From a Vision to Academy Awards

We Anderson continues to stun with his extraordinary film direction

Adriana Garcia, Staff Writer

“It is the vision of the director that takes an ordinary movie and turns it into a work of art,” actress Emma Stone reminded audiences during the 90th Academy Awards.

And no one’s vision is as easily identifiable – easily because it’s so delightfully complex – as Wes Anderson’s.

The 48-year-old director’s enigmatic and excruciating attention to detail, backed by tender stories and endearing characters, make his films complete and utter bliss.

Anderson’s ninth feature film and second stop-motion animated work “Isle of Dogs” is set for release March 23. If it’s anything like its predecessors, it will be visually captivating, charming and heartfelt.

The Texas native’s most distinctive qualifier is arguably his visual style. One film critic, Matt Zoller Seitz, wrote of his technique that it packs “each frame with so much detail that the film’s very assemblage becomes a work of art; a mosaic built of tiles that are themselves mosaics.”

The filmmaker’s set design, costumes and color schemes are meticulously planned and executed to serve each film’s individual aesthetic.

Younger brother Eric Chase Anderson contributes to initial plans with detailed illustrations that outline his sibling’s vision.

A typical Anderson scene includes pastel backgrounds, stage-like ambiance and characters in imaginative attire. His 2001 film “The Royal Tenenbaums,” for example, features three characters perpetually wearing matching red track suits, one in a fur coat and loafers, and another in a cowboy hat.

Other trademark qualities include bright pops of color, a compulsive obsession with symmetry and minuscule detail props scattered among the set like Easter eggs. God’s-eye-view shots often highlight particularly complex frames.

Anderson also takes frames from personal favorite films and emulates them to achieve pleasant shots. Borrowed frames come from an array of genres. The list includes “Harold and Maude,” “The French Connection,” “The 400 Blows” and “The Last of the Mohicans,” to name a few.

But while his frames are sometimes borrowed, his writing is singular. It’s earned him three Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and quite often reflects his experience as a child of divorce.

Anderson’s films contain serious concepts (robbery, suicide, divorce, death, addiction and war) but always feature odd, amiable characters that lighten their severity.

“I am trying to come up with characters surprising to people and surprising to me,” said the filmmaker in an interview with The Guardian. “People who like weird people are more likely to like my films than people who call people weirdos.”

But Anderson’s writing is most successful because of its authenticity.

The often larger than life protagonists, “Rushmore’s” Max Fischer, “The Royal Tenenbaums’” title character, or “The Grand Budapest Hotel’s” Gustave H., for example, always experience an emotional pivot.

These strong-willed characters are never more appealing than when they display vulnerability.

There to compliment the films’ emotional tones are very particular soundtracks and scores. Like most everything about his work, the director is extremely specific. He takes personal taste and inserts it.

Notable and often-used works include those by The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, The Velvet Underground and Nico, David Bowie and even the music to Charles Schulz’ “Peanuts.”

The scores to Anderson’s films were done mostly by musician and former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. Mothersbaugh claimed the director’s preciseness was immediately visible upon meeting for his debut 1996 film “Bottle Rocket.”

“By the end of the first day, I understood that he didn’t like bass sounds,” said Mothersbaugh in a 2016 interview. “He didn’t like brass. He liked plucky instruments and bells and flutes and piccolos.”

Anderson’s palate expanded over time and eventually allowed for full orchestra scores composed by Alexander Desplat. Desplat scored the filmmaker’s last two features and the upcoming “Isle of Dogs” as well.

The director’s particularity also shows in his casting. Veteran actor Gene Hackman, for instance, only agreed to play Royal in “The Royal Tenenbaums” because Anderson threatened to cancel the project otherwise, claiming he wrote the part specifically for him.

Anderson generally works with a steady group of actors, including Owen Wilson (who also writes with the filmmaker), Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Most recently, Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand joined the group.

The aforementioned performers are all featured in “Isle of Dogs” alongside fresh faces (or voices) like Greta Gerwig and Scarlett Johansson.  

Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa (“Rashomon”) heavily influenced “Isle,” according to Anderson. Other evidently influential filmmakers for his previous work include François Truffaut, Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock.

The above-mentioned directors inspired Anderson’s artistic career just as he inspires contemporary masses.

The director’s unique work enables fanatics to create their own artwork. There’s even an annual art show titled “Bad Dads” based entirely on his films.

“I love that,” said the filmmaker in an interview with critic Seitz. “What could be more encouraging to me than to see people responding that way?”

And as long as Anderson’s films continue to perfectly concoct their own enchanting worlds that display “the beauty of brokenness,” as Seitz eloquently wrote, audiences will continue to respond.

Adriana Garcia can be reached at [email protected]