How to create your own Wes Anderson film
With The Grand Budapest Hotel looming, we nail down the essential Anderson ingredients
Wes Anderson World. A realm of precocious children and disappointing parents; idiosyncratic outfits and sublimated crushes; deadpan interactions and Futura font intertitles. Some people would dearly love to live there. Others balk at its cutesiness, and crave to disrupt its smooth, colourful surfaces with some manifestation of cruel reality: a poor person; an uncoordinated outfit; a household artefact crafted after 1970. But, however you feel about the rarefied environs that Anderson has crafted to house his delicately distraught characters, there is no denying that he has a stronger directorial stamp than most in his line of work: an emotional and visual environment that is his and his alone. Even the apparent departure that was his 2009 stop-motion animated Roald Dahl adaptation Fantastic Mr Fox conferred upon its animal characters very recognisable temperaments and style choices. Ahead of his Glasgow Film Festival premiere of The Grand Budapest Hotel, here are six key signs that you are watching – or perhaps even living in – Wes Anderson World.
1. Those unreliable father figures Herman Blume in Rushmore. Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums. Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox. The hard-to-reach patriarch whose self-centredness or simple unavailability damages his nearest and dearest is a recurring feature of the Anderson oeuvre. Typically, the father figure’s journey involves a certain degree of self-reinvention, but the narrative treats him with indulgence: the people around him must also learn to accept his flawed being or, as he might see it, his essential nature. As Mr Fox shrugs when confronted with his misbehaviour: 'I’m a wild animal'. Mothers in Wes Anderson World are more likely to be long-suffering paragons, or not seen much at all.
2. Those flawless music choices In collaboration with the American indie movie scene’s go-to music supervisor, Randall Poster, and composer Mark Mothersbaugh (also of Devo), Anderson puts together the kind of soundtracks that frequently inspire unrestrained seat dancing, a discreet sniffle, or a sudden frenzied search for music by an artist you’d never heard of or forgotten all about. Anderson has a particular weakness for 60s British pop, but he’s also used the Proclaimers, Benjamin Britten, Nico and the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
3. Those beautiful/ hideous clothing choices The mannered style of dress towards which Anderson’s characters tend is one of the distancing, overly arch factors to which those detractors point; but if you appreciate clothes that are visual gags in themselves, it’s all part of the pleasure. His attention to onscreen clothing is either much more or much less phoney if you consider that Anderson himself has a very considered look, favouring tight-fitting, short-cropped bespoke corduroy suits by New York tailor Mr Ned (Mr Fox’s outfit was made from offcuts of one such suit).
4. Nostalgia for the overlooked details of childhood One of the best tiny moments in The Royal Tenenbaums sees Royal Tenenbaum and his son Chas have a tense encounter in a walk-in cupboard lined with boxes of vintage board games. Anyone to whom board games had intense childhood significance will experience a pang. Over-investment in school plays; indoor camping; the effort to manage the unruly adults in one’s life; first love: it’s all vividly caught. Indeed, Anderson’s investment in childhood trappings can be strong enough to stimulate nostalgia-by-proxy for life experiences the viewer never had. You don’t have to have experienced American summer camp to be stirred by the view of it posited in Moonrise Kingdom.
5. Vignettes and montages Anderson loves little visual rundowns of action or character information, highly theatrical and stylised, and set to that killer music. One of the best examples is the quick spin through the life of Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) provided in The Royal Tenenbaums. With these sequences, Anderson operates like a graphic novelist or illustrator, providing information via tableaux and dry intertitles. Fans of American artist Edward Gorey – the great chronicler of sad childhoods, odd mysteries and moneyed melancholia – often note the director's debt to him.
6. Those familiar friends Anderson’s casting, like his use of music, has a certain magic. Though his talent is drawn from a wide pool, rarely is a wrong note struck. He's made space for legendary character actors like Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston and Seymour Cassel; legit A-listers of the Paltrow, Stiller, Blanchett and Clooney stripe; and one veteran vaudevillian and juggler, the late Kumar Pallana. His most recognisable core staff members, however, are his longstanding friends Luke and Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, and his most significant older muse, Bill Murray. The Grand Budapest Hotel stars many of his favourite performers, as well as new recruits such as Ralph Fiennes and Jude Law. Practice your faintly wistful poker faces, everybody!
The Grand Budapest Hotel screens at Cineworld Renfrew Street, Glasgow on Thu 20 & Fri 21 Feb, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival. On general release on Fri 7 Mar.