Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wes Anderson – Movies Spotlight – May 2012


Wes Anderson, 42, is known for his eccentric and quirky style, influencing many of America’s new auteur (and non-auteur) filmmakers emerging in the 2000s. Anderson, like many auteurs, writes, directs and produces his films, and has an almost overzealous attention to detail – crafting the mise en scene of every frame to look exactly right. This month he has a new film that he is directing, producing and co-wrote with Roman Coppola called Moonrise Kingdom. While it stars newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the supporting cast is brilliant featuring Bob Balaban, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and frequent collaborators Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It is about two young people that run away from a small New England town, causing the grownups to form a search party to look for them (here is the trailer).

Early Career:

Anderson got his start while attending the University of Texas at Austin. While in school, he made friends with the Wilson brothers (Owen, Luke and Andrew), and made a short with them called Bottle Rocket. They took the short to Sundance, where it was screened and noticed by producers James L. Brooks and Polly Platt. Brooks and Platt brought Anderson and Owen Wilson to Hollywood and commissioned them to write a feature based on the short, giving birth to Anderson’s feature directorial debut (also called) Bottle Rocket. It was a box office failure, but critics began to take notice of Anderson’s talent and unique cinematic style. Most notable among these positive critics is Martin Scorsese who named the film among his ten favorite from the 1990s. Thus, despite the commercial shortcomings of Bottle Rocket, Anderson had carved a niche for himself as an indie art-film director, with cult/pop culture appeal.


Style and Influences:

Wes Anderson films are easily recognizable due to the director’s individual style. Anderson has listed animator Bill Melendez (who worked on Charles Shultz’s Charlie Brown), Shultz, Orson Welles, Francois Truffaut (and really a lot of the French New Wave filmmakers), and Hal Ashby as his major influences – and a lot of their works shows up in his (many times in direct reference). He is a director who explicitly cares about every facet of his films, from the overall aesthetic and thematic look all the way down to the minute detail of which font print material should be presented in (typically Futura). He has a very theatrical style, often breaking the fourth wall visually by drawing attention to how the camera is moving, the significant and highly stylized action blocking, and/or to the artistic touch of a shot or scene – he likes to use wide-angel anamorphic lens, take/double take shots, slow-motion tracking shots, lots of background action, and logistically astounding ‘virtuoso’ shots. The theatre itself plays a role in his films, with stage productions occurring within the films and the use of curtains to signify the beginning or end of chapters in the narrative. Anderson continues to use the same players and filmmaking collaborators on his films (for example, of his seven films including Moonrise Kingdom, Bill Murray has appeared in six, director of photography Robert Yeoman has shot six, and Owen Wilson has co-written and/or appeared in six, and there are many others who have appeared in or worked on two or more). He also constantly plays with the same themes: a broken family circle, someone who was once great but is now in decline, adults who act like children, and more. Anderson often uses a color pallet with subdued washed out colors (especially lots of yellows). And, he infuses his films with brilliant soundtracks, generally made up of British rock from the 1960s and 1970s, but some French pop has started to find its way into his work (probably due to his living in Paris). All these aesthetic and thematic trends across his work make them feel familiar, to an extent that fans know exactly what to expect when they see ‘A Wes Anderson Film’. His films are funny (with wonderfully dry wit) and sad (as many of his characters are quite melancholy), and while they fall under criticism for the role of director being highlighted over the narrative and characters this is more an attack on Anderson not fitting into the general narrative filmmaking style than a comment on the quality of his films (as they are all very good). He is an extraordinarily ambitious filmmaker, in which every element is specifically done to fit both the style and overall narrative of each film. He is truly one of America’s great auteurs.


Rushmore to Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Films of Wes Anderson:

After finishing Bottle Rocket, Anderson decided that he wanted to have complete control over every creative aspect of his films, thus he needed to not only write and direct them he also needed to produce them. He set up American Empirical Pictures as his production company. The new company’s first film was 1998’s Rushmore. Originally set up to be distributed by New Line Cinema, co-writers Anderson and Owen Wilson put the film up for auction, having not come to an agreement over budget. Joe Roth the chair at Walt Disney made them an offer they agreed too and the film went into production. Wilson and Anderson wanted to create a feeling to the story of a Roald Dahl children’s book, but still have a slight edge to it. Max Fisher, the film’s protagonist, was modeled on an amalgamation of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, and he attends a prep school similar to the ones that both the Wilsons and Anderson had attended in Texas. Starring Jason Schwartzman (launching his career), Bill Murray (serving as an indie resurgence for his) and Olivia Williams, the film opened to critical acclaim. Anderson won Best Director at the 1999 Independent Spirit Awards, while Murray took home Best Supporting Actor. For their next project, Anderson and Wilson co-wrote The Royal Tenebaums, influenced in part by the novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The film stars Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson (with Owen Wilson and Bill Murray in support), and was another critical hit of Anderson, as well as a surprise box office hit. Wilson and Anderson were nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the film. To date, it is the last film that Anderson wrote with Wilson – some saying that without Wilson Anderson’s work is less grounded. The Royal Tenenbaums is often considered his best film (but, my favorite is Rushmore). With the box office success of his last film, Anderson amassed a much bigger budget than usual a set out to make (an epic of sorts in) The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which he co-wrote with Noah Baumbach. The film stars Bill Murray as a formally great oceanographer and adventurer who goes on one last expedition to find a mythical shark that ate his best friend and kill it. The film is brilliant (at least I think so) – wildly ambitious and strange. Anderson makes what amounts to an action adventure in which characters are melancholy, deadpan and seemingly totally disconnected from the reality in which they exist. Of course, the film was met with mixed reviews and poor box office receipts. However, I contend that the film will long be remembered and held in acclaim (above many other films from 2004, which was a good year, especially for genre films) – plus, Murray is fantastic in it. For his next project, Anderson decided to make a short film in Paris. Hotel Chevalier stars Schwartzman and Natalie Portman (who Anderson recruited through his business side producing partner Scott Rudin, who is probably the best indie film producer in Hollywood). It took two days to shoot in the Hotel Raphael. While editing the film, Anderson realized that Schwartzman’s character closely resembled a character in a new script he was writing and decided to combine both projects (as sort of a part 1 and part 2). Hotel Chevalier was met with much acclaim both for the film (and Anderson’s directing) and for Portman’s performance. Part two became The Darjeeling Limited, which Anderson co-wrote with Roman Coppola and Schwartzman. It stars Owen Wilson, Schwartzman and Adrien Brody, as three brothers who reconnect on a spiritual journey through India. Anderson wanted to make a film in India to pay tribute to his love of the films of Satyajit Ray, and has also stated that Jean Renoir’s The River and Louis Malle’s documentaries on India were major influences on the film. The film opened to mostly critical praise and is called his most mature film as a writer (it is my favorite film of 2007). Anderson’s 2009 film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, began in 2004 as a stop-motion collaboration between himself and Henry Selick (who had worked on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), but the studio the picture was set up at folded and Selick left to direct Coraline. Co-written by Noah Baumbach, based on the Roald Dahl story and starring George Clooney and Meryl Streep, the film marked Anderson’s first non-live-action film. However, to give it a naturalistic sound to the voice performances, Anderson recorded the dialogue outside with the actors playing their characters. The film is one of Anderson’s best reviewed films, universally loved by the industries top critics. It was nominated for Best Animated film at the 2010 Oscars. What I like about Anderson’s films is that he expects viewers to have a strong knowledge of cinema (its history, filmmakers and how films are made, the process and aesthetic choices), as if he were making them for people who love and live cinema.


Commercials and Producing:

Anderson has produced all but one of his own films, and he also produced 2005’s The Squid and the Whale, written and directed by his co-writer of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (and subsequently Fantastic Mr. Fox) Noah Baumbach. The film was met with critical acclaim and a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination (it, along with The Darjeeling Limited, is among my favorite 25 films from the past decade). He also helped friend Sofia Coppola cast Bill Murray in her film Lost in Translation (credited with a ‘thanks’). While Anderson is best known for directing features, he also has a successful commercial reel. In 2007 directed a few commercials for AT&T as part of their ‘Your Seamless World’ campaign (Reporter; Actor). Next, he starred and directed an American Express ‘My Life, My Card’ commercial with Jason Schwartzman (here). It is a great commercial for fans of Anderson, as it feels like a spoof both of his films and his perceived personality. In 2008, he directed a SoftBank (a Japanese cell phone) commercial with Brad Pitt, inspired by Jacques Tati’s Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (here). Recently, he directed a few commercials for the Hyundai Azera (Modern Life, which I particularly like, and Talk to My Car).


Wes Anderson Career Highlights:

1)      Bottle Rocket (1996) – director, writer (Blu-ray, DVD)
2)      Rushmore (1998)* – director, writer, producer (Blu-ray, DVD)
3)      The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)* – director, writer, producer (DVD, Streaming)
4)      The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)* – director, writer, producer (DVD, Streaming)
5)      The Squid and the Whale (2005)* – producer (DVD, Streaming)
6)      Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited (2007)* – director, writer, producer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
7)      Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – director, writer, producer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

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