It is always a relief to lay back on the couch, reach for the TV remote, and search for the perfect film to watch after a long and laborious day. So often, people desire to be entertained and free themselves from their boredom. They can fulfill this longing by simply pressing a couple of buttons and turning a few dials. Cinema is the modern escape from reality. It is a life-giver to a variety of stories by appealing to the eyes and dynamically to the ears. The goal of a director is to do exactly this by expressing themselves in their films using unique methods, and no one does this more proficiently than Wes Anderson – the father of countless critically acclaimed movies that impact cinema today.
Wesley Wales Anderson was born in Houston Texas on May 1, 1969, and grew up alongside two brothers, Eric and Mel. At just eight years old, his parents divorced.
The stress of their divorce led to poor behavior in primary school. Over time, he learned to put his energy into more artistic pursuits rather than mischief. With the help of his brothers and a Super 8mm camera, he directed movies starring himself and his siblings. This fueled his passion for storytelling which kicked into high gear during his time in high school where he composed complex play productions at the school and were usually inspired by well-known movies and shows.
In the late ’80s, Anderson became a philosophy major at the University of Texas where he met American actor Owen Wilson who was majoring in English at the time. They had not talked for a semester but soon became friends after a conversation about their love of film during a playwriting class the two shared. The two became roommates and together, they wrote the script for a full-length movie known as Bottle Rocket. Initially written as a serious drama, they later aimed for a more comedic approach. Using Owen’s brother, Andrew Wilson, and his ties to the film industry, a small budget was raised for the film. Though the full-length movie the two envisioned was cut into a short film due to budget constraints, it did not stop the film from growing an audience, including filmmaker Kit Carson who was deeply impressed with their work. Carson connected Anderson and Wilson with Columbia Pictures, providing them with a five million dollar budget. Their ambition of a full-length movie was revived. Despite little box office success, Bottle Rocket was adored by critics and in 1996, Anderson won the MTV award for Best New Filmmaker. With this achievement, his career soared.
What exactly makes Wes Anderson so rare among other filmmakers? The answer is his style which can be best accurately described as “direct directing.” This is done through the long tracking shots from the camera and the quickly executed action from the characters. Sharp editing and transitions from one scene to the next to create a sense of comedy.
Another factor that makes Anderson’s films so appealing is the cinematography by Robert Yeoman who built the foundation that Anderson’s film style rests upon. Yeoman’s cinematography consists of symmetrical images that present an almost dollhouse-like effect, giving the movie both style and weight. The intentionality of the color palette also adds to the expert cinematography. Primarily consisting of muted or pastel hues, the recurring color usage shapes the movie’s personality. The colors extract emotion from the audience and amplify the tone of the film. Take Moonrise Kingdom, for example, a movie that is seen from the perspective of two children. Muted yellow dominates the color palette of the film to represent innocence and childhood making the viewer feel nostalgic. In contrast, The Life Aquatic is illustrated with dark blues and reds to convey more mature themes.
Anderson does not follow the classic color theory that the majority of filmmakers use but instead uses colors that don’t correlate with the mood of a certain scene. This antithetical technique is intended to generate tension within the audience by offering them an intense scene but it’s still enclosed in a world of comforting colors. All of these elements maintain the movie’s aesthetic and leave the audience in a sea of resonance and awe-inspiring wonder.
To complement the visual aspects of Anderson’s films, the simple – yet witty – screenplay is the cherry on top of each movie that he crafts. Anderson writes to get a direct point across to the audience. What people notice the most about the dialogue is how natural it is – as if viewers are watching two everyday people have a normal conversation whereas other movies dramatize the way characters interact with one another. Fantastic Mr. Fox was Wes Anderson’s first animated film using stop motion mainly for kids’ entertainment. The writing however is not the everyday Disney screenplay that children are more used to, but the flow that the characters speak in is more realistic and laidback. Not only is this accomplished through Anderson’s brilliant writing skills but also the fact that the voice actors did not record in a sound booth. Instead, they would reenact the scene that was being animated for the film such as riding a motorcycle or running across a field while reciting their line. Anderson’s mature writing style helps engage audiences of all ages and it shows in Fantastic Mr. Fox with its appealing humor and forward plot. How Anderson works with the character development is also intriguing for film buffs to dissect. The characters in Anderson’s films are often living contradictions: children act like adults and adults act like children. His characters can have a vain, manipulative, or intimidating demeanor yet they are surprisingly likable and the audience still roots for them, despite their awful nature. Others may realize the casts of his films are heavily consistent. Actors such as Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, and many more simply enjoy being in Anderson’s films and working with him, not because of a paycheck. So when actors view the script they are immediately captivated by the ideas that are woven into the story.
From the amusing directing and intentional colors to the clever screenplay and the gorgeous cinematography, Wes Anderson movies have truly become their own genre. Anderson came from humble beginnings and over time has shaped how people define cinema today by using unique approaches and taking bold risks to create something beautiful as an outcome. So next time after having a strenuous day, people will be encouraged to sit back and be engulfed in the whimsical world of Wes Anderson.
Image courtesy of Screen Crush.