The Merits of Wes Anderson

by Haley Goetz & John Lunden
From the December 2015 Issue
WES - Kristen ChungJOHN: One of the things I’ve noticed since coming to Ithaca College is everyone’s infatuation with Wes Anderson, which I think is bewildering and not necessary. I’ll admit that he’s an impressive technical director, but in reality, Anderson’s a one-trick pony who’s used to using a lot of symmetry and forced one-­point perspective, along with employing cardboard characters who only have one emotion. I think he’s severely lacking as a director (especially with regard to his storytelling abilities), and as a result, we should remove him from the canon that so many film students seem to put him in.

HALEY: I personally feel that Anderson is worthy of his reputation as an influential director. He should be remembered for his consistency over a large body of work that is comparable to directors such as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese in terms of quantity. I also feel that the cinematographic qualities of his films are worthy of recognition, in that he took a technique such as one­-point perspective and spun off to create something completely new and fresh.

JOHN: His forced one-­point perspective, while an impressive skill, is overused in his films, almost to the level of it being a fetish. Yes, he has amassed a large body of work, but what makes the individual pieces of work different? Think about T​he Royal Tenenbaums​ or ​Rushmore​— films about a kid falls who in love with a quirky girl and it doesn’t quite work out for him. In The Grand Budapest Hotel,​ while that’s not the only plot theme present in the film, it still is a main focus of the story. When you look at ​Moonrise Kingdom ​you see the same thing, except the characters are younger. All these stories are set in this world showing Anderson’s fetish for 1950’s nostalgia. He may have a large body of work, but his films shouldn’t be comparable to a director like Scorsese, who has shown so much range.

HALEY: The one thing I really like about Anderson’s work, is how it blends the extraordinary and the ordinary into something that is truly believable. Within ​The Royal Tenenbaums​, for example, I like how he expresses depressing human conditions in a very lighthearted manner. He provides a fantastical way of seeing things that not a lot of directors have been able to capture, and I think that that is why so many people like him. He takes these unsavory qualities of living and turns them into something beautiful and uplifting. I feel that this is why a lot of angsty teenagers enjoy Anderson’s films.

JOHN: You can say that his films appeal to angsty teenagers, but so do other terrible films (look at ​Twilight)​. In my opinion, angsty teenagers shouldn’t be setting the taste, and while it is good that he’s able to make these darker facets of human life uplifting, I think there are many directors who do it even better. I don’t think it’s unfair to compare Wes Anderson to cartoons, because that’s basically the pallette of stylistic choices he makes, the only difference being: he uses real people. To me he’s like a cartoon that’s trying to take itself too seriously, but in way that isn’t so charming.

HALEY: Anderson is very forced, that is for sure. But, coming from a film student’s perspective, I feel that it’s important to study and learn from him. In my production classes, I’m learning about all of these rules and regulations that govern practical filmmaking, such as three­-point lighting, the rule of thirds and important lines of symmetry. The thing about Anderson is that he is a very technical director to study. Every single shot of an Anderson film, as comparable to Kubrick, is completely symmetrical. There’s always a character who is in the center of the frame, and he provides a great sense of compositional balance in his films that is important to study if you are looking to get into the field. The other thing about Anderson is that he’s an example of someone who follows rules, but also breaks them from time to time. He shows that rules can be broken in regards to lighting and changing aspect ratios such as in ​The Grand Budapest Hotel. ​Anderson proves that it’s possible to create meaningful film art using unconventional strategies.

JOHN: I’ll give you that the changing of aspect ratios is something interesting that Anderson does. I have a hard time coming up with other directors who have done that; however, all of Anderson’s other techniques, have been done by other directors, because he’s a postmodern filmmaker, meaning these directors steal from the past. Personally, if you’re going to be stealing from the past, why not just go right to the source: to people such as Hitchcock or even Welles, who developed most of these rules that we talk about. We credit Welles with reinventing film grammar as we know it. Anderson is only important because he’s a modern technical director. There are plenty of thematically-driven directors who are just as technically well­ versed as him who are also more well-rounded as storytellers, like Kubrick, who was cutting­ edge in both the stories and the technicalities of his films.

HALEY: I think it would be worthwhile to talk about T​he Grand Budapest Hotel f​or a bit, because I personally feel like that was Anderson’s landmark achievement in filmmaking. I thought his most recent film was an example of really good storytelling in that Anderson essentially created an alternate history. He created an alternate universe, a history around this universe and a set of characters within this universe. The film was also very believable in that anyone could see the society depicted in the story as actually being a real society.

JOHN: I’ll admit that ​Grand Budapest ​would be the Anderson film I’ve enjoyed the most. Even though he creates an interesting setting that isn’t just a nostalgia-fied version of 1950’­s/1980’s America, he does the same thing he always does, which is showing a slightly awkward teenage boy falling in love with a slightly quirky teenage girl. The world he creates and the use of changing aspect ratios within the film helps enrich the overall work, but these things are offset by the film needing to be so “Wes Anderson­-y” that it can’t stand on its own. You have to know the rest of his body of work in order to enjoy it.Fantastic Fox symmetryHALEY: I should note that I also feel that Anderson ought to be regarded as an influential director when it comes to making films for children. His other films, such as Fantastic Mr. Fox ​and Moonrise Kingdom ​appeal to a very child­-centered audience without eschewing certain intellectually satisfying sensibilities. I think that’s pretty interesting. I think that both of the stories in those two films were quite original. The thing about Anderson is that he’s not a director made for people over or under a certain age, he’s not a fantastically violent director like Scorsese and he’s not a macabre director like Guillermo del Toro—he’s a director for all audiences and all tastes. I think this is something that’s wildly unique about him.

JOHN: He has done some work for the children/family genre, sure. If you look at F​antastic Mr. Fox ​and ​Moonrise Kingdom​, however, it goes right back to the Wes Anderson crutch of using nostalgia. To me, that’s just as weak as some of the crutches that Disney uses to keep bringing back audiences. I think it’s interesting that you mention his universal appeal, but to me that’s just him being bland. While it’s true that not every film has to be as violent as Scorsese or as dark and unsettling as del Toro, they should at least provoke some emotion. But all Wes Anderson manages to evoke is, once again: nostalgia. This, to me, is not something that should be celebrated.

HALEY: Personally I really like films that have nostalgia, I think it provides a lot of depth. I’ve always enjoyed films that go back in time, even though I haven’t been alive for times like the 70’s or 80’s. I still think that nostalgic films can not only carry a lot of depth, but also a lot of humanism. The characters in Anderson’s films carry a lot of weight through their nostalgic qualities because they deal with collective memory. In G​rand Budapest ​especially, it’s possible to make a lot of connections to our present society through the characters.

JOHN: Nostalgia to me is pretty much like pornography. It’s like this sudden release of dopamine in your brain, because yes, it brings you back to a specific place in time that has a collective memory, but it’s not a real memory because everything is completely whitewashed to be very happy and quaint and quirky. That’s what Anderson goes for, and it’s just cheap.

HALEY: I will definitely say that an Anderson film is reminiscent of a white clapboard house in Maine. His films have a very dreamy landscape that is something out of a Monet painting. As mentioned before, I think his films do carry a lot of depth, but when you think about Wes Anderson, you don’t think about the stories or the deeper meaning behind the stories. Instead, you think about the beautiful visuals that he provides. He is wonderfully creative when it comes to his use of color, symmetry and framing; however, I will admit that a lot of his stories do have a lack of depth. I will go back to G​rand Budapest, though, because I think that showed a very interesting quasi-­historical viewpoint on World War II, in that it dealt with a lot of the struggles people in Europe faced. Anderson incorporated a lot of elements that were fantastical and lighthearted, while also taking oppression into account, as he went into the paranoia people had during the war. He presented this in a very underhanded way that was also quite profound, and that, ultimately, is what drew me into the story of that particular film.

JOHN: Anderson does have a lot to technically offer, but the techniques he’s using have been used by other people. He uses this nostalgia for the past as a crutch to make his stories have a mass appeal that ultimately just make them bland. Grand Budapest ​may step out of the light from the rest of these, but even some of the worst directors in history have had a good movie at some point. I don’t think we should continue to have this unwarranted love for him, but instead maybe relegate him into the corner of one ­trick pony directors.

HALEY: I feel that Anderson definitely has created a unique vision through his films. He should be remembered as a director who did something new. He has made films that challenge certain beliefs, films that address history and films that appeal to a mass audience. Ultimately, I feel that he not only should be studied but also watched by many for the pure, simple pleasure that an Anderson picture can provide.

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