CineMasters: Wes Anderson Programme Notes

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(*Bob Balaban and Anjelica Huston voiceovers are also fine.)

‘She’s sweet, but she’s f**ked-up.’ The idea that a Wes Anderson character could be anything other than a strict blend of the two is scarcely credible. His ever-growing cast of quietly chaotic characters, move through their cinematic worlds with a shared damage and complexity. Wes’ distinctive style brings together an excess of influences to create something entirely new and unique through each of them; a charming exterior with devastation hidden deep inside.

His films might be twee, but there is grit and honesty beneath the nostalgia that connects powerfully with so many people. The director has raised an army of film fans from the angsty teenage wallowing of Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, into an adulthood of immaturity and a struggle to find ones self, in films such as The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic. Wes does this in the knowledge that deep down, we are all still children dressed in adults clothing, ready to be ‘proven by history; (that) all mankind makes mistakes.’

A child of divorce himself, Wes has explored the torments and fascinations of his own childhood alongside his audience and gladly welcomed them along for the ride. What his films and his followers share is a sense of belonging in their peculiarity, which is why it’s no wonder Wes Anderson is a comfort director to so many film fans.

As a director, Wes tends to find the order within his character’s chaos through his focus on style. Under the guise of their perfectly buttoned jackets, neatly pinned berets and freshly shined loafers, his characters hide their emotional labour, impending doom and overwhelming daddy issues. In his worlds, there is a necessity of fashion as an emotional smokescreen, with their pastel colour palettes and rich textures a quintessential framing for his deadpan delivery.

Anderson once said that 'The central event of his life is getting to make movies’ and he certainly makes sure that each of his films is an event in itself. In amongst his cohesive style and cinematic intricacies, his films are littered with lucid details. For example, the main theme in The Life Aquatic is The Royal Tenenbaums theme played backwards. In Rushmore, a Jaques Cousteau book appears to initially tease the release of The Life Aquatic. They say the devil is in the details, and in Wes’ case, there’s the devil, god and everything else in between.

Not only are his films a visual spectacle, they also share a community of cast members new and old, making up the dysfunctional family of the Wes Anderson Multi-verse. Wes’ most seasoned contributors include University confidant Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and the infamous Bill Murray, to name a few. You’d be hard pressed not to recognise more than one member of a Wes Anderson ‘Cast of Characters’, which remains one of his most notable trademarks; ‘we’re a pack of strays, don’t you get it?'.

Over the years, his characters and their signature styles have become celebrities in themselves, bringing with them a lasting cultural phenomenon of viral Tik Tok trends and countless halloween costumes. Suzy and Sam of Moonrise Kingdom can even be seen making a cameo in the 2016 Jim Jarmusch film Paterson as anarchist students in present day America, providing too an example of Anderson’s influential gravitas on even his most established of fans.

In the director’s composition, his iconic Futura font is a character in itself, framing his films with exposition, precision and visual bliss. As the titles roll in you are instantly met with Wes’ idiosyncratic style, brought to fruition by his trusted cinematographer and long time collaborator; Robert Yeoman. Responsible for the film photography on all of his films, Yeoman is just as much a master of Wes’ dream-world as the man himself, breathing aesthetic life into the directors picturesque imaginings. As a result, every frame is irrefutably iconic.

Despite his precision, Wes Anderson often plays with photography and form beyond the norms of classic filmmaking, with a uniquely innovative approach to his direction. Whilst The French Dispatch flicks between both black and white and colourful sequences, The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts 3 aspect ratios to define the time periods of its story. Besides his two fully stopmotion animation films Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle of Dogs, live-action feature The Life Aquatic first used this animated style to depict its underwater segments. Both are examples of how Wes uses visual techniques to give depth and spectacle to his fictional worlds.

The motifs of these worlds, though different in their visual themes, tie together through a focus on grief, family and flawed relationships. From Bad Dads to sad children, Wes Anderson’s stories individually explore the destructive impacts humans have on one another, and as a whole, the patterns which form between his deeply melancholic characters. The existential dread of Mr Fox, Royal Tenenbaum and Steve Zissou, is reflected too in the shared insecurities of their children; Margot, Richie, Ash and Ned. The innate banality of the Bishop’s marriage is distinctly quashed by the simplicity of Sam and Suzy’s love; ‘We're in love. We just want to be together. What's wrong with that?’

Though the emotional journeys of these characters are hidden beneath dulcet tones, the musicality of their emotions come through in Wes’ notable soundtracks, which often say more than the characters themselves. It is hard not to picture two youngsters in love at the sound of Le Temps des L’amour by Francoise Hardy, three brothers on a spiritual journey to the backdrop of The Kinks, or a heartbroken Luke Wilson as Elliot Smith kicks in. Through his selective soundtracks, Wes is able to imprint his films even further into our brains, where even a few notes of These Days by Nico can evoke visions of a slow-motion Margot Tenenbaum; exiting a bus and drifting towards us on a wide angle frame.

What Wes Anderson does through his storytelling is create a safe space. Space for consolation in chaos, affirmation in doomed desires and authenticity in the depths of our imagination. It is fair to say that Wes creates worlds that we can lose ourselves in, nestled within the details which penetrate our minds and endure our disquiet.

‘That's the kind of movie that I like to make, where there is an invented reality and the audience is going to go someplace where hopefully they've never been before. The details; that's what the world is made of.’ - Wes Anderson

Words by programmer Heather Bradshaw

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