Smile Politely

Here, put this bandit hat on

It’s a big week for The Art Theater Co-op. But you knew that. Saying that something cool is happening at The Art is like saying that you’ll see clouds if you look up. This week, though, the cool quotient is somewhat magnified in an ornate-wallpaper-literate-non-sequitur-brown-corduroy-pants-special-appearance-by-Bill-Murray sort of way. What the cuss am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that it’s Wes Anderson Week.

I spoke with Austin McCann, General Manager of The Art, about this wonderful week of film offerings as well as The Art’s one-night-only presentation of Deke Weaver’s art/theatre performance WOLF. What did I learn? For one thing, I discovered that McCann and I discovered Anderson at the same time and in roughly the same way, with a little movie called Rushmore. (I know, I know — all you cool kids have been fans since Bottle Rocket. I get it; you’re better than me.) I also learned that we fundamentally disagree about one of Anderson’s films (sorry, Austin) and that Wes Anderson changed the course of human events in Champaign-Urbana. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Here’s what McCann had to say, with the occasional editorial interruption.


Smile Politely: First off, thank you for hosting Monday’s performance of WOLF. That was a very cool way to spend an evening. How did this WOLF event come about at The Art? SP readers are familiar with Deke’s show from previous articles, but this is an interesting venue for the piece.

Austin McCann: Deke is touring his new one-person version of WOLF this spring, so he reached out to me to see if he could use the Art as the local venue for him to premiere this new iteration. I think his tour is going to be at other small theaters like ours, so it’s a good fit. I wasn’t able to see WOLF last time, so I’m pleased to be able to offer it at the Art, not just professionally but also personally.

SP: I know the performance has come and gone already, but, as someone who was lucky enough to be in attendance, I was grateful for the opportunity to see it. I know The Art is mostly known as a destination for art films and local movie events, but I always appreciate the times when you bring in stage events (including the National Theatre Live broadcasts). Some of the best theatre I’ve seen has been at The Art.

OK, switching gears. In preparation for the upcoming run of The Grand Budapest Hotel at The Art, you’ll be showing three other Wes Anderson flicks this week. How did you come to appreciate Wes Anderson, as a movie lover?

McCann: The first Wes Anderson film I saw was Rushmore. It was also the first time I ever watched a DVD. I remember being so taken by the Criterion DVD menu — this, after growing up with VHS. The menu was gorgeous. I just sat watching it for a few minutes. Then I saw that I could move the cursor around from “Play Movie” to “Chapters” and “Bonus Features.” This is all taken for granted now, but as a kid of 13 or 14, it was pretty startling. It’s funny, too, because Anderson is known for these beautifully constructed tableaux, and that’s what that DVD menu was.

[SP: Editorial interruption number one. The new Criterion release of Fantastic Mr. Fox is also extraordinarily groovy. The movie looks amazing, of course, but the special features include several “making of” segments, in which you get to see the actors recording their dialogue. Outstanding. Anyway…]

McCann: Anyway, I knew I liked the film (Rushmore) but didn’t really get it. The darkness and snarkiness of it were a little over my head, but my response was better than the folks I watched it with, who hated it. (“This is supposed to be a comedy?”) I watched it again a few times and started to understand it more, to understand the sense of humor and necessity of its style. Then I watched The Royal Tenenbaums at a local megaplex and was blown away. I still see it as a tremendous film—so funny, so moving. Just perfect.

[SP: Clearly we’re on the same page here.]

McCann: I then saw The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou and — sorry, folks — just hated it.

[SP: Editorial interruption number two. What?!?!]

McCann: To me, that film was just a nastier version of Tenenbaums — no aesthetic development and with all of the heart of Tenenbaums squeezed out of it. I missed The Darjeeling Limited, probably because Life Aquatic was such a letdown, but when I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox, I got back 100% on the Wes Anderson train. Oh man, what a beautiful piece of work that is. And then Moonrise Kingdom just tore me up emotionally. The second time I went to see it at the Art, there was an ad on screen for the General Manager position of the nascent Co-op. I decided to apply for the job, and the rest is history.

[SP: I will break in here only long enough to say that I also missed Darjeeling. It had nothing to do with Life Aquatic being a letdown, obviously, because that film is awesome and Austin is wrong. Rather, it was because I cannot take Adrien Brody seriously as a human being, on screen or off. But — MORE IMPORTANTLY — how cool is it that a screening of a Wes Anderson film inspired McCann to apply for his current position at The Art, leading to so much of the great programming and local arts interaction that we enjoy today? OK. Back to Austin…]

McCann: I’m thrilled to play Wes Anderson titles, not only because they mean so much to me personally, but because they’re also very successful for our business. (Moonrise grosses basically carried the Art for months.) And if Wes Anderson is your blockbuster filmmaker, you’re really doing pretty well.


Couldn’t agree more. And listen — I know I dedicate a lot of time and energy to talking about how lucky we are to have an establishment like The Art in our midst. And you know what? I’m going to keep right on keeping on. From quirky late-night fare (The Muppet Movie, Thursday at 10 p.m.) to revisited classics (North By Northwest, Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.); from celebrated foreign cinema (The Great Beauty, Thursday at 2 p.m.) to the best modern art films (see multiple above references to Wes Anderson), The Art Theater Co-op is one of the treasures of our community.

Keep up the good work. Keep us coming back for more.

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