Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter shares what he learned from Wes Anderson and Jeff Goldblum’s commentary for The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The Criterion Collection’s ongoing effort to add all of Wes Anderson‘s films to its home video line took another step forward recently with their release of 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Only 2018’s Isle of Dogs remains now, although Anderson’s newest film (The French Dispatch) is due out soon too.
The new Blu-ray is unsurprisingly loaded with fantastic extras including a brand new commentary recorded this year (before the world went to shit), so of course, we gave it a listen. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Commentators: Wes Anderson (director/co-writer), Roman Coppola (co-writer), Jeff Goldblum (actor), Kent Jones (critic)
1. Anderson doesn’t tend to call “action” on his sets at the start of a scene, but he also doesn’t fire a pistol like Sam Fuller was alleged to have done.
2. The opening bust and the film itself are both inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig, although the films of Ernst Lubitsch may have played a bigger role. Anderson first came across one of Zweig’s novels in a Parisian book store, read it for 45 minutes, and then bought it.
3. Goldblum prepared for this recording by re-watching the film a few days prior, and he mentions the joy of being able to pause and fully take in all that Anderson packed into each frame. “And I read it too, I like subtitles.”
4. Anderson saw a St. Bernard in the streets of Görlitz, Saxony, Germany where they filmed, took its information down, and hired the dog for the film. The dog’s owner is in the scene too which meant they weren’t required to hire an animal wrangler. “I hope that’s legal.”
5. They did some research in advance while writing the film including looking into other movies featuring old European hotels, so of course they asked Marty for suggestions on the topic. One of Marty’s favorites, The Mortal Storm (1940), soon became one of their own. Thanks Marty! We’re never given Marty’s last name, so I guess that good fella’s identity will have to remain a mystery.
6. The character of M. Gustave was written for Ralph Fiennes. Luckily, he said yes.
7. Many of the hotel interior scenes were filmed in an abandoned store.
8. Many of the cast and crew members stayed together in the same nearby hotel, and Anderson came to love that as a production style over the usual use of trailers and separate locations as it’s both more fun and more productive.
9. “Not every actor in the cinema is able to be handed paragraphs and to sculpt them and shape them,” says Anderson in praise of Goldblum. The actor’s preparation includes numerous private recitals of the dialogue, and it’s credited in part to his musical artistry.
10. Goldblum suggested a dialogue change — swapping a “the” for an “an” — but was shut down by Anderson. A later instance, though, saw Goldblum suggest the addition of the word “ostensibly” to a line, and the director agreed as the argument was based in logic.
11. “Boy With Apple” was painted by Michael Taylor, and the original sits behind a chair in Anderson’s London office.
12. The conversation shifts to Paul Mazursky films somehow — seriously, I missed the detour — which in turn leads to two fantastic Shelley Winters anecdotes. The first involves her on The Tonight Show where she asked Johnny Carson if he recalled the time they ducked into a dark room during a dinner party, and Carson apparently cuts the show quickly to commercial. The second is one of Goldblum’s memories of attending a dinner at Musso & Frank’s in Hollywood with Winters and Farley Granger, where “at one point she sort of lifted, leaned to one side, and loudly broke wind, and didn’t say a thing about it.”
13. Another name drop, another anecdote — Goldblum recalls cinematographer Caleb Deschanel using “bee smoke” on the set of The Right Stuff (1983) which leads Anderson to mention that Goldblum starred in two Philip Kaufman films which then sees Coppola recall his mother saving a “huge zucchini” from her garden to give to Philip Kaufman because it reminded her of a pod from his brilliant Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). I will pay good money to attend a dinner party with these people just so I can listen to the conversation, which by the way is a fantastic film from Roman Coppola’s father, director Francis Ford Coppola.
14. Duputy Kovacs’ (Goldblum) office is actually the office of Görlitz’s mayor.
15. Anderson had all of his male cast members grow their head/face hair in the months leading up to production, and then they were each stylized once they arrived on set. “I think we certainly have the maximum supply of mustaches in this film,” says Anderson.
16. Saoirse Ronan plays Agnes, and Anderson recalls her asking what accent she should use for the character. “And I said, ‘well Ralph is speaking like an English person, and Jeff is speaking like Jeff Goldblum, and Tony is speaking in the accent of Anaheim, and we have German actors who are speaking with German accents, so I guess Irish.'” Ronan replied that she’s never played a character in her real accent (to that point, although she has since in 2015’s Brooklyn), “so her first time is when she’s playing a bakery girl from Zubrowka.”
17. That’s a miniature ladder descending at 56:47.
18. Part of the prison escape sees the group jumping over sleeping prisoners at 57:44, and Anderson recalls how he demonstrated the maneuver for the actors and “clipped that man’s mouth and he swallowed his false tooth, so we had to get him a new tooth.”
19. Lawrence Kasdan apparently contacted Goldblum recently to gauge his interest on a sequel to The Big Chill (1983). He doesn’t mention if Kasdan also reached out to Kevin Costner.
20. The confessional booth scene at 1:16:23 between Gustave and Serge X. (Mathieu Amalric) was shot separately, and while Anderson thought both actors did great work they almost had to re-shoot Fiennes’ performance as the actor was so impressed by Amalric’s turn. “If I had known he was going to do it that well,” said Fiennes at the time, “now I feel I need to do my part over again.”
21. The ski chase — their James Bond moment — is made using miniature landscapes with animated skiers.
22. Unrelated to anything, but Anderson mentions how Madam Prada — “We know her.” — has “bought Jean-Luc Godard’s apartment and is reconstructing it in a room.” She’s apparently setting up his belongings as an art installation.
23. As an example of what listening to these guys talk is like, here’s a sample:
Goldblum: “Not to drop names, but I was in a conversation with her [Madame Prada], and somebody asked her what her favorite movie about fashion was. You know what she said? What do you think she said?”
Anderson: “Let’s think for one second.”
Goldblum: “Her favorite fashion movie.”
Anderson: “Her favorite film about fashion.”
Coppola: “Can I have a hint? Is it pre-war or post-war?”
Goldblum: “Ahhh, post-war.”
Anderson: “Post-war. Um, American?”
Anderson: “Was it a Fellini?’
Anderson: “Was it French? La Belle de Jour.”
Coppola: “It’s Godard.”
Goldblum: “Nope nope nope.”
Anderson: “Italian film?”
Goldblum: “It’s not Italian, no.”
Anderson: “Is it French, it’s French.”
Goldblum: “It’s not French.”
Anderson: “It’s German.”
Goldblum: “It’s German.”
Coppola: “Fassbinder. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.”
Goldblum: “Exactly right, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.”
Anderson: “Yes. Yes. Wow.”
24. Anderson loves Capricorn One (1977). “No one wants to appreciate this film. It’s certainly the best of Peter Hyams’ work.” He then proceeds to list of the cast by memory, and honestly, his enthusiasm is contagious. (Someone reissue the film to Blu-ray with an Anderson commentary please.) “What is it, a space movie?” asks Goldblum. “There are astronauts?” “There are astronauts, all right,” replies Anderson.
25. The double-ZZ symbol meant to be a riff on the Nazi’s swastika was referred to on set as “the zig zags.” Anderson doodled “thousands” of variations during pre-production.
26. Anderson notes that Dmitri’s (Adrien Brody) walk down the hotel hall feels inspired by Brian De Palma. “We were talking earlier about Brian De Palma,” he adds a beat later.
27. The director sent several of the cast/crew members robes modeled after the hotel’s color scheme, and Goldblum wears it every day. “It’s my favorite robe.”
28. A day in the life of Wes Anderson on a train: “One thing that was great, we sometimes scouted by train. We got an engine, and we went into areas where, because we were looking for places where we’d shoot shots from the train, but we also just scouted on these trains because you know the trains go places the roads don’t go, and often when you’re on a train you’re going someplace that’s a bit older, that might be a bit forgotten, and I remember we went scouting in this train engine, and we had to bring a chain saw because it snowed heavily and there were branches and things, and sometimes we had to stop the train, and our location manager Klaus had to get out and chain saw the tracks, and then we went by one place and we stopped and we got out and we went into this man’s little farm shop that was in his house. We bought honey and some other handy crafts.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“I don’t know if people still do DVDs, but Blu-ray’s much better obviously.”
“So now we just start saying things about the movie.”
“On what side of the river you’re eating sausages, and the other side you’re eating rabbit.”
“This place was built by the Nazis.”
“It looks like I’m in Barry Lyndon all of a sudden.”
“Who is this man?”
“We love Saoirse.”
“They’re very good with leathers.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel remains my least favorite of Anderson’s live-action films — it’s his most precious in style, and I find no human connection to the heightened characters — but this commentary is a blast. It’s… a lot of commentary, and I mean that in a good way as Anderson and friends leave minimal gaps and instead fill your ears with far more than mere talk about the film’s production. They name drop like mad, but rather than do so simply for the bragging rights it’s almost always in service of a story, anecdote, or acknowledgment of films and people they adore. It’s a struggle to keep up at times as Anderson in particular sees every name as an invite to a tangent. Sometimes it’s just to list someone’s filmography, and other times it comes with a story or connection. Highly recommended listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.