Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Married to the Sea - Part 1

It's the week of exam results, so to celebrate here's an article that was born out of a research project from my film course at college. The focus of the whole project was to explore how and why Wes Anderson might be considered an auteur. This article was written as a summary of ideas, as opposed to the more extensive presentation that was the actual assignment. Unfortunately, this was also written before I actually studied auteur theory...but there it is.

Wes Anderson is one of the most popular and critically lauded directors of the past decade. In just four films, he has crafted his own instantly recognisable and wholly personalised style, establishing him as a true auteur. The ease with which he seems to label each of his films as distinctly ‘his’ is commendable, especially so when the style is so thoroughly consistent. His films present a hyperrealism – or rather, the hyperrealism – that heightens and skews normality in constantly intriguing, entertaining and original ways.

Anderson’s first film was Bottle Rocket (1994), a crime caper written with Anderson’s college friend, Owen Wilson (the film also starred Wilson, and his brother Luke) and adapted from their short film of the same name. Bottle Rocket didn’t receive a huge amount of attention or success, but those who saw it were not short of praise – Martin Scorsese, no less, called it ‘transcendent’, and even named Anderson ‘the next Scorsese’. It’s easy to see the link between the two – Anderson’s attention to detail, hip soundtracks and feverish camerawork makes him worthy of the prestigious comparison. Despite the box-office disappointment of Bottle Rocket, Anderson and Wilson persevered to their second film – and generally their most popular – Rushmore (1998).

With Rushmore, Anderson was given a larger budget and an A-list star (Bill Murray, who loved the script so much he offered to work for free), allowing him to elaborate on the stylistic bravura hinted at in Bottle Rocket. This saw Anderson compared to another high-flying auteur: Quentin Tarantino. Like Tarantino, Anderson makes almost each frame or line of dialogue recognisably his. Rushmore established a consistent sense of authorship for Anderson; it was a cult hit, and hyped the 29-year-old Anderson as the next big thing – the sequel to Tarantino.

In 2001, Anderson delivered on his wunderkind potential with The Royal Tenenbaums, an epic comedy with a cast made up entirely of stars and veteran actors. The film swept up high praise from both critics and audiences, and earned Anderson and Wilson an Oscar nomination for their screenplay. Anderson’s most recent film, the offbeat adventure movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, divided audiences – some saw it as his best, others thought it was an over-stylised mess, and perhaps like Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the over-indulgent fall of a great auteur.

As Anderson’s career has progressed, his penchant for surreal visuals and eccentric detail has certainly increased. He has amassed a great number of trademarks in his work, mostly relating to cinematography or misè-en-scene.

Compositional framing is a key component of Anderson’s use of camera (and of his regular cinematographer, Robert Yeoman) throughout his films. People or objects are placed in the centre of the frame, with the surrounding environment manipulated to look complementary, in a flat, artificial manner. The result is the sense of a tailored reality – a place where real things happen, but the way in which they happen has been carefully altered for a more dramatic, theatrical performance. A theatrical aesthetic is in fact very prominent in Anderson’s films – in The Royal Tenenbaums, characters are often framed through window frames, making them appear as comic book characters or puppets. By placing his characters in frames such as these, he is telling the audience how they should be viewed – as thoroughly artificial, exaggerated people. Although the heavy emotional and intellectual nature of Anderson’s screenplays prevents the characters from ever becoming caricatures, they are definitely hyperbolic versions of real people, punctuated by specific and often obscure details that ensure they remain sympathetic and real in a familiar sense.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that Enduring Love opening is amazing.

Anonymous said...

he's directing the stop motion version of fantastic mr fox next it will be GREAT!