In the late 1990s, Wes Anderson achieved what most young filmmakers only dream of: he proved that he could work within a rigid studio system like Hollywood and still be able to create distinctive, quirky films with an independent sensibility that film buffs around the world have grown to love.
A typical Wes Anderson junkie knows that most of his movies end with a slow-motion shot, and that he frequently casts the same actors in most of his films; Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson (who was his roommate when they were at the University of Texas) and also co-wrote Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) with him.
Anderson had always been interested in filmmaking, as he shot Super 8 movies in his spare time and filmed shorts to air on the local cable access station in Houston, Texas, which was also where he learned the art of editing. Unsurprisingly, the filmmakers who influenced him as a child were people like Hitchcock, whose films were based around the directors themselves, in the sense that a Hitchcock film usually ends up becoming about Hitchcock rather than about his stars. One can see this trend continuing in Anderson’s own film career, where he stands today as the embodiment of quirky cinema.
He got through Columbia University’s film school, but decided not to go so that he could shoot Bottle Rocket, starring his good friends Luke and Owen Wilson, only to reshoot it two years later as a feature film with the same cast. This was the beginning of Anderson’s interesting career, as the film won him a number of awards and instant recognition in the film community. He followed this up with ‘ Rushmore’ (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), Hotel Chevalier (2007), The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).
His style is a distinctive one; he shoots extremely wide-angle distorted shots, uses a handheld camera to keep panning between characters or an action to create a take-double-take effect, and often includes songs from The Rolling Stones on his soundtracks. There are also some common themes running through his movies, such as the focus on unusual or broken families, or the fact that at least one character in each film is a man seeking the approval of a parental figure.
He also tends to explore the eccentricities of white middle-class and upper-class people, which is one of the reasons for his films getting mixed reviews among critics. On one hand, he is considered an auteur due to his meticulous craftsmanship of his intricate framing and deadpan delivery, but on the flip side, the fact that his films almost always revolve around issues of upper-middle class white men suffering from arrested development tends to polarise critical opinions a great deal.
Among his biggest fans is veteran director Martin Scorsese, who listed Bottle Rocket as one of his 10 favorite movies of the 1990s. With films like Bottle Rocket, Anderson displays the very obvious affection he has for people in general, as is apparent in his treatment of his characters in this story about a bunch of young men who feel they need to fill their lives with adventure, danger and risky behavior for them to be ‘real’ – if they only knew that it was perfectly fine for them to be just who they are. But the charm of his films lies in the art direction, music and atmosphere just as much as in the characters and screenplay.
With The Darjeeling Limited, co-written by himself, Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, Wes Anderson made his India connect. He had been interested in India for years, having seen movies, read books, and also due to the fact that one of his best friends is from India. The three brothers’ scenario was drawn from his own personal life, as he grew up with three brothers.
While shooting The Darjeeling Limited, he found that India’s high sense of style and colour was intrinsic to the country’s natural beauty, and as a result, he did not need to invent anything for the filming process. He was so moved and fascinated by the subcultures he saw on his first visit, that he felt that there was no direction you could turn to and not find something interesting.
One of his favourite directors is none other than our very own Satyajit Ray, who was apparently one of the inspirations for The Darjeeling Limited. Ray’s directorial style really interests him in the fact that he made very personal stories, working almost like a novelist, and practically made a film once a year with his own little troop, much like Anderson himself who likes to work with his own set of friends.
Bill Murray and Wes Anderson reunite for Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom after working together in films like Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore. The story of Moonrise Kingdom follows two twelve-year-olds in love, who make a pact and run away to the wilderness in New England in the summer of 1965. As the authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm brews off-shore, and the island community’s peace is turned upside down in more ways than one. Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff and Edward Norton a Khaki Scout troop leader, with Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the girl’s parents.
For the film community at large, a Wes Anderson product is always a subject of much interest and speculation. Thankfully, it will not be long before all of us can sink our teeth into yet another glimpse of Anderson’s uniquely skewed worldview.