The Wonders of Wes

celebrates a new season of Wes Anderson films with a look back at his career so far

Image: Disney

To celebrate the upcoming release Isle of Dogs (set to open the Glasgow Film Festival on the 26th February), CityScreen are putting on the ‘We Wes Anderson’ season, showing all of the beloved story-teller’s works from his first feature film, Bottle Rocket, to his most recent critically acclaimed phenomenon, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Renowned for his strikingly eccentric visual style and characters, Wes Anderson is a master of the cinematic art, and there is much more to his films than their infamous aesthetic dispositions. With every film he makes, Anderson creates a world of his own: filled with colour and vibrance, yet exploring the complexity and extremity of human emotions in an ultimately endearing Andersonian way. A director with an uncanny ability to create characters and narratives, whether set in a ski resort, a high school, or on a train, audiences across the globe are bound to resonate with the wonders of Wes.

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Symmetrical framing, slow motion shots, sharp zooms, snappy dialogue, and striking colour palettes are all trademark visual qualities of Anderson’s productions. It can certainly be said that Anderson’s renowned visual style sets an expectation, and perhaps a standard, for the viewers of his films, however it never overshadows the story being told; it fundamentally works harmoniously with the weird, idiosyncratic, yet charming subjects of Anderson’s productions. These subjects are perhaps most prominently seen in films such as Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998), two films that act as quite a stark aesthetic contrast to Anderson’s later films, highlighting the young director’s transition to perfecting his aesthetic style with chief cinematographer, Anderson’s right-hand-man, Robert Yeoman.

Wes Anderson is none other than the King of Pastels, famously using vibrant yet delicate colour palettes to imitate his characters’ vibrant dispositions. Anderson’s most recent film, The Grand Budapest Hotel , is set in a European ski resort following the story of the hotel’s concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), who go on the run after a guest (Tilda Swinton) mysteriously dies. The film, which won Academy Awards for best costume design and best production design amongst a plethora of other nominations, excels in its stunning aesthetic makeup, creating a surreal yet warm visual.

Image: Disney

An underrated Anderson classic is his 1998 comedy-drama Rushmore. The film follows a young school boy and wannabe playwright, Max (played by a young young Jason Schwartzman), who attempts to profess his love for a young teacher (Olivia Williams) yet, due to his lack of academic success,  is threatened with expulsion and must fight every obstacle to win back his place at a prestigious preparatory school and gain the attention of the woman he loves. Though maybe the most subdued of Anderson’s films, Rushmore is a delightful film exploring a boy’s journey to maturity. Full of endearing characters, and a charming, snappy script, it’s perhaps the perfect film to get you into the World of Wes if you haven’t seen any of his films before.

Though there has been continuous emphasis placed upon Anderson’s visual style both critically and in popular culture (particularly on heavily aestheticised social media platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram), often the same praise is unfairly lacking when addressing his film’s narrative qualities. Yet, Wes Anderson is a master of storytelling, placing heavy emphasis upon dialogue in order to enhance his films’ narrative qualities and establish his characters as multi-faceted, layered individuals. A film to best highlight this quality is perhaps The Darjeeling Limited (2007). The film follows three estranged brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) who, a year after their father’s death, reunite in a moment of reconciliation, and end up embarking on a beautiful and powerful journey that brings them closer together than ever before. By containing the set to a train throughout the majority of the film, Anderson enables the viewer to acutely engage with the three brothers’ strained, desperate narrative, whilst also seamlessly creating a cool, stylish set.

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The theme of the family is certainly a common thread that runs through Wes Anderson’s films. From estranged siblings in The Darjeeling Limited to orphans (most notably present in the narratives of Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Grand Budapest Hotel), Anderson’s narratives surrounding such themes enable his films to delve into deep subject matter exploring complex individuals.

One cannot go to see a Wes Anderson film without being extremely excited by the prospect of spotting all the recurring actors and cameos that are so integral to Wes Anderson’s world. The likes of Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, and Edward Norton have all been regulars in Anderson’s films, all managing to take on a completely different character each film.

A particularly endearing quality in Wes Anderson’s films is the importance placed upon music and how he undoubtedly ties the soundtrack in to enhance a setting or character to great effect. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) stands out in particular, with a stellar soundtrack fronted by Brazilian musician Seu Jorge, singing covers of David Bowie songs in Portuguese, a brilliant thread that is integrated through the film by including Seu Jorge as one of the crew members on Steve Zissou’s boat.

Overall, Wes Anderson has established a singular place in the world of cinema, defining him as a truly original entity. Having written and directed nine feature films, all of the highest aesthetic, stylistic, and narrative quality, Anderson proves to be a master of both style and substance. His characters are weird and wonderful in every way, subtly farfetched yet endearing; his newest release, Isle of Dogs, promises to subscribe to these qualities that audiences worldwide are consistently fascinated by.

Starting on Monday 5th February up until Monday 26th March, CityScreen will be running their ‘We Wes Anderson’ Season as part of their weekly culture shock slot. They offer annual student memberships for £20. 

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