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New Book 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Presents a Compelling Portrait of the Oscar-winning Film

MZS portraits-2 credit Dave Bunting Jr.

Matt Zoller Seitz. Photo by Dave Bunting Jr.

It’s a great time to be a Wes Anderson fan. Not only did the director’s latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, win four Oscars at last month’s Academy Awards ceremony, but a new book by critic Matt Zoller Seitz, published by Abrams, beautifully captures the film’s aesthetic with artful images and in-depth interviews.

The follow-up to Seitz’s 2013 book on the director’s first seven films, The Wes Anderson Collection, The Grand Budapest Hotel goes deeper into the filmmaking process with 255 pages devoted exclusively to the movie.

“I like to think of this book as a hypertext link that takes you to an entirely separate website,” Seitz said. “Whereas the first book covered seven films in a somewhat abbreviated way, this covers one film in-depth.”

From an introduction by playwright Anne Washburn, to a series of quick, one-page portraits of the film’s principal actors, the book is a treasure trove of smart analysis and entertaining snippets. On the final page, a gaggle of acclaimed writers who contributed essays is presented as “The Society of the Crossed Pens”—an homage to the movie’s “Society of the Crossed Keys.” Playful references like this continue the film’s whimsical elements with direct translations that cross easily to book form. But the movie is not all about whimsy and fun. It’s those underlying psychological currents combined with clever comedy that give it such wide appeal.

 

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‘The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel’ by Matt Zoller Seitz. Published by Abrams. Courtesy of Abrams.

In Seitz’s interviews with the director, their conversation touches on topics like the film’s imaginary/real setting, working with Willem Dafoe and Tilda Swinton, and how Austrian writer Stefan Zweig influenced the story. Further interviews with actor Ralph Fiennes, costume designer Milena Canonero, composer Alexandre Desplat, production designer Adam Stockhausen and cinematographer Robert Yeoman contribute to the fullness of the portrait, while storyboards sketched out on hotel stationary provide an element of intimate authenticity.

“I want these [books] to be enjoyable—fun to read and fun to look at,” Seitz said,  “but I would also like to inform and educate at the same time, and the trick is to try to make the books entertaining to people who already know everything that I have to tell them, but also making them accessible to people for whom all this is news.”

 

“My favorite aspect is the way Zero, who is the primary narrator of the story, selectively omits or dances around particular things,” Seitz said. “Whenever he starts to talk about Agatha he changes the subject, and that’s the sort of thing that a person might actually do if you were talking to them in real life. It seemed to me a very psychologically realistic touch for a movie that’s so fantastical in other ways.”

Seitz said it took about 10 months to make the book. He worked with designer Martin Venezky and his San Francisco firm Appetite Engineers on the design concept, which features varying aspect ratios and matting styles depending on the type of content featured. So while an essay on the movie’s historic setting gets a quarter-inch border of 1970s upholstery fabric, the three interviews with Anderson stretch across the full page. The latter are described in a manner that mimics the attention to detail that encompasses a Wes Anderson film set. “The idea is I am Jude Law (who plays the young writer) and he is F. Murray Abraham (Mr. Moustafa),” Seitz said. “I’m interviewing him and he’s telling me stories. Those are just ways of setting the scene. It’s like – ‘he was sitting by himself in the lobby wearing sunglasses and a velvet suit,’ that kind of thing.”

 

MZS portraits-credit Dave Bunting Jr.

Matt Zoller Seitz. Photo by Dave Bunting Jr.