One Single Thing: The French Dispatch

Instead of writing reviews of entire movies or TV shows or albums or songs, I’m going to focus on a specific scene, or line, or a tiny bit of something that made me think, or laugh, or feel, or whatever. This is One Single Thing.

The French Dispatch is a 2021 film by writer-director Wes Anderson. The film uses an anthology format to explore the stories told in the final issue of the titular magazine. In the first of the three stories, Benicio del Toro plays Moses Rosenthaler, an artist serving a prison sentence for murder. Rosenthaler becomes a sensation in the art world after a dealer, played by Adrien Brody, purchases one of his abstract paintings (despite Rosenthaler attempting to turn him down.)

Brody’s character takes the piece to his family of art exhibitors after he gets out of jail (oh yeah, he buys the painting while locked up for tax evasion) and convinces them to put it on display. And that scene is what I want to explore.

There’s so much going on in this scene and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It depicts how the art world is dominated and dictated by rich people. They bend it to their will to create buzz that will benefit them. They don’t even like or understand the art they buy and sell. They don’t even think it’s good. But they prop it up as a way to make money. And they exploit the artist to keep the process going. Fun, right? And it has me thinking about comedy and writing and my career and all that stuff.

Where I actually want to start exploring is the part where Brody’s character tells his uncles “one way to tell if a modern artist actually knows what he’s doing is to get him to paint you a horse, or a flower…” or basically anything that anybody could look at and in a moment know it is an accurate representation of something. That’s how to gauge if an artist “knows what they’re doing.”

It’s the old “you have to learn to rules before you can break the rules” idea. Which I think I used to really, really agree with (at least when it came to comedy.) And I’m not sure if I do so much anymore. I don’t think it matters if an artist can paint a super realistic bowl of fruit or not if what they actually do express has a purpose, point-of-view, and makes the person looking at it feel something.

“You have to learn the rules before you can break them” is some gatekeeper shit. It’s limiting who matters, or who you think deserves respect, based on an arbitrary idea that has nothing to do with the actual art that’s on display. And, of course, this all plays into the fact that this is coming from a gatekeeper. The guy saying it is trying to uphold the status quo that he, the art dealer, and his uncles, the art exhibitors, are the tastemakers. They make the rules. So if you’re going to break them you need to at least study them. They’re desperately trying to hold on to what their relevance in a changing system by saying if you want to be part of the new way you still have to respect their old way.

Of course, understanding and respecting the craft or art itself is different than respecting the gatekeepers’ decisions on what is important and unimportant. But a lot of respect and love for the craft and the art comes with consuming the art.

If you want to be a comedian because you love comedy and you’ve seen a lot of comedy then you understand the basic joke structure or format from watching a lot of comedy. Now, you want to do your own thing with your own style, and I don’t think you necessarily have to start out learning and perfecting the set-up, punch-line style of past comedians if that’s not what you ultimately want to end up doing.

“One way to tell if an alt comic actually knows what he’s doing is to get him to write you a late-night television monologue joke” would be a ridiculous statement. If a comedian knows what they’re doing, you’re laughing (maybe sometimes thinking a little bit too, but that should come later, I think, like, when you’re on the way home after the show you realize that you were laughing before but now you’re thinking.)

I’m not just thinking about art for the sake of thinking about art (although that is something I do from time to time and something I believe is worthwhile even if it’s an abstract concept made for endless debate.) I’m thinking about it in terms of what I want to do with my life.

I’ve always wanted to have a creative career. I’ve always wanted to perform and write and express myself and hope to have people connect with it in one way or another. I realize that part of this pursuit does involve working with gatekeepers, who have money and will pay you to make things that will make them money, even when they don’t understand them. That’s where the rules matter. and that’s where I’ll follow the rules. I have Google Docs full of “screenwriting format worksheets” to help me with that part of it.

But also there are outlets that will allow you to just break whatever rules you want, and create for the sake of creating. Write for the sake of writing. And dump out a thing like this just because something is on your mind.

So that’s what I’m going to do here. I’ll share my thoughts when I’m thinking too much about a thing. I’ll post humor articles, and sketches, and vlogs, and my podcast, and whatever else I want to do outside of following some set of rules or guidelines for how to create.

And hopefully, there will be some people who connect with it and what to hear what I have to say.

And if you do, please subscribe to my Patreon. It’s where I’ll be sharing these thoughts in the future. I’ll probably repost them here after a while, but that’s where they will show up first.