Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first: I absolutely loved Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. As a huge fan of his first stop-motion movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, I wasn’t sure he could top such a special film, but I’m pleased to report he did. And while I loved everything about Isle of Dogs, I have to give a special shout out to the production design and level of detail in every shot. It’s like Anderson took what he did in Fantastic Mr. Fox and said, “Okay, this was good, but now let’s put ten times as many things in every shot and amplify the level of detail by a factor of ten.”
As I watched Isle of Dogs, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground a number of times because I couldn’t believe the level of detail and depth in every shot. Even though I always prefer the theatrical experience, this is one of those rare films I can’t wait to watch at home when I can pause each frame and study the smallest detail. Trust me, Isle of Dogs is one of the best stop-motion films I’ve ever seen and strongly recommend checking it out.
With the film opening in limited release this weekend and expanding nationwide in the coming weeks, I recently got to participate in a roundtable interview with Jeff Goldblum at the Berlin Film Festival. During the wide-ranging conversation he talked about getting to work with Wes Anderson and how he pays attention to every detail, what it was like in the recording booth, his reaction to the finished film, and so much more. In addition, since we had so much time with him, the conversation veered in a number of other directions and it’s one of those really fun interviews that I’m confident you’ll enjoy.
If you’re not aware of the Isle of Dogs story, the film takes place in a near-future Japan where, after an outbreak of dog attacks, all dogs have been banished to live on a garbage-filled island—the Isle of Dogs. A young boy ventures to the island in search of his own dog, and with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire region. The film also features the voices of Bryan Cranston, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Kunichi Nomura, Harvey Keitel, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, Koyu Rankin, Yoko Ono, Courtney B. Vance, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban, and Liev Schrieber.
Check out what Jeff Goldblum had to say below.
You’re a Wes veteran right?
You’ve done three.
GOLDBLUM: Whatever that makes me. Well, it makes me very lucky. Most people never get to work with him. To work with him once is enough, spectacular, twice is more than my cup runneth over, three times is some kind of miracle.
So it’s never routine, it never feels dull?
GOLDBLUM: He is the opposite of routine, as I am sure many people have said better than I’ll be able to say. He is the opposite of routine- I think he is some kind of guru, or some kind of enlightened figure. (laughs) You know, master artist and master teacher just in cinema. Everytime you work with him and everything about him- you know I like to take his course. He will have a stack of DVDs, before Grand Budapest Hotel, of, “these are the movies I’m thinking about.” With this one, obviously, too, I’d love to see-I have not seen Tokyo Story, but I’d like to know everything about- I’m just going to start to read that and I want to know more about what he has been doing for four years. All this, his whole knowledge about this thing-but, I was going to say, his other mastery is that, no, he is the opposite of routine. He is conspicuously present and full of adventure, supreme life, enthusiasm, fertile imagination, whimsy, humor, elegance, graciousness, kindness- you know all of that. Every time, in my experience, that you’re around him is a kind of a magical- just like his movies come out- the experience is a kind of magical adventure and delicious, unexpected, non-routine, kind of a thrill ride.
Whether it’s all the details that he has attended to with the location of restaurant, where I first met him, or where we shot Life Aquatic. You know, where Fellini- I’ve seen Fellini shoot a day there once. Then we shot in Gore Vidal’s villa in the south of Italy. These places- and then with the cast he assembles are, you know, a dream group. All the artisans around him, all the people- I just met them, and I’ll read about them, who made all the things, you know, very special types, and like him. He’s reminds me of my sister, he’s a kind of a un-narcissistic, true artist. You know, I can imagine him just doing that very happily. But, to see him on a set, and he is a people person too. He loves people, and he loves putting these groups together. He reminds me of Robert Altman. I think he was a fan of Robert Altman. He thinks of the shooting experience as an art piece in itself. That’s why Altman would invite us to the dallies, where he would say, “That’s the movie, that’s all our work, and that’s what you should see.” What we cut it down to and the result is important to me, and of course to him, and he’s got something very particular in mind, and makes a beautiful masterpiece. The experience is an art piece too. So, etc., etc, etc.
What did you see Fellini shoot?
GOLDBLUM: I saw a day, when Michelle Pfeiffer and I were doing press in Rome for Into the Night in 1983. I’ll be darned if he wasn’t shooting Ginger and Fred. I peered in and saw just a little bit of him with Guillette Masina and Marcello Mastroianni, for heaven sakes, shooting this thing. I saw him go over and it looked like he was saying, “Don’t say this, don’t say that,” and then he put on music- loud music and they do their thing and I guess, loop it later, just like that. (laughs). Pretty good. But then there we were with Wes, and you know, there is a connection to the thrill of the location, the style, the currents. These movies that Wes is making is going to be- someday I think people will, and now they’re saying it, but I think these will live on and take their place in landmark cinema history. People will say, “You were there? What was it like?” Etc., etc.
They’re doing that now.
GOLDBLUM: Yeah, I know. Well I am.
Do you think he’s a trendsetter? How?
GOLDBLUM: Well, yeah, I think he’s original. He doesn’t follow the trend of what’s come before. He is a student of what’s come before; stands on his favorite shoulders of favorite giants. No, but because he is original, he is a pioneer and forging his own way and has his own brave, however one comes up with it, I guess what’s called an artist. They have their own vision- “Here’s what I want to do, and here’s what I like. Here’s the color that I like, and here’s the shape that I like. I like that actor, he makes me laugh. I think she’s interesting.” You know, like that. So, all of that- it comes out into something original, I think, and progressive.