Wes Anderson is the creator of a string of classic American independent films that infuse a quirky filming style with wry humour and eccentric characterisations, including The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
“I’ve done a bunch of movies. And it’s a luxury to me that they’re all whatever I’ve wanted them to be.” – Wes Anderson
Tall, lean, shoulder-length hair, corduroy-clad; Wes Anderson is as identifiable as one of his films. While seemingly shy and awkward in interviews, he is evidently always thinking, planning, working; absorbing ideas from the world around him. Like his films, there is more to him than his appearance. Despite a distinguished and recognisable aesthetic, his work exhibits a surprisingly emotive quality. Themes of isolation and detachment abound, while common motifs such as parent-child relationships give his films honesty and warmth beyond their wit and visual invention.
Born in Houston, Texas in 1969, Anderson was the son of a writer and an archaeologist. After school he attended the University of Texas in Austin, studying Philosophy and playwriting; pursuits that would combine to form his distinctly intellectual scripts and humour. His roommate there was an aspiring actor and writer, Owen Wilson, and together they would write Anderson’s first three films. Their debut was a short, Bottle Rocket, which they subsequently remade into their first feature film under the same name; released in 1996, it revealed Anderson’s early potential.
His arrival was truly announced with 1998’s Rushmore, which marked his first collaboration with the legendary Bill Murray and debut star Jason Schwartzman. Both would become Anderson regulars along with Wilson, and their dead-pan delivery and eccentricities flawlessly reflect his unique writing style, characterisations and dialogue. Over time, Anderson’s films have expanded into ensemble films, gathering extraordinary talent and developing an ever-expanding repertory; as he states, “I made these initial connections because they are just my favourite actors. And not only are they my favourite, but I have all their email addresses.”
While email addresses certainly help, a sterling reputation is also useful. 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums was not only a commercial success but also saw Anderson receive his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and although some of his subsequent films have failed to acquire the same acclaim he is often a favourite of critics and has garnered a devoted fandom. Following The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Anderson’s past three films have seen his acclaim expand even further with the Oscar-nominated Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and more recently the sensational The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
However, Anderson can be a somewhat divisive figure. His humour has been condemned as overly arch and smug, and his films have grown increasingly detached from any form of realism. While this is intentional – Anderson defines them as “Five degrees removed from reality” – some find them emotionally detached and their eccentricities irritating. Anderson’s films, in essence, are a required taste.
But in a world of Hollywood conventionalism, he possesses a refreshingly individual and identifiable style. His films make great use of deep focus and staging, allowing comedy to occur in the background of shots. These are typically composed to perfection; Anderson favouring his actors to be positioned centrally in the frame (and looking into the camera) as opposed to the more typical rule of thirds. Although there are instances of handheld/steadicam shots in his films, he prefers camera movements dictated by angles and lines. His most identifiable set-ups involve dolly shots that run parallel to the action, seamlessly passing through walls to track movement across rooms, or else static cameras that track or zoom in and out of the action or rotate in 90˚ angles to reveal characters out of frame. In many ways, his films exhibit a debt to early silent films and tableau staging, retaining an artifice and awareness of the camera that further distances the viewer from reality.
Although he has contemplated making a film in black and white (including an idea of then colourising it), he has yet to do so simply because colour is such an integral part of his films. Whether costumes or set design (where he exhibits an obsession with detail), he selects strong blocks of colour to create a bold aesthetic statement, which combined to his composition within static shots gives his imagery a painterly quality.
Now more than ever, Anderson refuses to conform to Hollywood convention, choosing to remain on the fringes of the cinematic mainstream where his identity, invention and imagination can be given free rein. He is a true artist, investing every frame of his films with love, humour and originality.
Top 5 Wes Anderson Films:
Rushmore (1998): When a pretentious schoolboy falls for his teacher, he must compete for her affections against an older man experiencing a mid-life crisis. Terrific performances marry to Anderson’s developing craft and style. Incredible soundtrack, too.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001): A father attempts to reconcile with his three gifted yet eccentric children. Gene Hackman leads an incredible cast in a surprisingly moving tale.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): A retelling of the classic Roald Dahl story; this is more Anderson’s tale than Dahl’s, adapting the director’s language and visuals to beautiful stop-motion animation.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012): Two twelve year olds attempt to elope, setting of an island-wide manhunt. Inspired by Anderson’s youth, this odd tale is moving, funny and arguably his most warming, sentimental film to date.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014): A concierge must clear his name after he is wrongly convicted of murder. Incredible performances, a terrific script, and a multi-layered narrative that moves between political/social satire and witty farce.
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