Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Origin Of an Auteur Blogathon: Wes Anderson

The Origin Of An Auteur: Wes Anderson

I have the privilege of writing about what makes Wes Anderson films a Wes Anderson film, thanks to the Blogathon hosted by Hitchcock's World. It's called the Origin of An Auteur blogathon, and the rules are below:
  1. Pick one director and identify his or her first feature film. It must be the first feature film (i.e. over one hour runtime) listed in her/his filmography.
  2. While you will be primarily discussing that one film, you should have an understanding at least some of the director's later films, enough to be able to recognize his or her style.
  3. Analyze your chosen film in relation to the director's later projects. What elements of his or her style do you see here?
  4. Keep in mind that this blogathon is based on critical thinking and analysis, not simply on whether you liked the film. Your post should not be so much on the film itself as what it says about the director.
  5. Repeats (i.e. two people writing about the same director and film) are acceptable, but discouraged. If you do choose a topic someone else is writing about, try to find something different to say on the subject.
  6. Include a banner and a link back to this post. There are several banners to choose from below, and you are permitted to create your own provided they fit the blogathon's themes.

Over the years, Wes Anderson's movies have become some of my all-time favourite movies.  While all are quite different, there are also so many things that relate them. In theme, style and cast/crew. So I will be writing mainly about Wes Anderson's first ever film, Bottle Rocket, but also writing this in comparison to Anderson's later films, highlighting what makes Bottle Rocket and his later works similar, how his style was shown in his first film, but also how Mr Anderson has grown as a director. 

Bottle Rocket is Wes Anderson's first feature length film, starring Owen and Luke Wilson and Robert Musgrave. Based off a short film the Wilsons and Anderson had made previously, Bottle Rocket certainly set the stage for Wes Anderson's career. Bottle Rocket is a simple story about three friends who plan to pull off a robbery and live life on the run. However, as with all other Wes Anderson films, things aren't as simple as they first sound.

Dignan, Anthony and Bob aren't simple people. They're all very complicated, naive, confused and slightly messed up. We enter the film with Anthony "escaping" from a mental hospital. Anthony knows it's voluntary, but Dignan does not, so he has planned an elaborate escape for Anthony to follow, which Anthony does to humour him. Anthony was there for "exhaustion" after having a mental breakdown. Dignan isn't so normal either. Dignan is naively optimistic (see his escape plan from the mental hospital),  and self-obsessed with the 75 year plan he has for him and Anthony. Dignan gets himself and Anthony to rob Anthony's house, as well as a small bookstore. Bob mainly gets dragged into this because he owns a car and Dignan and Anthony don't. Bob is bullied by his younger step-brother and still lives with his parents. The trio sets out to travel, going out "on the lam" with the money they stole from the bookstore, and they stay in a motel where Anthony falls in love with a non-English speaking maid.

Artistic Style
While Anderson is particularly known for his artistic style in his films, his style here is very basic and reserved. Characters are dressed in quite normal clothes and don't have a typical "costume" they wear for the entirety, unlike the Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom. Things don't look particularly twee or homemade. While the characters are still a little quirky, they aren't as defined by their quirks yet, or have extremely distinct personalities. This isn't to say that Bottle Rocket has nothing that his further movies do. Bottle Rocket, since this is a debut, seems to have been played a little safe. Anderson comes to have an extremely distinct style that, admittedly, doesn't appeal to everybody, so Anderson may have either reigned himself in for this first film or was simply just testing the waters as a first time director. So while we do have some of Anderson's trademarks here, but they are much smaller and used moderately.

All our characters are in everyday clothing for most of the film and do change outfits. Though, the last act of
the film sees Dignan constantly in a yellow jumpsuit which Anthony, Bob and Dignan's role model Mr Henry and his crew all don when pulling off a robbery of a cold storage facility. While things aren’t necessarily twee here, things do seem slightly retro in feel. The use of 70’s houses, the pastel colour of the motel, and just the overall 70’s feel of the motel itself. While it's definitely not nearly as grand or even on a similar scale to the Grand Budapest Hotel, this small pink-pastel motel has retro charm. There seems to be a distinct layout here, with the pastel pink making it pop. Even Anderson's use of fonts is repetitive, as he generally uses the same fonts for all his films.

Anderson's use of very quaint, twee and homemade props doesn't play a large part in Bottle Rocket, but we do still get a few instances of this. Anderson seems to particularly love handwriting and the use of letters, so
we see Dignan's 75 year plan handwritten and all of his blueprints and plans for the robbery are also mainly hand written. From Moonrise Kingdom to Royal Tenenbaums to even Fantastic Mr Fox, the use of letters and handwriting still remains a large feature. This also seems to add the retro/nostalgic feel since letters and handwriting in general are definitely becoming very much a thing of the past. However, so many of the props (costumes worn by characters, jewelry, luggage, etc) all is made to look very homemade by the characters. The khaki scout outfits in Moonrise Kingdom look like they were almost made by the scouts, and one of the jailed men in The Grand Budapest Hotel has very obviously self-done (or amateurishly done) tattoos. Again, this is only moderately shown by Bottle Rocket, but is featured in the robbery of Anthony's parents home. We see some quaint jewelry, a coin collection and antique toy soldiers. Bottle Rocket isn't not as "homemade" or quaint as other Anderson films, but it still does have a bit of that plain feel to it.

As well, Anderson is quite known for his use of centre-focused shots, slow motion, and panning, this is again used in moderation. We don’t quite have everything centered here or have characters walking in straight lines all the time like in Moonrise Kingdom or the Grand Budapest Hotel, but we do get some small uses of how he’ll come to use the camera later in his career. We do get several birds eye shots of tables, desks, hands holding objects for the camera to see, etc. We get a couple of rotating camera pans (almost as though the camera is just moving back and forth, or in a circle). The gun range scene in particular showcases Anderson’s use of quick cuts and particular character placement within a frame, which feels similar to the shootout scene in the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Themes & Writing
The final robbery in the 3rd act shows us a lot of what is to come with Anderson's films. Apart from the yellow jumpsuits, it's the controlled chaos and misunderstandings that Anderson continues to use. These characters attempting to pull off this robbery are all immature and inexperienced. They're almost juvenile in
the way they deal with each other. There is constant bickering (with characters talking over each other) and just simply forgetting where they are and focusing on these internal spats with each other, compromising their robbery.

The use of chaos and bickering is used a lot in Anderson’s future films. In fact, quite a few of the themes seen here in Bottle Rocket are still used extremely frequently. The strongest theme here seems to be that of friendship/family. The film is very much centered on Anthony and Dignan’s friendship (a relationship which seems to be bordering more on family than just friends). We see their friendship tested, temporarily broken and being stitched back together. As well, themes of growing up (usually grown ups growing up) and trying to find “meaning” are also strong themes that we still see. Often, our main characters start off as juvenile and naive, but find themselves growing up, or being told to grown up over the duration of the film. Generally our adult characters seem to behave immaturely and self-absorbed and we find the children characters to be grown up beyond their years (or attempting to seem grown up and not necessarily succeeding). Movies such as Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums show this strongly. Dignan is shown as very child-like in his plan for the mental hospital escape for Anthony (use of bed sheet escape ropes and walkie talkies with code names, etc), as well as his clearly unrealistic 75 year plan. He's completely self-absorbed with this plan and wont' hear anything else. Self-absorption is seen in pretty much every single Wes Anderson film. Characters like Francis from Darjeeling Limited, Mr Fox from Fantastic Mr Fox and Gustav H from The Grand Budapest Hotel are some prime examples of this, but we always seem to have one character who is self-obsessed with their current project/goal/mission in any given Anderson film. 

Love is also a strong theme. We often see characters falling in love with each other. And while relationships with Anthony and Inez are complicated, they’re never quite the drama of romantic comedies, and don’t often take the complete forefront on the movie. Similar to Zero and Agatha in The Grand Budapest Hotel, love means a lot to these main characters and often aids in the growing up process.

However, the thing about Bottle Rocket that is most similar to Anderson's future movies is the writing style.
Anderson characters have a very particular way of speaking. It's often in long sentences and often idealistically. Characters are either extremely wordy or the hardly speak at all. The humour is generally deadpan and everyone is usually blunt and to the point. Things are understated and exact. Characters often don't seem to have a filter or even respond to this bluntness in the way that "normal" people would. Characters are generally either self-absorbed or sort of droll and pessimistic. The craziness that ensues is often seen as normal, and no one seems overly surprised by anything that happens. Situations and conversations are often extremely funny to audiences, but the characters themselves hardly ever do. Actually, characters in Anderson's films hardly laugh at all and are often quite serious through their insanity. Characters either completely overreact or are extremely blase. Deadpan and to-the-point may be the best way to describe Anderson's writing (and speaking of Anderson's writing, Anderson wrote or co-wrote every single one of his screenplays). 

Yes, Wes Anderson movies are quirky. They’re quaint and twee and funny and there’s just something quite European about them, despite being made by a Texan. Anderson is definitely one of the most distinct directors. Have a definite style that becomes so prevelant in his later films, it’s almost surprising to sit down and watch Bottle Rocket and seeing how almost plain it is. In some ways, it could’ve been directed by anyone. Bottle Rocket was, quite honestly, a little mediocre and doesn’t do anything specifically interesting, especially in terms of style. But as I mentioned, Bottle Rocket sets the stage and feels as though Anderson is testing the water, and seeing what he can get away with. Characters are chaotic and you have several instances of them talking over one another, both thinking they are in conversation with each other when they are not. You have quick cuts, rotating camera pans and slow motion walking shots. The music is twinkly and both Owen and Luke Wilson have been used in several of Anderson’s later films (he loves to use the same cast/crew several times over). Bottle Rocket is a simple film, but it’s the start of a great artistic director and gives great promise of the quirkiness to come.

1 comment:

  1. I like Anderson's work, but I haven't seen Bottle Rocket, yet. Love the breakdown you give it here. It's interesting you highlight the yellow jumpsuits. That's a sure sign of things to come as it's fairly well documented how yellow is a prominent color in all of his films. By the way, those first three gifs you posted are also pure Anderson. I need to check this movie out. Great work!

    My own entry in this blogathon: