This blog is a companion piece to a recent podcast episode we did on Wes Anderson entitled Wes World (Wes Anderson – An Evolution in Filmmaking). We decided to cover 3 films for the podcast to show the growth Wes has had as a filmmaker. But covering only 3 left a lot of footage that still should be shared. To best enjoy this blog it would be a good idea to checkout our podcast WES World via listening or watching on YouTube and of course don’t forget to hit that thumbs up button.
We started our Wes World podcast with Bottle Rocket, but the first film we both watched was Rushmore based on a brilliant trailer showcasing Bill Murray in a different light. This eccentric comedy follows high school student Max Fischer, (Jason Schwartzman), who lives for his prep school Rushmore where he kind of rules the roost, except for the fact he’s a terrible student only focused on his extracurricular activities like writing, directing, and starring in school plays. His attention gets diverted when he meets visiting teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) and falls hopelessly in love.
At the same time, he meets Herman Blume (Murray) a wealthy school donor who has two bratty kids of his own at the school. According to some insiders the two kids were actually pretty bratty in real life on the set and Murray’s reactions (giving them a slap-down in his car) were often improvised. Blume gives a unique speech to Max’s class and Max is drawn to him and they form an awkward friendship. While Max attempts to court Ms. Cross he finds out through one of his friends spying on Herman that he is also attempting to win the love of the visiting teacher. When Max finds out about Herman seeing Ms. Cross in secret all our war is declared. The films absurd premise results in a lot of funny situations pitting Max against Herman.
Anderson does a much better job at story telling than his first outing and with Murray providing some of the best laughs as he embarks on a new career as an indie artist. The story grows to a conclusion as Max matures while getting pep talks from his dad Bert played by the late Seymour Cassel. He decides to bury the hatchet with everyone as he invites both friends and foes to his war-based play that earns him the respect of all. People who enjoyed the play should know the studio (Disney, cough) refused to fund the expensive (75,000) explosions during the war scenes, so Bill Murray wrote a check on the spot to fund the important ending to the film. It’s also well known that Murray enjoyed the script so much he told his agent he would do the film for free.
Cassel is one of the actors we overlooked on the podcast. He gives Anderson almost instant credibility starring in Andersons his first three films. Cassel is one of the great supporting actors of all time and his work with John Cassavetes earned him a best supporting actor Oscar in the 1968 film Faces. He enjoyed Anderson and likely would have continued on with the group had he not passed away. Oh Brother has it on good authority from a reliable source that Seymour Cassel was overheard at a VIP function stating the reason Gene Hackman retired from acting was because Wes is such an anal SOB!
Color is one of the aspects of Andersons films that is most noticeable. When I saw the trailer for The Royal Tenenbaumsin the theater I knew in an instant it was a Wes Anderson film. Two of his favorite colors are red and yellow. In bottle rocket the jumpsuits worn during the heist scene were yellow. He uses yellow in Royal Tenenbaums when we see Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) getting off the bus in a yellow fur she instantly stands out before a single word is spoken. Lots of yellow in Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom. You also see a lot of red in his films. In The Royal Tenenbaums when Chas (Ben Stiller) and his boys are wearing red sweatsuits they stand out against the rest of the cast as they are in mourning over the loss of their mom. In Grand Budapest Hotel you’ll see lots of red and pink especially in the Mendl’s boxes. Often times the colors are muted to stand against a brighter color and add tone to each scene.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is another film we did not have time to cover in the podcast. This film was Anderson showing off another piece of art using stop motion animation which he revisits in Isle of dogs. Mr. Fox (George Clooney) has to put the wild ways of his youth aside to be a good father and provide for his family. The movie is based on a short story by Roald Dahl focuses on some wild animals and in particular a clever Fox who leads a caper to steal from the bad guys to provide for his family. One of the most enjoyable Anderson films and a great watch for the entire family.
Framing is another gift Anderson uses to create some of his most iconic scenes. Without getting deep into the weeds check out the middle two photos below. Notice the window where we see the main character M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) getting ready to serve the prisoners. Although it’s the same window M. Gustave’s view is rectangular shot in wide screen and the view from the prisoners is square shot in 4:3 ratio. Anderson also uses different points of view like the photo on the top right. Each square below is shot in a unique way to create space or distance. Something used by directors like Welles and Hitchcock. The middle shots are all Anderson.
Hopefully this blog will turn people on to other Anderson films we didn’t have time to cover in our podcast. I highly recommend picking up Anderson films, if you are a big fan, in their Criterion Collection versions. These provide lots of insight into Anderson and his film making process. You can listen to him talk through each film in commentaries on 9 of his 10 films. Only his most recent film Isle of Dogs has not been released through the Criterion Collection, but it took 6 years for Grand Budapest Hotel to appear, so hopefully soon. We are likely in for a Wes Anderson treat very soon as his newest film The French Dispatch has just been waiting for theaters to return to some sense of normal. Watching a Wes Anderson film warrants a big screen viewing.
A big thanks to one of our loyal listeners, Krystal, for suggesting we devote an episode to the multi-talented auteur that is Wes Anderson.