955. All these stories coincide in a motel with bungalows and feature a troubled movie star who is accompanied by his daughter; a widower (Augie Steenbeck played by Jason Schwartzman) who is the father of four children whose car has broken down; a teacher with a group of school children; a troupe of whiz kids; space cadets and families visiting a school convention for future astronomers, etc…
It will all change on the night of the celebration to honour the achievements of the Junior Stargazers, when they receive the unexpected visit of an alien brought to life by Jeff Goldblum… From that moment on, they will become victims of a quarantine as a result of this visit…
Chinchón: oficial setting of Asteroid City
This “cute” western with Martian and cosmic developments… was filmed in Chinchón, a Spanish town in the South East of the Madrid region.
And why? Well, because Wes Anderson lives in France and was clear he didn’t want to leave Europe.
Also, Chinchón met the main production requirements: good weather, blue skies, natural lighting needed to construct what would become a completely immersive world, nearby accommodation and a vast flat terrain on which to recreate a North American Midwest landscape.
A sublime cast of actors
Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, or Jeff Goldblum… Who could ask for more?
Unfortunately, this time one of his favourite actors could not be present: Bill Murray, because when he arrived at Chinchón, he tested positive in Covid and was unable to film.
“Asteroid City is a dreamlike place to contemplate the universe: love and loneliness, grief and hope, the meaning of life (and death).”
The best part:
The extraordinary scenes through the windows of Jason Schwartzman and Scarlett Johansson’s bungalows. Watching the beginning of their connection and fascination with each other and how, coming from different worlds and being complete strangers, they are able to “read” each other…
One of the crucial themes of the film: “How to deal with grief?” Anderson treats the subject with a lot of care, without having to provide a clear answer.
The four-way love between Woodrow, the brainiac son of Jason Schwartzman, and Dinah, Scarlett Johansson’s daughter, and the parents themselves.
The scene in which the playwright (Edward Norton) tries to inspire his actors by asking them to interpret sleeping people and they begin to scream: “You can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep!”. Everything that happens in black and white is an ode to classic cinema and to the actors.
The good intentions and potentially happy endings. Anderson is still determined to make films for enjoyment and to bring joy and happiness to our hearts.
The child prodigies and the three orphaned girls. They are all essential to the film. And their innocence and limitless curiosity reminds us of films such as “The Goonies“, “E.T” or even “Stranger Things”…
The nod to the Road Runner by Chuck Jones and the always exquisite visual references.
The worst part:
Bill Murray’s absence.
We would have liked the different stories that converge to have been explored in greater depth but that would have implied more footage…
Asteroid City exhibition in 180 Studios
From 17th June to 8th July 2023
Place: 180 Studios, 180 The Strand (London)
Times: 12.00 to 19.00, Tuesday to Sunday
On the occasion of the very much anticipated release of the new Wes Anderson film, 180 Studios has organised a fantastic exhibition of original film settings, accessories, miniatures, costumes and art work that appear in the film.
This immersive exhibition will pull us into the world of Anderson’s eleventh full-length feature film, through its installations that show characteristic images and sounds, as well as providing the opportunity of dining at the iconic 1950s restaurant in the film, the Luncheonette.
We will also be able to buy limited edition merchandising products such as T-shirts, bags, the script, badges or an exclusive vinyl with the songs from the film: “Dear Alien” (Who Art in Heaven) and “You Can’t Wake Up If You Don’t Fall Asleep”, among other things
Entrance fee: £15. Under-12: Free. Young adults 13 -18 years old, students, over 65s, NHS, Universal Credit and Dazed Club: £9.
Save the date!
The spaceship from which the alien comes down and the crater which he goes into were made as miniatures; they did not use CGI. The alien was originally conceived as being over 2 metres tall, considerably taller than Jeff Goldblum, who is 1.94 m. Mark Coulier, who won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling for “The Iron Lady” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, designed a costume that Goldblum could use with stilts. Also, the alien we see on screen is a puppet, that is filmed in stop motion. The interesting thing is that instead of acting in front of a green screen, Goldblum put the costume on and embodied the movements and actions of the celestial visitor. Then, Andy Gent, who in the past created the creatures in “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Isle of Dogs”, created a three-legged alien, unusually large for stop motion work. After testing it out in London, Kim Keukelerie, recognized for her work with Tim Burton and Aardman Studios, animated the interstellar visitor.
The mid-century country and western sounds, particularly the disconcerting cries of the baritone Tennessee Ernie Ford and the choral serenades of Roy Rogers, inspired the original song, “Dear Alien”, written by Jarvis Cocker andAnderson. The cowboy band in the film that includes Cocker and the guitarist Seu Jorge, were recorded live.
Orson Welles filmed part of “The Immortal Story” in Chinchón, and around the same square and parador hotel where Anderson‘s team and the cast stayed.
The town in Asteroid City, designed by Adam Stockhausen who has been a collaborator of Anderson’s for a long time now(winning an Oscar for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), became a functioning city. But it first needed to be explored, investigated, conceived and developed. No easy task during the pandemic as he was forced to work remotely. Both for Anderson and Stockhausen, a great inspiration for the look of the landscape (and that of the city) was “Bad Day at Black Rock”, the 1955 movie directed by John Sturges starring Spencer Tracy. This was filmed in locations around Death Valley and the Mojave Desert.
Other design inspirations were “Ace in the Hole” and Billy Wilder’s “Kiss Me, Stupid”, and also the classic “It Happened One Night” by Frank Capra as a reference for the road, even for the shadows projected through the top trellis during the picnic scene in Asteroid City.
(*) Images provided by UPI Media.