Love him or hate him, director Wes Anderson is one of the few contemporary filmmakers who have an easily recognizable style of filmmaking. In fact, you can't see Futura font or a carefully arranged symmetrical overhead shot without immediately thinking of films like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, or Moonrise Kingdom. But why?
Anderson's many cinematic conventions and stylistic signatures have been studied since he came on the scene back in the late 90s, but with every new film he releases, the conversation surrounding his modus operandi gets reopened and contextualized to include his latest effort. And now that Anderson's 9th feature film, Isle of Dogs, has officially hit theaters, the team over at ScreenPrism (check out their Patreon page here) has decided to examine the films of Wes Anderson in order to break down exactly what makes them uniquely his.
It's difficult to talk about Wes Anderson's style without talking about the auteur theory. The director's idiosyncrasies as a cinematic artist have helped introduce the newer generation of filmmakers, film theorists, and cinephiles to auteurism, a theory first developed by French film theorists André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc in the 1940s (the term was coined by American film critic Andrew Sarris) that says that the director, rather than the screenwriter or any other contributor, is a film's rightful author.
The validity of the auteur theory can be (and has been) debated for ages, but one thing that can be taken from it without much fuss is the fact that some filmmakers, like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Tim Burton, have a certain unique style that is much easier to discern, categorize, and replicate than their contemporaries. In other words, these filmmakers have developed their cinematic language and style to such a degree that their work has become a signature in its own right, and Wes Anderson's signature is one of the most recognizable.
Here are the stylistic trademarks noted in the video:
- Microworlds ("Shoe-box" sets)
- Child-like adults, adult-like children
- Characters that fall apart
- Dysfunctional families
- "Escapism (with meat)"
- A distinct pattern of speech
- Recurring cast (Bill Murray, Angelica Huston, Owen and Luke Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, etc.)
- Art Noveau color palette
- Distinctive camera language
- Slow motion for bookending shots and/or important moments
- 60s and 70s music
- A production within a production
- Wes Anderson as co-writer
- Futura font
- Abrupt violence
- Chapter-like structure
There are many stylistic trademarks that can be pinpointed in Wes Anderson's work, but perhaps the most important aspect of his filmmaking, which is something that can't be claimed by any one filmmaker, is his ability to capture humanity in the artifice of his constructed world. While the idiosyncrasies take us into the clouds, where we can dream and laugh the way a child would, the tenderness and emotional honesty bring us back down to earth, where we can grapple with our own humanity the way an adult should.