One of the new voices of the American film scene following the success of Quentin Tarantino in the early 90s came in the form of one of the most unlikely individuals in Wes Anderson. The Houston-born filmmaker seemed like the last guy who would make films about flawed characters, from rich or middle-class upbringings, striving to make names for themselves or encounter a world they had never been in. Already having released six feature films in his career with a new one called Moonrise Kingdom coming out in 2012. Anderson has already created one of the most fascinating library of films since arriving to the American film scene in the mid-1990s.
Born in Houston Texas on May 1, 1969, Anderson grew up into the world of film as he attended the University of Texas in Austin. There, he met one of his future collaborators in Owen Wilson where the two forged a friendship over their love of films. The two would write scripts together while continuing to study philosophy in the University of Texas. With Owen’s brothers Andrew and Luke, the four would team up to create a short that would become the basis for their very first feature film.
With the release of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs, the heist/caper film genre suddenly came back to life in a new style. Obviously inspired by that film, Anderson decided to create a short about a caper film involving three guys that would called Bottle Rocket. With Owen Wilson starring and co-writing the script with Anderson, the short also starred Owen’s younger brother Luke and their friend Robert Musgrave. The short told the story of three guys making a plan to rob something to start a career in crime. The short made in 1992 premiered at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival to great buzz.
Among those who had discovered the short film were James L. Brooks and Polly Platt. Brooks was famous for his work as a producer for shows like The Simpsons and The Mary Tyler Moore Show as well as writing, producing, and directing films like Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News. Platt was famous for her work with Peter Bogdanovich in the 1970s serving as his production designer as well as co-writing his 1968 debut film Targets. Brooks and Platt had formed Gracie Films in 1985 where they scored a major hit four years later with Cameron Crowe’s debut film Say Anything… as they also mentored Crowe early in his career.
Brooks and Platt’s involvement with Anderson and Owen Wilson helped gave the two a chance to develop a feature-length script where the two lived in offices for two years. During the development, Anderson and Wilson were able to gather people who would become their collaborators early on which included cinematographer Robert Yeoman and production designer David Wasco. The latter of which, they met on the set of Pulp Fiction where they were invited on set. With the help of Brooks and Platt, Anderson was able to create a film that was different from the heist movies of the 1990s by focusing on the individuals and their emphasis to enter the world of crime rather than the heist itself.
The casting included many friends of Anderson and the Wilson brothers which included Stephen Dignan, Brian Tenenbaum, Dipak Pallana, and Dipak’s father Kumar in the role of a safecracker. With Owen, Luke, and Robert Musgrave in the lead roles along with Andrew Wilson in a small role. The cast’s big coup was getting legendary actor James Caan in the role of crime boss Mr. Henry as well as rising Mexican actress Lumi Cavazos as Luke Wilson’s love interest Inez. The film was made on location in Anderson’s home state of Texas as they went for a very different look due to Yeomen’s colorful cinematography as well as Anderson’s unique approach to framing actors and situations that occur. These ideas along with slow-motion shots, particularly towards the film’s ending, would become part of Anderson’s trademarks as a filmmaker.
Another person who would become a key collaborator for Anderson is Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh who saw the film at a test screening as he offered his services by providing its score. Mothersbaugh brought a unique score that had a jazz element and was very low-key while the soundtrack had an array of music that Anderson loved including Love, the Proclaimers, and the Rolling Stones. In a scene where Luke’s Anthony character runs to Inez in a tracking shot to the tune of Love’s Alone Again Or becomes a prime example of what Anderson can do in matching music and image as it would be the start of a great career. While there was a lot of enthusiasm for the film before its release, the film was hampered by poor test screenings which forced Anderson to do re-shoots and re-edits.
When Brooks tried to get the film to premiere at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, it was rejected as Columbia Pictures did release the film in February of that year to little fanfare as it was a commercial failure. One of its early champions came in the form of L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan who praised the film as he helped Bottle Rocket become a cult hit. Anderson won a Best New Filmmaker prize at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards in June of that year while the film itself became a hit of sorts through the home video market and one of the early releases in the DVD format in 1998. 10 years later, the film was re-released for DVD and Blu-Ray by the Criterion Collection that added to Anderson’s growing reputation as Martin Scorsese named the film one of his 10 favorite films of the 1990s on a 1999 episode of At the Movies with film critic Roger Ebert.
Despite the commercial failure of Bottle Rocket in its initial release, there was buzz available for Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers. Owen Wilson was suddenly appearing in Hollywood movies such as Ben Stiller’s dark comedy The Cable Guy, the 1997 thriller Anaconda, and Michael Bay’s 1998 asteroid-disaster movie Armageddon. Luke Wilson’s career was also in the rise as he was appearing in numerous low-budget indie and studio pictures at the time. Still, the Wilson brothers and Anderson’s collaborators were developing another project that would become their breakthrough called Rushmore. The story of a 15-year old prep school kid whose love of extracurricular activities and staging plays has him befriending a disillusioned millionaire where they would fight each other for the affections of a widowed first grade teacher.
Anderson wrote the film with Owen Wilson several years back as they re-wrote and created new ideas for the film as they also formed their own company called American Empirical Pictures. With collaborators such as Robert Yeomen, Mark Mothersbaugh, David Wasco, and editor David Moritz involved along with associates such as Luke and Andrew Wilson, Dipak and Kumar Pallana, Stephen Dignan, Brian Tenenbaum, Anderson’s artist brother Eric Chase Anderson, and their friend Wallace Wolodarsky involved. The film would be a bigger project than Bottle Rocket as Anderson chose to shoot the film again in Texas nearby the prep schools that Anderson and the Wilson brothers had attended.
With Owen Wilson unavailable for the production due to scheduling conflicts as an actor while he does make a cameo via photo. Anderson was able to create an ensemble cast that he needed for the film that included veterans like Seymour Cassel and Brian Cox along with up-and-coming British actress Olivia Williams as the widowed first grade teacher Rosemary Cross and an unknown named Jason Schwartzman as the 15-year old prep school kid Max Fischer. Schwartzman was the son of actress Talia Shire whose brother was legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola as he met Anderson at a party held by Schwartzman’s cousin and up-and-coming filmmaker Sofia Coppola.
For the role of millionaire Herman Blume, Anderson wanted Bill Murray for the role though getting in touch with Murray wasn’t easy. Once the script got into Murray’s hands, he accepted the part as production started in the fall of 1997. Wanting to take his visual style to new heights, Anderson went for a more lush look with Yeomen’s help in the photography. Notably in creating a montage about Max’s numerous activities with the use of the Futura bold typeface that was played to the tune of the Creation’s Making Time.
The sense of teen angst and coming-of-age theme that Anderson went for was very different from a lot of the high school movies made at the time as it focused on an individual who wasn’t a great student but a dreamer with lots of ideas. The film, along with Bottle Rocket and subsequent films, would be part of Anderson’s exploration into flawed individuals who are these dreamers but often have to deal with some sort of adversity that could put them down for a while. Max Fischer is probably Wes Anderson’s greatest character for the way he tries to hold on his dreams to impress a woman and fight off an adult for her affections only to realize that he’s hurt some people along the way.
The film premiered at the 1998 Telluride Film Festival to a great reception as it became a major festival hit in the fall of 1998. Though it had a very limited theatrical release in December of 1998 for its Oscar-eligibility, the film did manage to become a major critical hit as it got a wider release in February of 1999. Though it wasn’t able to recoup the $20 million budget spent on the film, the critical acclaim did help the film as it gave Bill Murray a new career for the veteran comedy actor in doing light-dramatic pieces. In 2000, the film was given a special DVD release from the revered Criterion Collection company with numerous special features as it was upgraded for its Blu-Ray release in 2011 making it one of the company’s revered DVDs.
The success of Rushmore as well as the growing cult following for Bottle Rocket helped raise Anderson’s profile as a filmmaker on the rise. Being part of a new wave of American filmmakers like David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. In the world of the American blockbusters were the films were becoming bigger while a new wave of teen comedies were starting to re-emerge. Anderson and his peers brought a new sensibility that was quirky, humorous, and at times, quite out there. Anderson would refine his themes and much more for his third feature film entitled The Royal Tenenbaums.
The story about the lives of three gifted siblings who became successful early in their life only to face failure and disappointment as adults as their estranged father returns to help them with claims that he’s dying. The film explores the dynamics of family as its patriarch is a selfish man who takes advantage of his children’s early success and lives in a hotel after separating from wife. When the three kids experience trouble as adults, he comes to help them after being kicked out of his hotel while trying to come to terms with his own issues as well as his children and wife.
With his collaborators and associates that would now include Bill Murray being part of the film along with Luke and Owen Wilson, and Kumar Pallana in crucial roles. The casting included a much bigger ensemble than any of Anderson’s previous films as Gene Hackman played the lead role of Royal Tenenbaum with Anjelica Huston as his estranged wife Etheline, Danny Glover as Etheline’s new suitor Henry Sherman, Ben Stiller as Royal and Etheline’s eldest son Chas, and Gwyneth Paltrow as their adopted daughter Margot. With Owen Wilson also co-writing the film with Anderson, the film included narration as it was told in a storybook presentation with narration by Alec Baldwin.
Shot on location in New York City, the film would be a departure of sorts for Anderson in terms of its location as well as going for much broader themes on family and their dysfunctions. Musically, the film also served as a departure as Anderson strayed from his love of 60s British Invasion and British folk for something a bit different as it included obscure cuts by Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and John Lennon along with a piece from the Rolling Stones whom Anderson adores. With Mark Mothersbaugh providing a score piece that plays up to the melancholia, the score included an instrumental cover of the Beatles’ Hey Jude for its opening montage of the Tenenbaum kids’ early success.
Another key part to Anderson’s growing maturity in the film is the way he explores the family dynamics such as a scene where Ben Stiller’s Chas tries to confront his father about taking his kids for some fun. They’re in a closet as Royal is understand why Chas is upset but thinks it’s really about something else as he is convinced that Chas is not over his wife’s death. There’s a great mixture of humor and drama that occurs in the film while Luke Wilson’s Richie Tenenbaum is having a hard time with his feelings towards his adopted sister Margot as he reveals to his father who is surprised by the news.
Released in late December 2001 for a limited release, the film drew excellent reviews as it confirmed Anderson’s status as a unique voice in American cinema. The film would also garner a few detractors who felt annoyed by Anderson’s quirky style and eccentric characters as the film did give Anderson some big accolades. Among them was a Golden Globe prize to Gene Hackman for Best Actor from a Musical/Comedy while Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson received their first Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay.
With three films that were acclaimed by critics and hits on the home video market, it seems like Wes Anderson was going to become some wunderkind that specialty studios can invest in to create films that can be modestly successful in the box office while garnering some critical acclaim. Anderson’s next project would be his most ambitious to date as he delved into the world of an oceanographer whose career is spiraling downward as he tries to go after a shark who ate his friend and deal with the long-lost son he just discovered about. The project would be called The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with Bill Murray would play the titular character.
The film would have Anderson making some changes in his approach to casting and set pieces as he gained the services of Mark Friedberg for production design along with legendary costume designer Milena Canonero, and animator Henry Selick for some of the creation of the creatures Zissou and his team would uncover. Also helping out is Anderson’s friend Roman Coppola, the son of Francis Ford Coppola, as he would shoot second unit for the duration of the film set entirely on the Italian coastal cities. Inspired by the works of Jacques-Yves Cousteau as well as some of the visual flair of Federico Fellini, Anderson went to Italy for its production including doing some work at the famed Cinecetta studio in Rome.
Another major change in Anderson’s approach to the production would be in the form of a new co-writer as Owen Wilson was unavailable to co-write due to his demanding work as an actor. Helping to write Life Aquatic would be filmmaker Noah Baumbach who was a promising filmmaker in the mid and late 1990s with such films as Kicking and Screaming and Mr. Jealousy. Baumbach’s writing is synonymous with Anderson’s exploration into immaturity and growing up as his involvement would help Anderson change his approach to storytelling. Notably as it explored the life of a documentary filmmaker whose career is in the dumps.
With regulars like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson as Zissou’s long-lost son Ned, Anjelica Huston as Zissou’s wife Eleanor, and Seymour Cassel in a small role as Zissou’s ill-fated friend Esteban. The casting proved to be more diverse than anything Anderson has created as it included Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, a very pregnant Cate Blanchett, Noah Taylor, Brazilian actor/singer Seu Jorge, and cult actor Bud Cort who had been in one of Anderson‘s favorite films in Harold & Maude. Anderson’s desire to create a more international cast while going for a very ambitious approach to the filmmaking by shooting on location on an actual boat proved to very daunting.
With its approach to the film’s soundtrack, Anderson and Mark Mothersbaugh chose a very low-key electronic score that was more in tune with Mothersbaugh’s past work with Devo. The soundtrack would also feature the work of David Bowie from the early 70s as it would performed mostly by Seu Jorge who translated the song into Portugese. These were among the many quirks that Anderson had put into the film but a lot of it felt forced and contrived as it didn’t have the naturalness of his previous films. Probably due to the overwhelming $50 million budget spent on the film and its ambitions, it was a film where Anderson seemed to aim very high but doesn’t quite reach the mark on what he wanted as he would later admit his own frustrations with the film’s production.
Released during the Christmas season of 2004 to high expectations, the film drew very mixed reviews from critics and audiences. While there was a lot of praise towards Bill Murray’s performance as Steve Zissou while Seu Jorge’s The Life Aquatic Sessions, released in late 2005, got excellent reviews. The dismal reaction to the film gained many questions on whether Owen Wilson was the reason for Anderson’s early success as he wasn’t involved in writing The Life Aquatic. Anderson went into hiding after its release as he decided to maintain a low profile due to the film’s commercial failure.
After the tepid reaction to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson took a break from film directing as he produced Noah Baumbach’s 2005 film The Squid & the Whale while doing an American Express commercial that featured Jason Schwartzman. At the same time, Anderson and Baumbach were trying to create an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox in collaboration with animator Henry Selick as the project went into development issues for years that led to Selick’s own departure. Taking a break from work on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson chose to go on a trip to India with friends Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman where the three got an idea for Anderson’s next project entitled The Darjeeling Limited.
Inspired by the films of Satyajit Ray as well as the early films of Merchant-Ivory, Robert Altman, and Jean Renoir’s The River. The Darjeeling Limited was the story of three estranged brothers who embark on a spiritual journey to India as they’re all dealing with the loss of their father while searching for their mother who had disappeared. During the development for the project, Anderson decided to make a prequel to the film in the form of a short with Jason Schwartzman called Hotel Chevalier as it involved Schwartzman’s Jack Whitman character meeting up with an ex-girlfriend in his Paris hotel room.
Hotel Chevalier was an experiment Anderson wanted to do to see if he can create a short film as he shot the film on location in a Paris hotel room with Schwartzman and Natalie Portman for two days. The short ended up helping Anderson creatively as he and Schwartzman continued to work on the script with Roman Coppola as production finally began in late 2006. With Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody filling the roles of the two older brothers along with appearances from associates like Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia, Kumar Pallana, Bill Murray, and Anjelica Huston as the mother of the three brothers. Anderson aimed to go for a much looser approach to the filmmaking with help from Roman Coppola on second unit.
Shooting on location in India while actually using a train car to create the car where the brothers would travel in. Anderson chose to shoot everything with few takes in the city due to the very busy roads that happen. For the train scenes, the cast and crew lived in the train while they also shot scenes in and out in various locations. The production turned out to be a much better experience than Life Aquatic as the film showcased another sign of maturity in Anderson’s work as well as a sense of restraint in his approach to quirky humor and in its technical style.
The film would be also have Anderson making some changes as Mark Mothersbaugh was unavailable for the score while another change in Anderson’s collaborators came in the form of editor Andrew Weisblum. For the film’s soundtrack, Anderson and music supervisor Randall Poster employed score pieces from the various films of Satyajit Ray and the early Merchant-Ivory films for its soundtrack along with a few cuts from the Kinks’ 1970 album Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One and the Rolling Stones’ Play with Fire. Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To (My Lovely) would also be a key piece as it was played frequently in the film as well as in Hotel Chevalier.
The film premiered at the 2007 Venice Film Festival as well as opening the New York Film Festival weeks later in the fall of that year. While the reviews were more positive than Life Aquatic, the film still didn’t win over some of Anderson’s detractors while many claimed the film to be Anderson’s best work. Before the film’s theatrical release, Anderson released Hotel Chevalier to iTunes for free where it proved to be a major Internet hit as it was played with The Darjeeling Limited for its theatrical run where the film became a modest box office hit. The film proved to be a real turning point for Anderson as he gained some confidence following the ambitious Life Aquatic as well as
The success of The Darjeeling Limited gave Anderson the chance to shift his focus back on his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Following a troubled production period which involved Revolution Studios as it folded in 2007. After making a deal with 20th Century Fox whose specialty studio Fox Searchlight released The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach went back to work on the creating their take on Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book.
The story of a fox who steals chickens and other sorts of things from farmers to feed his family only to embark in a feud with them is among one of Dahl’s great stories. Anderson and Baumbach visited the home of Roald Dahl for inspiration to write the script as the two infused their own ideas into the story as it involved themes of existentialism, survival, and family dynamics. Though the project was meant to be involved with animator Henry Selick, Selick left the project due to the ongoing development issues as Anderson chose with Mark Gustafson to make a stop-motion animated film.
The decision to do stop-motion animation came at a time when animated films were now driven by computer-animated movies from Pixar as there was also an emphasis for animated films to become 3D. Anderson decided to press on with his idea for a straightforward, 2D stop-motion animated film as the production went on for two years as his cast was already announced once it began. With contributions from his regular core of actors like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Wallace Wolodarsky, Michael Gambon, and Eric Chase Anderson in supporting roles along with voice appearances from Adrien Brody, Brian Cox, Willem Dafoe, Roman Coppola, Owen Wilson, and Anderson himself. The voice cast would be led by George Clooney as the titular character and Meryl Streep replacing Cate Blanchett in the voice of Mr. Fox’s wife.
Choosing not to have the actors do their voices in studios, Anderson and his crew chose to have the actors do their voices outside of the studio as if they’re playing the actual parts. With this approach, Anderson was able to get an energy and emotion he needed for the voices so that animals can look more lively in their stop-motion animation presentation. The look of the film that featured help from production designer Mark Friedberg and cinematographer Tristan Oliver, who filled in for Robert Yeomen, as Anderson wanted the film to feel real as well as the creatures by utilizing real hair and such.
While Mark Mothersbaugh was initially going to do the score, he left due to the developing issues as French composer Alexandre Desplat filled in for the film’s score where he brought in a mix of orchestral music and folk. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker also contributed a song to the film while the rest of the soundtrack was filled in by music from the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Bobby Fuller Four, Georges Delerue, and many others. In the approach to the music, Anderson wanted the music to be adventurous, fun, and dramatic as it help drives the characters he created for the film.
The film made its premiere by opening the London Film Festival in October of 2009 to a wonderful reaction. A month later in the U.S., the film was released to great critical acclaim as well as modest box office as the film did OK despite facing competition from more successful franchises like the Twilight films and a sequel to Alvin & the Chipmunks. The film would give Anderson his best reviews since Rushmore while nabbing two Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film and Best Original Score along with a special award from the National Board of Review which Anderson accepted in his role as a weasel.
Anderson’s seventh feature film will become another major change of sorts as it will be Anderson’s first period film. Set in 1965 in New England, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two 12-year old kids who fall in love and run away into the wilderness. This would lead to a frantic search from the girl’s parents along with a sheriff and the boy’s camp leader. With a cast that is to include Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman along with Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, and Edward Norton. The film is slated to be a mixture of comedy and drama that is filled with Anderson’s unique style.
Written with Roman Coppola, the film’s trailer emphasize a look and feel that is reminiscent of the French New Wave along with music pieces to confirm that feel. With Alexandre Desplat providing the score, it’s likely that the film’s music will be another mix of things along with another possible appearance from the Rolling Stones. Whatever the outcome will be for this film, it’s already clear from the film’s trailer that it’s going to be another film from Wes Anderson as he often delivers.
Anderson’s work in commercials show that even in an ad to sell something, he can do it in his own way. For him, the commercials show that there’s more to an ad than selling something. One of those commercials he created was for American Express as it featured Anderson making a film that featured Jason Schwartzman and Waris Ahluwalia. It’s a very fun commercial as it indicates how involved Anderson is in every part of the production.
Anderson also took part in a series of commercials for AT&T’s Your Seamless World campaign. These commercials featured different themes as it included an appearance from actor Larry Pine, who had played a talk show host in The Royal Tenenbaums, as it would have someone talking while continuously moving from one set to another in one singular take.
Another series of commercial that featured Larry Pine involved the IKEA furniture product where people test out the room and furniture to see if they’ll buy it. It’s all done in a quirky style that Anderson is famously known for.
Another commercial that is rarely seen in the U.S. is one that Anderson made for a Japanese cell phone company that featured Brad Pitt. The commercial, which is an homage to Jacque Tati’s Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday has Pitt playing the Hulot character as it’s shot in one continuous take. It’s definitely one of the most entertaining and creative commercials ever made.
The final big ad Anderson made back in 1999 are a series of promos for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards that featured the young cast of Rushmore acting a few of the nominees for Best Film that year as it includes Out of Sight, Armageddon, and The Truman Show. These performances are true to the spirit of Rushmore as well as bringing a quirky element to the other films.
With another possible project in a remake of Patrice Leconte’s My Best Friend for producer Brian Grazer entitled The Rosenthaler Suite in development. Wes Anderson is already riding high through a wave of critical support and a devoted fan base that is willing to anticipate what he does next. With Moonrise Kingdom ready to come out in 2012, excitement is definitely in the air as many wonder what will Anderson say next in his seventh feature film. Whatever the outcome will be, Anderson has already cultivated a library of films many filmmakers would love to have. Whether it’s about a bunch of wannabe criminals, a dysfunctional family, a trio of estranged brothers on a spiritual journey, an oceanographer seeking revenge, or a teenager wanting to win the heart of a teacher. Only an artist like Wes Anderson could create these characters and make people love them.
Wes Anderson Soundtracks: Bottle Rocket - Rushmore - The Royal Tenenbaums - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - Seu Jorge-The Life Aquatic Sessions - The Darjeeling Limited - Fantastic Mr. Fox - (Moonrise Kingdom)
© thevoid99 2012