The auteur theory suggests that a director is seen as the ‘author’, defining the details that make up the finished piece. A director’s job is to take charge of the creative process and make important decisions that affect how the finished film will look. Most directors work closely with various departments throughout the entire production, but for some directors, it is essential that they green-light every decision to ensure the finished film is exactly as they envisioned.
Wes Anderson is one of these directors. A true auteur whose film catalog has proved, time and time again, his ability to make films that have his own personal stamp.
Wes Anderson (born Wesley Wales Anderson in 1969) grew up in Houston, Texas. His parents divorced when he was eight and this has often been cited as being a defining experience within his life. This is clear in his work and families are a continually recurring theme.
While studying Philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin, Anderson took part in a playwriting class alongside future collaborator and actor Owen Wilson with whom he became close friends. This was to be a friendship that would help start Anderson’s career. It was also at University that Anderson discovered his love for European cinema and the French New Wave, an interest that is clearly a huge influence in Anderson’s directing style and one of the many characteristics that define him as an auteur.
Although Anderson’s films share common themes, there is no singular outstanding genre, but rather a mix of drama, fantasy, romance, adventure, and comedy.
This is perhaps because, although Anderson is a director, his focus is on writing and storytelling and his films do not generally follow the conventions of Hollywood screenwriting.
This is where we see a lot of Wes Anderson’s personality and main influences. Most of his films center around families, more importantly, dysfunctional families. Anderson’s films focus primarily on the idea of parenthood and generally a lack of suitable parental figures. For example, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, and The Darjeeling Limited have narratives driven by the idea of ‘being a parent’. Each of them relates to an absent parent through childhood or, in the case of The Darjeeling Limited, the lack of parental support even into adulthood. Likewise, even Anderson’s animated take on Fantastic Mr. Fox questions the protagonist’s suitability to be a parent.
If parents themselves are not involved, then there has always been a father figure, such as Bill Murray’s character in Rushmore or Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel. In these instances, we see our protagonists take advice and support from someone who attempts to look out for them.
With parenthood being the key driving theme, most of Anderson’s other themes then derive from this. Therefore his films often highlight the importance of friends, family, love, and death. Many areas of his films revolve around friendship and the bonds we make with one another. However, quite often this friendship is the catalyst for romance. This can be seen in Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, though romance itself is also present in all of his films.
There is nowhere more evident of Anderson’s personal stamp than in his Mise-En-Shot. His visual style combined with his camera choices creates a signature that is so apparent that others have parodied it across the world.
For example, Anderson is known for using slow-motion shots within his films, most notably during the final shot.
It’s also important to study his use of camera angles and shot type. Quite often Anderson’s placement of characters or objects in a scene is symmetrical, with characters being in the center frame. This is very different from the conventional filming style that follows photography’s rule of thirds. This is a very striking choice and helps set him aside from other modern directors.
Colour is also important in Anderson’s films and can be used as an identifier of his films. Particularly his use of the yellow font for his titles, not only on the box-art but also during the films.
His color palette is often vibrant, with sometimes clashing colors that create a theatre-like setting and removal from a modern era. Combined with his prop choice, we can see his interest in the ’50s and ’60s being inserted into his work, though rarely have an impact on the story itself. His sets are often complex and again, work more like theatre sets than those conventionally seen in films. For example, the Belafonte in The Life Aquatic is half a set, allowing the camera to move freely from room to room while maintaining a one-shot type.
His visual style can also be seen in his short films and adverts that he has directed alongside Roman Coppola, which highlight his interest in French cinema.
Over the years, Anderson has collected together a huge ensemble of famous actors and as with many people considered an auteur, we generally see a recurring set of cast members, such as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, and Willem Dafoe as well as others. Having such a large number of people who are accustomed to your directing style and writing allows Anderson to have a great deal of control over his work.
This can also be applied to Anderson’s consistent choice of Robert Yeoman as DOP who has worked on every film Anderson has made. This, again, gives Anderson the freedom to create a film with his personal style as Yeoman would understand the director’s preferences from the outset.
Wes Anderson is a visually and thematically strong director and, although he has not completed a large portfolio of work, he has created pieces that always include his signature. It is likely that these themes and aesthetic choices will continue to show in his future work and therefore it is possible to conclude that, Wes Anderson is one of the best examples of a modern auteur.