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Dhaka Tribune

A Journey to the Whimsical World of Wes Anderson

Lights, camera, and let there be colour

Update : 19 May 2022, 09:20 PM

There is one filmmaker who stands out above all others when it comes to artistic quirkiness and off-the-wall humour, and that is the incomparable writer and director Wes Anderson. Wesley "Wes" Wales Anderson, who was a mischievous boy leading to his parents' broken marriage, channelled his enthusiasm into artistic endeavours. Anderson created films featuring himself and his brothers (Eric and Mel), using a Super 8mm camera to capture the scenes. He read voraciously, acquiring a taste for literature and becoming captivated in the art of narrative. Anderson went to St. John's School in Houston, where he became recognized for his large-scale, multi-act plays. These works were frequently based on well-known stories, films, and even television shows: One work was a sock puppet version of the 1978 Kenny Rogers album The Gambler

Anderson met Owen Wilson, who has been a writing collaborator or cast member in nearly every film Anderson has done since, at the University of Texas in the late 1980s while pursuing his philosophy major. 

He told Interview Magazine in 2009 that the two shared similar interests and "started talking about writers, but we also talked about movies right off the bat." 

"I knew I wanted to do something with movies. I don’t know if he had realized yet that it was an option.” 

They consequentially became roommates and collaborated on a script for "Bottle Rocket," a full-length film that was released in 1996. 

“Wes is only getting more Wes-like. (His first films) ‘Bottle Rocket’ and ‘Rushmore’ are practically naturalistic compared to where he’s at now. Where will it end?” said Sophie Monks Kaufman, who wrote a book about him, “Close Ups: Wes Anderson.” 

Anderson has a strong preference for directing fast-paced comedies with deeper undertones, with themes revolving around sorrow, loss of innocence, dysfunctional families, parental abandonment, infidelity, sibling rivalry, and odd alliances. His films have been criticized for being extremely character-driven, and labels like "literary geek chic" have been used to ridicule and admire him. His films frequently contain robberies and surprising disappearances, with a tendency for riffing on the caper genre. For instance, "Moonrise Kingdom" is about a pen pal connection between two teenagers and their desire to run away together. The majority of the film is about the monotony of summer camp and adolescent misery -- the kinds of everyday emotions that most kids cheerfully leave behind in middle school. The notion of "Moonrise Kingdom" is bizarre enough to make for a narrative, but it's not entirely unique. Anderson specializes in this dichotomy: Stories that mimic actual life like a funhouse mirror, with a similarity stretched a centimetre or two beyond belief at the borders. Anderson delivers clearly and quickly, with a deceptive mix of tranquillity and energy, and his thoughts swirl out in a frantic yet smooth flow. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel's sad, contemplative political satire stands out in comparison to Moonrise Kingdom's romantic yearnings, and Rushmore and Bottle Rocket's R-rated absurdity isn't necessarily for the same audience as the kid-friendly stop-motion animated films Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. Anderon's narrative capabilities are versatile, and he's experimented with several types of media. Bottle Rocket was based on a low-budget short film of the same name that Anderson made with Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson when he was younger, and short films have remained a staple of Anderson's filmography throughout his career. 

Anderson's feature The Darjeeling Limited premiered with his then latest short film "Hotel Chevalier" at the Venice Film Festival in 2007. The 13-minute video is set before the events of The Darjeeling Limited and tells the backstory of Jason Schwartzman's character Jack. The original Bottle Rocket short is a delightful teaser of his early abilities that's better left to devoted fans, but "Hotel Chevalier" is a terrific film in its own right. "Hotel Chevalier" is a must-see for Anderson fans as both a solitary reminiscence that explores the passage of time and a prologue narrative that enriches the picture that follows. 

The Darjeeling Limited is a film about three estranged brothers who reconcile a year after their father dies. All three are dealing with personal traumas: Francis (Owen Wilson) has been in a catastrophic motorcycle accident and is secretly looking for their mother; Peter (Adrien Brody) is about to divorce his pregnant wife; and Jack is trying to get over his split with Rhett (Natalie Portman). "Hotel Chevalier" recounts Jack and Rhetts' final meeting; they meet in a Paris hotel room for one night of passion before fully leaving each other's life. 

Jack is a writer, and this aspect of his personality is largely employed as a running humour in The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson's work is basic and overdone in its aspirations at depth, bordering on self-parody. While his attempt to find meaning in grief is only a quirk in The Darjeeling Limited, "Hotel Chevalier" provides real insights into his thoughts. In the last minutes of The Darjeeling Limited, Jack reads a new narrative story that is remarkably identical to his last dialogue with Rhett in the short. 

The backstory of "Hotel Chevalier" is crucial to understanding how Jack deals with his loss. The Darjeeling Limited follows each of the brothers as they confront their previous traumas, and one of the most cringe-inducing moments of symbolism in any Anderson production is when they physically toss their luggage off the train. However, "Hotel Chevalier" adds to Jack's confusion. He's been implying aspects of his life in his writing, and he'll only be able to truly move on from his old partner if he's been able to describe it through fiction. 

The Darjeeling Limited is one of Anderson's weakest films, since it is more blatantly romantic than he usually is, and the immature characters don't really support such a long story with a clear purpose. 

The isolated vignette structure of "Hotel Chevalier," on the other hand, is more thoughtful, giving the two protagonists opportunity to have an earnest conversation that isn't suffocated by a barrage of Anderson gags (the more uncomfortable racial stereotypes of The Darjeeling Limited are also absent). 

Over thirteen minutes Rhett reappears in Jack's life, confident in her decision to leave him. They both know that sleeping together won't fix their broken relationship, and that it would only leave them unhappy. Schwartzman's inexcusable juvenile rage is more overt. When Rhett tells him she hopes they can maintain a casual friendship, he replies, “I promise, I will never be your friend. No matter what. Ever.” 

Although this adds to the intrigue of his storyline in The Darjeeling Limited, "Hotel Chevalier" is stunning on its own. It doesn't have the same level of spectacle as Anderson's works, and the intimacy of a bedroom places a greater focus on the dialogue. The sole indication that Jack and Rhett are in one of the world's most beautiful cities occurs during the closing credits, when the couple silently gazes out their bedroom window. Without the next film, it works as a solitary slice of grief, but "Hotel Chevalier" is a remarkable passing interaction when seen on its own. 

While some directors use short-form content as a diversion from their more important work, "Hotel Chevalier" is more than just a deleted scene from The Darjeeling Limited Blu-Ray. Its themes of inevitable farewells are mature, and it's a rare Anderson project in which a female perspective is honestly portrayed. 

Talking about short films, Wes Anderson's short film Castello Cavalcanti, released in 2013, was written and directed in partnership with Prada and rapidly became a viral sensation, serving as the perfect showcase of a director with possibly the most distinctive visual approach in modern cinema. 

The film stars Jason Schwartzman as a failing racing car driver who is stuck in the fictional Italian community of Castello Cavalcanti after crashing his car in a hilarious manner. In truth, however, the eight-minute project was in fact filmed at Cinecittà in Rome, Italy. 

The film is an homage to Federico Fellini -- a great treat for cinephiles -- and despite its little running time, it is jam-packed with references to the director's tremendous canon. Anderson has always recognized Fellini's influence on his work, especially in the caricature-like background characters. In Castello Cavalcanti, a young boy sporting a ridiculously large fedora would be quite at home in either Rushmore or Roma

Anderson's short films—Bottle Rocket (1994), Hotel Chevalier (2007), Cousin Ben Troop Screening with Jason Schwartzman (2012), and Moonrise Kingdom Animated Short (2012)—have had relatively little written about them, which is consistent with critics' continued lack of interest in the short-film genre. Anderson's continuous involvement with the short-film medium reveals his unique viewpoint on the genre. His decision to distribute his feature films alongside relevant shorts sets him apart from other filmmakers. 

Anderson's short films help us better comprehend his worldview since they take a different approach to narrative and pacing than his feature films. According to Raskin's standards, Hotel Chevalier, along with Jean Rouch's Gare du Nord(1964), Jean-Luc Godard's Montparnasse et Levallois (1965), Tom Tykwer's Faubourg Saint-Denis (2006), and Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, belongs in the pantheon of great short films (1986). 

Throughout his career, his ambition to create stories rather than exhibit them is evident. Anderson's 10 films are all utterly bizarre, and they all read with a distinct narrative style that reflects a filmmaker who does not view a film as a film at all, but rather as a novel that unfolds itself across a screen. 

Cinema, being a microcosm of sociocultural structure, has the inherent ability to affect people's perceptions. Of all the aspects of visual design, colour may be the most difficult to comprehend in terms of how it impacts individuals psychologically. There comes Wes Anderson with his whimsical colour palettes. Anderson portrays subjects that are essentially related in value according to a consistent aesthetic "guideline." "[His] films are cinematic dollhouses: their wonder is in the perfection of their recreation of the larger world outside their frames" (Austerlitz, 2010). 

Anderson is known for his extensive use of flat space camera moves, symmetrical compositions, knolling, snap-zooms, slow-motion walking shots, a deliberately limited colour palette, and handmade art direction that frequently incorporates miniatures. His films have a distinctive style, a particular characteristic that has sparked a lot of debate, critical analysis, supercuts, mash-ups, and even parody. Many authors, critics, and even Anderson himself have said that this gives his films the sense of "self-contained worlds" or "scale model households." Anderson's visual aesthetic for the screen is precisely crafted so that an audience understands the intent of his work as a filmmaker, a distinct directing style that has gained him acclaim and notoriety in recent years. Anderson pays close attention to every aspect, whether it's geometry, colour, or prop placement. The Instagram account @accidentallywesanderson, which has almost one million followers, is only dedicated to shots that resemble the director's style: Pictures with two or three pastel colours, immaculate symmetry, and an unusual sense of perspective. Many of Anderson's films, including "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," include scenes that appear to reflect directly from the viewer's eyes, as if they were part of an augmented virtual-reality experience. 

Whether it's the bohemian New York of The Royal Tenenbaums or the collision of Benjamin 

Britten's comfortingly neat of Moonrise Kingdom, didactic classical compositions for kids and Hank Williams' messily emotional, adult country songs, Anderson's soundtracks all have an overriding theme. These mixtapes, though, aren't time capsules. Anderson's soundtracks usually feature pop music from the 60s and 70s, with one band or musician dominating each soundtrack. Cat Stevens and British Invasion groups were prominently featured in Rushmore; Nico was featured in The Royal Tenenbaums; David Bowie was featured in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, including both originals and covers performed by Seu Jorge; The Darjeeling Limited and Rushmore -- the Kinks; Fantastic Mr. Fox -- the Beach Boys. The Darjeeling Limited used music from Satyajit Ray's films as well. The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is set largely in the 1930s, is significant for being the first Anderson film to feature original music produced by Alexandre Desplat rather than mainstream music. Wes Anderson's music is magical because of the way odd and familiar sounds flow together to create emotional landscapes in films, it has nothing to do with adherence to a certain genre or era. 

Anderson's popularity as a filmmaker was established in 2000, at the age of thirty when Martin Scorsese, writing in Esquire, named him "the next Scorsese" based on his first two films, "Bottle Rocket" (1996) and "Rushmore" (1998). 

In one aspect, Scorsese was correct: Anderson's initial films, like Scorsese's, introduced a fresh tone, a unique mood to cinema. Anderson's cinematic influences include François Truffaut, Louis Malle, Pedro Almodóvar, Satyajit Ray, John Huston, Mike Nichols, Hal Ashby, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, and Roman Polanski. Anderson has a distinct filmmaking style that has earned him the title of auteur by various critics. 

Wes Anderson is one of the most prominent auteur filmmakers of past decades, the rare artist whose name is both a genre and a marketing strategy that attracts a devoted fanbase. While the aesthetic and tonal commonalities between all of Anderson's work make it simple to categorize him, the tales and views he presents in each project are vastly diverse. Anderson is a leading light of the cinema business, one of the few directors whose films are seen in both large and small theatres, twenty-four years after his debut picture, "Bottle Rocket." He's discovered the overlap of the relatable and the unfathomable, the beautiful and the dreadful, and he's left an enduring mark on an industry that is always changing and seemingly unaffected. 

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