The latest addition to the [the films of] collection is [the films of] Wes Anderson. Raved by critics and audiences worldwide, Anderson is one of the most peculiar filmmakers active today. This behind-the-video post explains how I tried to show Anderson’s reoccurring themes, trademarks and style in under 3 minutes.
Wes Anderson was actually the second filmmaker who came to mind when I thought up [the films of], but I decided not to go with him right after Sofia Coppola, because their style would be too similar and that would give a wrong impression of the series. We’ve had the minimalist, the energist, the unopinionist and now the distancist.
What’s funny is that Fincher and Anderson are alike in one key way of making film, which is that they both try to distance the viewer from the characters. Fincher does this to allow the viewer to form an opinion of his own, Anderson uses this to show the viewer everyday situations in a different light. Ultimately Anderson ‘reconnects’ us with his characters almost, because it’s impossible not to love them and so in the end you will feel that connection with the characters that you might not have had in the beginning.
OK, enough with the philosophising, on to the video.
The video opens with Kristofferson’s Theme by Alexandre Desplat, who I love, from the Fantastic Mr. Fox soundtrack. It supports the sweetness of Anderson’s films I try to show in the first sequence.
There’s actually this persistent ‘glitch’ in modern day soundtracks, which is a continuous note of very high frequency occassionally popping up. It’s of such a high frequency only a few people can hear it, which is why I assume it’s left in the tracks so oftenly. I had to EQ it away in this track. It was ripped straight from the CD, so it wasn’t an encoding mistake or anything.
Let me tell you about my boat.
Reoccurring trademark #1 (I’m just gonna label them because there are quite a lot): miniature shots. Anderson uses these to either quickly get us familiarized with a location or simply to use it as a montage-excuse, allowing a lot of different situations to be taking place in a very short amount of time. You see these sequences in The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s one of his ‘newer’ trademarks.
What I try to do though is only show one example of every theme; so The Life Aquatic is used to show this one, the next one will be a different film, because there’s an issue which I bumped into while making the video which I’ll explain later on.
This sequence is set to Strangers by The Kinks. I’ve been dying to use a Kinks track or a Beatles track and in this video I get to play with both. It’s got a more emotional heavy tone and a slightly dramatic feeling to it, which worked well with The Darjeeling Limited (it’s also on it’s soundtrack) and The Royal Tenenbaums.
Oh, almost forgot, trademark #2: underwater shots.
Trademark #3: slow-motion. Anderson loves slow-motion and though it’s not something you’d expect to see in his films, it works surprisingly well. Anderson intentionally alienates us from his characters so that we see their problems and personalities more clearly.
It’s a dangerous method because you risk losing your audience, but I think that risk-taking is exactly what pulls his fans into the film. His films are almost surrealistic in terms of situations and characters. By using slow-motion Anderson is able to show an everyday situation more clearly and in a way that you would not usually see it.
Difference Vimeo / YouTube version: if you watched this video on YouTube, you watched a ‘censored’ version of the video.
I originally used the suicide sequence from The Royal Tenenbaums to support the lyrics “I’ve killed my world and I’ve killed my time”. It might be a bit literal to set this part to a suicide shot, but it worked really well and suited the character’s place in life; he’s lived in agony and now he’s finally putting an end to it. In The Darjeeling Limited too there is a failed suicide attempt, though we see the character after this has happened and with no knowledge of it happening, so the ‘reveal’ of him having tried to commit suicide is the push to bring us closer to his character. The same goes for Richie in The Royal Tenenbaums, you probably already feel sorry for him before the attempt but after he recovers you really have a bond with him.
It’s also an important issue in modern day society and people, for understandable reasons, don’t talk about it all that much, so I’m glad Anderson pays attention to it in his films. I don’t want to be too radical in this opinion however and so I won’t intentionally shock you with graphic images of suicide attempts, so I cut it out of the version most people will watch and replaced it with a shot from The Life Aquatic, which kind of suits the lyrics as well in terms of Zissou being aware he’s wasted a lot of time and now he’s back on track.. If you want to see the ‘uncut’ version, head on over to Vimeo.
There’s some aspect ratio shifts in the video (Bottle Rocket and Fantastic Mr. Fox are not native anamorphic). I didn’t crop the image because of the same reasons I didn’t crop footage for [the films of] Danny Boyle; I think it’s the director’s intention to use this format and who am I to change that. It’s key in deciding the look of the film and if I were to crop shots from Fantastic Mr. Fox a lot of animation would be lost, which would be too much of a shame.
I tried to minimize the viewer’s awareness of the shifts by picking shots that are dark in either the top, the bottom or both. Because of the clip’s shortness your eyes probably won’t pay attention to the lower part of this shot and so you won’t be distracted when that bit of image space is absent in the next shot.
This is probably my favourite cut in the video; the music really reaches a heavy turning point here and the three Darjeeling brothers struggling in the water went really well with that heaviness, as if they’re actually struggling with the impact of the turn in the song.
Let me also take this moment to pay attention to Robert Yeoman’s amazing cinematography in the films (apart from Fantastic Mr. Fox). This sequence in The Darjeeling Limited especially is stunning and really breaks through Anderson’s typical style, which results in a strong emotional response. I hope he reunites with Anderson on Moonrise Kingdom.
I never understood any of us. I wish I had more to offer in that department. I know you do, Pop.
Reoccurring trademark #4: father figures. This is more of a theme actually, it’s persistent in most of Anderson’s story (most notable being The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox). Fathers in his films usually don’t cope well with fatherhood, either being really bad at it (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox) or completely denying it (The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic, Rushmore). I used this line to sum up these elements in his films.
I had to really take it easy on the cutting on this video, I’m usually all for cutting galore but I had to cut back (no pun intended) for Wes Anderson. There’s not a whole lot of cutting in his films either, he prefers to film an entire sequence in one shot, which is also one of his trademarks. For timing reasons I couldn’t put that in more literal, but the absence of cuts here is supposed to show that.
On to Hey Jude by The Beatles, another band I was really glad to finally be able to work with. I moved the “Hey” from the first “Hey Jude” up a few millisecond so that it coincided with the last beat from Strangers. Slow-motion worked really well with this song and so I used it more with the titles.
How can a train be lost, it’s on rails.
Trademark #5: witty dialogue. This is probably one of my favourite lines ever, it was in one of the first drafts of 15 Years of Fox Searchlight but unfortunately didn’t make the final cut.
Take a sad song, and make it better.
I love Royal’s expression here. It seems to go really well with the ‘take a sad song’ lyric.
If you watch closely, you’ll see one character in the title expanding each time (except for Fantastic Mr. Fox). Font color is Anderson yellow. Another moment of slow-motion galore, it just worked really well with the tune so I used that as an excuse to use a lot of those shots.
Nun to the left claps to the beat. I spent a lot of time getting that right. Don’t ask me why. Please notice though.
We all are. Him especially. But there’s something kind of fantastic about that, isn’t there?
Great line from Fantastic Mr. Fox, really reflects on the unusualness of Wes Anderson’s films and the core of the relationships between his characters. The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited are all about bonding despite clear differences. It’s a cliché, but somehow Anderson makes the “be yourself“-message tolerable in his films, mostly by wrapping it unusally.
So kids, let’s all just get along.
Goodbye. Love their different expressions. The shot kind leaves you with a sort of “it’s not over” idea, which both reflects on the hopefully many films left for Anderson to make and 8 more [the films of]’s to come.
OK so now I’ll get back to what I was telling you about before. When editing the video, it was consistently difficult to show Anderson’s trademarks and style without making it seem repetitive somehow, as if that was all there was to it. I tried really hard to make the video be more than just a series of pretty pictures, which is what I assume most people will have when watching a Wes Anderson film. It was hard to break that first impression and one of the ways I stealthily tried to do that was by not making a stereotype title card. I could’ve gone for something like this:
but decided not to, because that would just amplify the alikeness. It’s funny how with Fincher I tried really hard to find a way to get all the films to work together, and with Anderson I had to pull them apart almost, as if they were magnetically working towards each other.
What I’m trying to say is that even though Wes Anderson has his trademarks and reoccurring themes (what filmmaker doesn’t?), they’re there for a reason and the problem is that most people refuse to acknowledge that, which is why his films also receive plenty of unmerited criticism by the large audience. It’s a shame people write his films off as being hipster and pretentious, because if they would look just a little bit closer they’d see why his films are the way they are. His films require a level of commitment and openness from the viewer because that is what will make the characters and situations work. Anderson intentionally refrains from allowing his films to drag the viewer along, because he wants the viewer to take that step to keep up. If you don’t then, well, you’ll get horribly lost and won’t be able to ‘discover’ what the film has to offer.
It’s this aspect in his way of film making that really amazes me, much like how Sofia Coppola uses minimalism and Boyle uses a lot of energy to get their point across. And that’s ultimately what [the films of] is all about, discovering different ways of film making and putting them right next to each other.
Anyway, that’s enough of me rambling, I’ll reward you with a hint for May’s [the films of] (which is actually almost finished, because I have exams in May and so I won’t be able to work all that much on it the coming month): theatrical.
Thanks for reading this post and being so amazingly fond of the series!