Wes Anderson Week

Well, there you have it, seven movies and seven posts later, we’ve come to the end of Wes Anderson Week.  When I decided to dedicate this week to Anderson and his movies, I’m not sure if I was ready for what I was getting into.  A lot of the movies that I’ve covered this week rank up there as some of my favorites, not just for their style, but overall as films.  But when I sat down and tried to figure out why Anderson’s films have always been so intriguing to me and so many other fans, I felt like I was trying to articulate something that’s impossible to describe, kinda like trying to say why something is “cool.”  In the end I don’t have any grand conclusions or groundbreaking discoveries, what I can say is that Anderson is a rarity among both contemporary directors and contemporary men.  His work, more than almost any other major director, places so much importance on aesthetic, and I suppose this is why his films are so important to me.  Anderson’s movies are not only visually appealing, but the visuals go much deeper than that, conveying the story through the look of the film.  Like all of us that care about menswear, Anderson understands the importance of how a person presents themselves.  which is why I figured it was only right to wrap this week up with some pictures of the director himself.  Enjoy

Recap of the Week:

Bottle Rocket – A Subtle Start

Rushmore – A Tale of Two Children

The Royal Tenenbaums – Immersion into Anderson’s World

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – United and Uniformed

The Darjeeling Limited – A Journey to the East

The Fantastic Mr. Fox – Animals in Tailored Clothing

Moonrise Kingdom – Out on Anderson’s Island

It was Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s first live action film in five years, that drove me to dedicate this week to the director and his films.  Not only because it is a great film (which it certainly is), but more importantly because it feels as if all of Anderson’s previous movies were building up to this one.  Set in 1965 on the isolated island of New Penzance off the coast of New England, Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s vision perfected.  Similarly to Anderson’s earlier works the story has aspects of reality, but in Moonrise Kingdom more than any of his other films, they act only as a launching point into the larger Andersonian universe.

This approach is evident in the character’s costumes, all of which take from familiar influences, but blend them together in a manner that is unique to the film. For example, the fictitious Khaki Scouts sport uniforms that are reminiscent of a common troop uniform, but it’s their specific details-obscure patches, camp mocs, short shorts, carved brooches, and yellow trimmed shirts-that make them so special.  The same goes for Walt Bishop (played by Bill Murray) with his patchwork madras pants, the Narrator (played by Bob Ballaban) and his red knee length coat with contrasting neckerchief, and Cousin Ben (played by Jason Schwartzman) in his mirrored Aviators.  The characters do not belong to any specific place as we know it, they belong to the world of Moonrise Kingdom, a space entirely of Anderson’s imaging where he is able to tell the story exactly as he wishes.

Out of all of Anderson’s films, the character that bears the most resemblance to the director himself actually comes from his only animated movie.  Mr. Fox, dressed in a wheat colored double breasted suit, button up shirt, and repp tie, is the splitting image of Anderson on any given day.  In fact Mr. Fox’s suit is actually made from the exact same corduroy as one of Anderson’s signature suits.  Mr. Fox’s costume is a prime example of the world that Anderson created in The Fantastic Mr. Fox-taking animals and imagining them as people.  Dressing the animal characters in outfits that could have been worn by any number of characters from his earlier films, Anderson produces personalities not mere animals.

By doing this the film takes new meaning, it’s not just about how animals interact naturally, it becomes about the dichotomy between civilization and the wild.  The animals typically behave and appear like urban intellectuals just as Anderson’s other characters did, but it those rare moments where they let their animal side show through that act as a reminder that they are after all just wild creatures.  Throughout Anderson’s films one of the most remarkable things has always been how well put together the characters and their spaces are.  As I have mentioned throughout this week, Anderson has always been a filmmaker for whom aesthetics are of the utmost importance.  But the interplay between the dignified attire of the characters of The Fantastic Mr. Fox and their occasional instances of wild behavior are a reminder that beneath all of us, no matter how collected we may appear on the surface, there is always that possibility of something else lying underneath.

By 2007, with four films under his belt, Anderson’s dense visual style was fully developed and had made him one of the most recognizable modern directors.  Yet, in 2007, with the release of The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson stepped outside of his comfort zone breaking slightly from his signature aesthetic by removing his characters from the typical controlled space (ala the house in The Royal Tenenbaums, or the ship in The Life Aquatic) and placing them into the heart of India.  Arriving in India from the west, the Whitman’s, Francis (played by Owen Wilson), Peter (played by Adrien Brody), and Jack (played by Jason Schwartzman) enter into a foreign space both literally and figuratively.  Within the vibrant and unfamiliar Indian landscape, the Whitman brothers are the only remnants of the familiar Andersonian world.  The men come from a world of button downs, charcoal suits, and monogrammed luggage, but against the backdrop of India they look uncomfortable and confused. This raises questions about the three brothers and their sullen faces, because for all their nice suits and laundered shirts they still look signifcantly less satisifed than the locals with their bright colors, patterned silks, and matching wide smiles.

For westerners a trip to the east has always been a common point of escape, a chance to find whatever it is that’s missing in your life.  And the Whitman brothers were no exception, arriving in India as damaged men, in search of enlightenment.  No matter how nice their clothes were, or how well-dressed they appeared they were still men who’s lives had gone wrong somewhere along the way.   Just as the Whitman brothers adopt the colors and garments of India as their travels and spiritual journey progress, Anderson brings in new elements to his work and expands the horizon of his complex world.  This story is not only about the Whitman brothers, removed from their natural habitat and forced to step into the unknown to find happiness, but it also about Anderson on a larger scope.  The Darjeeling Limited helped to propel Anderson into a new point in his career, a period of expression where he was free to experiment and expand his world to explore beyond his comfort zone.

By now the Team Zissou uniform is legendary in and of itself, duplicated to various degrees of accuracy by thousands of twenty-somethings on Halloween.  But that combo of a knit red beanie, blue wetsuit, and Zissou edition Adidas certainly deserves better than being reduced to a costume.  The Zissou uniform is a reflection of the crew-the colors are reminiscent of the ocean, but are lighter than Naval attire, expressing the exploratory nature of team Zissou.  The sheer fact that all the crew members are wearing the exact same outfit is one of the most important aspects of the film.  For as beloved and memorable as he is, Steve Zissou (played by Bill Murray) is essentially a cult figure.  In The Life Aquatic, the rest of the characters follow Zissou, placing their personal endeavors aside in order to follow Zissou in his quest for vengeance.

Coming off The Royal Tenenbaums, a film where individuality is a crucial part of the story, Anderson takes a step in a different direction, opting instead for uniformity in his characters.  Zissou and his crew have all banded together for a common goal, and their identical uniforms solidify this unity.  The character’s diverse backgrounds and personalities become suppressed in a way.  Zissou has brought these men together, wrangled them into a mission, and outfitted them as he saw fit.  Although all the men are presented identically, as the movie progresses it becomes clear that everyone in the crew is distinct in their own way.  The homogeneity of what the crew members wear actually works to amplify their uniqueness as each character must rely on their personality to convey who they are as people.  While The Royal Tenenbaums drew attention to each character’s respective outfit to show something about them, the uniforms in The Life Aquatic draw the audience away from the clothes and force us to focus on actions and dialogue to better understand who each individual character truly is.

It’s hard to believe that The Royal Tenenbaums was released over a decade ago.  In my opinion Anderson’s third film has aged remarkably well and still remains the most significant of all his films.  This is not to say that I consider it his best film, although it’s certainly up there, and it’s not because it was a commercial success (to this day it’s Anderson’s highest grossing film) but to me the film is important because The Royal Tenenbaums feels like the first time that we are fully immersed into Anderson’s world.  And this is what make’s his films so remarkable -Anderson creates a space full of elements that are unique to the characters and the story.  Each piece of the film, from the colors, to the settings, to minute details, tells us not only about the plot, but also the larger vision of who these characters are and what their lives are like.

As a film driven by distinct personalities, the look of each character seems to tell a story of who they are as people.  It’s not really through dialogue or events that we begin to understand who each character is, but through their aesthetic.  Richie’s ever-present head band and Fila polo express his inability to leave a tarnished tennis career behind.  The Adidas track suits and matching shoes that Chas and his sons constantly wear reflect a man unable to escape his wife’s accidental death.  Eli Cash’s cowboy hat and fringed jacket label him as an urbanite desperately trying to appear authentically Western.  As these characters are brought together to tell the story, their clothes are a reflection of their respective situations.  And then as the characters evolve throughout the movie we see them shed their track suits and head band’s, visually and emotionally leaving behind the things in life that have held them back.

If Bottle Rocket was still a period of evolution for Anderson, then it’s in Rushmore that his vision becomes actualized.  Through Max (played by Jason Schwartzman) and Herman (played by Bill  Murray), Anderson’s stylistic trademarks become clear for the first time.  To a much higher extent than most other directors, Anderson embraces the outward appearance and presentation of his characters to represent who they are as people.  Max, a precocious teenager with an overly strong sense of self, dresses with more formality and personality than his prep school counterparts.  A repp tie and navy blazer is not enough, Max needs a beret, thick glasses, and a full suit to distinguish himself from his peers.  Ignoring the way everyone else appears, Max just dresses as he thinks he is, someone well beyond his physical years.  On the other is Herman, a weathered millionaire, with a general disinterest for everything around him.  Seeming to wear a suit out of habit, it’s Herman’s odd color choices, sunglasses, and dangling cigarette that contextualize him as a person.  Generally defeated at the start of the film, as Herman’s life begins to change direction, he cleans up a bit, but never loses the touches that remind everyone of the jaded man that lies inside.  Both Max and Herman ultimately resort to tactics that make them look like boys dressed as men, helping them fall neatly into the Andersonian world where aesthetic is everything.  The style of both characters is so specific to them, and also to the imagination of Anderson himself, so much of the two men lies in their clothes and what that says about them.

With so much buzz around Wes Anderson and his latest movie, Moonrise Kingdom, I figured it was time to take a look back at what exactly makes Anderson’s films so appealing. Personally, Anderson is without a doubt one of my favorite modern directors, like the rest of his dedicated fan-base, I’ve always been drawn to his unmistakable style. Anderson’s films place so much importance on aesthetic, the look of everything has to be exactly right and never is this more true than with the characters. Anderson himself is a remarkable dresser, known for wearing corduroy suits, cropped pants, and Clarks Wallabees, all items that seem to reflect who he is as a person and artist. This idea of your clothes reflecting who you are as a person can be seen in all of Anderson’s films, but to see how it all began let’s go back to Anderson’s first film – Bottle Rocket. Released in 1996, Bottle Rocket was written by Anderson and Owen Wilson, who were roommates at the University of Texas. Filmed entirely in Texas, Bottle Rocket is a subtle first step into Anderson’s world.

As the least overall stylish and stylized of all of Wes Anderson films, Bottle Rocket is a relatively mellow film. The elements that would come to define Anderson’s latter works (cut scenes, stark colors, more formal costumes, etc.) are largely absent from Bottle Rocket, instead the film has a more realistic feel, appearing as probably the only Wes Anderson movie to exist outside of the “Wes Anderson universe.” But don’t let this fool you into believing the film has any less personality than Anderson’s other films. The sheer absurdity of the situation and the main characters, particularly Dignan (played by Owen Wilson) drive the film, working as a precursor to all the films that followed. It’s as if in Bottle Rocket, Anderson understood what emotions and stories he wanted to convey through his films, but didn’t he exactly know the right way to go about it yet. While Bottle Rocket is less blatantly stylised, the look of the film is nonetheless noteworthy. The style of Bottle Rocket, lies somewhere in the middle, straddling between the grounded feel of most films and the extremely specific aesthetic that Anderson came to realize in his subsequent films.

Against the placid Texas landscape, Dignan, his brother Anthony (played by Luke Wilson), and their partner Bob (played by Robert Musgrave) seem out of place, running around erratically, attempting to execute a heist that would only seem logical to them. The look of the three character’s solidifies this sense of disconnect with their surroundings, wearing boldly printed shirts, oddly paired clothes, and borderline tacky colors, they appear to be removed from the rest of the characters within the film. This sense of separation, of having characters that are presented to be entirely different than anyone in the film or in the real world, is something that Anderson continues in the rest of his films. Through the way his character’s look and dress they are their own unique entities, not exactly opposing the world around them, but blissfully acting in their own world without acknowledgement of the norms and limitations of that world.


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