From philosophy to filmmaking
Wes Anderson has become widely acclaimed as a master filmmaker and director, and perhaps has one of the most unique styles among the current Hollywood crowd. His films are known for their highly stylized, staged and color-coordinated shots, absurd situations, and straight-faced humor. Their world runs parallel reality, poking fun at it and revealing its inherent strangeness.
Anderson grew up only a few hours from Dallas, and pursued a college degree in a discipline that the University of Dallas knows all too well.
Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Anderson pursued a degree in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. The strangeness of his degree, where most directors would study filmmaking or cinema, perhaps still advises his style into what it is today.
He described his college years in an interview with The Guardian in 2012: “What I really spent my time doing in those years was writing short stories. There were all sorts of interesting courses, but what I really wanted to do was make stories one way or another.”
Also while in college, he met actor Owen Wilson in a playwriting class. He described their first meeting in an interview with the AMC Blog.
“About nine of us, sat around a table and discussed plays,” he said. “And I always sat in one corner, not really at the table, and Owen always sat in another corner, not really at the table, and we never spoke the whole semester.”
Despite this rough start the two eventually became friends, and Wilson starred in Anderson’s first film, “Bottle Rocket,” alongside his brothers. This friendship-basis pervades through Anderson’s movies, where many actors like Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Murray reappear in different plots and characters, populating the Anderson-verse with familiar faces.
Perhaps the first thing a viewer notices in Anderson’s films are his, *whistle*, *click* *click* trademarks, as Mr. Fox would say. The many aspects of his style filter through a process focused on precision — precise staging of actors’ movements, symmetrical sets and color coordination throughout.
For example, in “The French Dispatch,” Anderson uses color to make many establishing wide-shots look painting-esque and shifts to black-and-white in several scenes for special effect. “Fantastic Mr. Fox”’s general colors are autumnal oranges, browns and whites that match the fox’s natural hues. Additionally, many of his films have a nostalgic, theatrical feel from his coordination and typical use of saturated colors.
This precision translates well to the already detail oriented medium of stop-motion, but also shines as a unique form of attention-grabbing live-action. Evident from the success of “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which won several Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year in 2015, audiences enjoy seeing their physical reality contexted through an absurdly perfect lens.
Anderson’s approach leads to utilizing and maximizing the many aspects of film — and making the viewer aware of their use. At its best, his unique style promotes the themes and storytelling of the films’ main plots, rather than being distracting.
In an interview with The Talks in 2022, he said: “I don’t want to have an invisible style, but I don’t care about having a trademark. My writing and my way of staging the scenes and shooting — people can tell it’s me, but that’s not by my choice. It naturally happens.”
This effect of unforced, artistically free and self-expressive style is Anderson at his finest. Much like an awed Zero notes that The Grand Budapest Hotel is ‘an institution,’ Anderson’s films are polished, nearly theatrical, ‘events.’
Beyond similar faces and visuals, many of Anderson’s films also contain similar themes and odd characters. Whether the plot follows a fantastic fox, an island full of dogs, or a concierge and his lobby boy, the main characters are strange and/or pretentious. These self-aggrandizing characters contrast with the absurd situations they are thrust into or actively create, thus producing the friction-based spark that is comedy. They move entirely seriously through plans and backdrops that rise in strangeness to the call to action.
In a way, Anderson’s cinema-based comedy makes fun of itself for its own pretension. While signaling their use of artistic methods taken to the extreme, his films wink at the thought of those who take themselves seriously in an inherently absurd world.
However, from an outside view, Anderson also respects his main characters in their attempts at greatness or survival or love, all serious topics. The heroes, for all their condescension, oftentimes have light hearts and jokes as well and face the absurd world ready to fully engage. They meet strangeness for strangeness, living in this alternate dimension with all the courage and unique faults viewers can aspire to connect with, here, in their own way.
As Mrs. Fox says, we’re all a little different. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?