Director Profile: Wes Anderson

Being one of a collection of movie directors whose work I particularly like and why. 
Wes Anderson

Best known for: Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2005), The Darjeeling Unlimited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Most emblematic: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Widely considered the best: The Royal Tenenbaums
Most underrated: The Darjeeling Unlimited
Personal favorite: Whichever one I've seen last, which would be Moonrise Kingdom
First one I ever saw: The Royal Tenenbaums. In theaters: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Favorite actors: Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Bill Murray
Recurring themes and tropes: Capers, grief, loss of innocence, parental abandonment, adultery, sibling rivalry, unlikely friendships, very eccentric characters, the inability to connect with emotions, men-children, theatrical productions, jarring foul language.
Elements of style: Flat space camera moves, obsessively symmetrical compositions, snap-zooms, slow-motion walking and running shots, a deliberately limited color palette, hand-made art direction, stop motion elements, title cards that fill the screen, the domination of an emblematic band/artist on the soundtrack, slapstick violence, staccato dialog and editing, emotionally disconnected acting.
Reputation: Quirky to the point of preciousness. Exacting. Likes to give actors a blocking challenge.
Appreciation: I discovered Wes Anderson rather late. I'd seen The Royal Tenenbaums and thought it odd and interesting, but didn't note the director's name. Later saw Bottle Rocket and from there identified Anderson as a Tarantino wannabe, never making the connection. THEN my friends started raving about Rushmore, Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox and so on - but I don't think I ever put 2 and 2 together that they were all by the same director - and after seeing Grand Budapest in the theater, promptly got everything on DVD and watched the films in order, each becoming my new favorite as I went along.

Wes Anderson ticks a number of boxes with me. I love films that don't conform easily to a certain genre, especially sad/depressing comedies. And I love heightened realities that conform to the artistic process, but not "realism" per se. Anderson's movies are objets d'art, perfect frames akin to paintings and photographs, home-made, thoroughly unrealistic miniatures and dioramas, effortlessly weaving in and out, between film and theatrical production. I know his detractors think this is all very "twee" (hate that word, it's just about the twee-est thing there is) and precious and self-aware, but I don't think it's pretentious, manufactured artiness. The screen is filled with interesting things, and revels in being art, in a medium usually relegated to simple narrative. It's perhaps Anderson's shamelessness I respond to, or if you prefer (and I think I do), boldness.

There are no films quite like Wes Anderson's - he's a complete original whether we're talking about the look, feel or content - and that makes him a true auteur whose closest analog in the art world might be Brecht. And one whose every effort should be looked forward to as an event.

But how do YOU rate Wes Anderson?


Toby'c said...

I've seen four of his, none of which have exactly won me over on his style. First was Moonrise Kingdom, favourite is The Grand Budapest Hotel. A few more are on my watchlist (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic), but I don't think they're going to turn me into a fan.

misterharry said...

I've only seen a couple of Wes Anderson's films so I don't yet have a wide enough experience to form a clear opinion. The first was The Grand Budapest Hotel, which we saw at the cinema when it was released. The quirky characters and crime caper made it feel a bit as if the Coen Brothers had taken a load of drugs and tried their hands at a live-action cartoon. Me and Mrs Harry both loved it. Since then, I've often thought I should go back and view his back catalogue, but so far I've only seen The Life Aquatic, which was OK but didn't seal me as a Wes Anderson fan.


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