Wes Anderson. Style, Techniques and Movie Locations

Wes Anderson (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Wes Anderson has been my favourite director for some time. And although this blog is about travel, I think it’s worth sharing some other insights once in a while, as we have done with Banksy and Klimt.

Biography

Wesley Wales Anderson was born on May 1, 1969, in Houston, Texas. He is the second of three boys; his parents divorced when he was eight. His older brother, Mel, is a physician, and his younger brother, Eric Chase Anderson, is a writer and artist whose paintings and designs have appeared in several of Anderson’s films, such as The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson is of English, Swedish and Norwegian ancestry.

He graduated from St. John’s School in Houston in 1987, which he later used as a prominent location throughout Rushmore. As a child, Anderson made silent films on his father’s Super 8 camera and starred his brothers and friends, although his first ambition was to be a writer. Anderson worked part-time as a cinema projectionist while attending the University of Texas at Austin, where he met future collaborator Owen Wilson. He graduated in 1990 with a degree in philosophy. [Wikipedia]

Style and Techniques

Wes Anderson and Bill Murray © 2004 Touchstone Pictures. All rights reserved.

“Anderson’s films combine dry humour with poignant portrayals of flawed characters – often a mix of the wealthy and the working class”

Themes and stories

Anderson has chosen to direct mostly fast-paced comedies marked by more serious or melancholic elements, with themes often centred on grief, loss of innocence, dysfunctional families, parental abandonment, adultery, sibling rivalry and unlikely friendships. His movies have been noted for being unusually character-driven, and by turns both derided and praised with terms like “literary geek chic”.

Visual style

Anderson has been noted for his extensive use of flat space camera moves, obsessively symmetrical compositions, knolling, snap-zooms, slow-motion walking shots, a deliberately limited colour palette, and hand-made art direction often utilizing miniatures. 

These stylistic choices give his movies a highly distinctive quality that has provoked much discussion, critical study, supercuts, mash-ups, and even parody. Many writers, critics, and even Anderson himself have commented that this gives his movies the feel of being “self-contained worlds”, or a “scale model household”.

According to Jesse Fox Mayshark, his films have “a baroque pop bent that is not realist, surrealist or magic realist”, but rather might be described as “fabul[ist]”. In 2019, the company Murals Wallpaper from the UK launched a line of wallpapers inspired by the visual design of Anderson’s films.

From The Life Aquatic on, Anderson has relied more heavily on stop motion animation and miniatures, even making entire features with stop motion animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. [Wikipedia]

Studiobinder.com offers a detailed description of his style, including colours, costumes, fonts, scripts and more.

Soundtracks

Anderson frequently uses pop music from the 1960s and ’70s on the soundtracks of his films, and one band or musician tends to dominate each soundtrack.

In Rushmore, Cat Stevens and British Invasion groups featured prominently, The Royal Tenenbaums included songs recorded by Nico, The Life Aquatic was replete with David Bowie including both originals and covers performed by Seu Jorge, The Kinks appeared on the soundtrack for The Darjeeling Limited and Rushmore, The Beach Boys in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Hank Williams for Moonrise Kingdom.

Much of Moonrise Kingdom is filled with the music of Benjamin Britten, which is tied to a number of major plot points for that film. The Darjeeling Limited also borrowed music styles from Satyajit Ray’s films. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is mostly set in the 1930s, is notable for being the first Anderson film to eschew using any pop music, and instead used original music composed by Alexandre Desplat. Its soundtrack won Desplat the Academy Award for Best Original Score, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music and World Soundtrack Award for Best Original Score of the Year. The soundtracks for his films have often brought renewed attention to the artists featured, most prominently in the case of “These Days”, which was used in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Recurring actors and collaborators

In respect to actors, he is known for working with many of the same actors on different projects. His main actors are Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston, followed by the brothers Owen and Luke Wilson. 

In my opinion is an excellent combination, and helps to explain his style. Another highlight is Jason Schwartzman. And there are a few more: Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Kumar Pallana, Bob Balaban, Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton.

Frequent co-writers include Roman Coppola (Francis Ford Coppola’s son), Noah Baumbach, Owen Wilson, Schwartzman and Hugo Guinness.

Filmography

Movie Locations

The Grand Budapest Hotel film location: the hotel’s grand lobby: Gorlitzer Warenhaus, Gorlitz, Germany | Photograph: wikimedia / Hans Peter Schaefer

The Grand Budapest Hotel, one of his last and most successfully movies, was mostly filmed in Germany, at the border with Poland and the Czech Republic. The most distinctive building, the hotel itself,  it’s the Görlitzer Warenhaus, a 1913 department store in Görlitz.

Much of The Darjeeling Limited was shot in JodhpurRajasthan, India The Himalaya scenes were shot in Udaipur, and the opening scene of the film was also shot on the streets of Jodhpur. The International Airport shown near the end is the old terminal building of Udaipur Airport. The elephant scene was filmed in Narlai. The scenes set in New York were filmed in Long Island City.

Moonrise Kingdom‘s principal photography took place in Rhode Island from April to June 2011. The film was shot at various locations around  Narragansett Bay, including Conanicut Island, Prudence Island, Fort Wetherill, Yawgoog Scout Reservation, Trinity Church, and Newport’s Ballard Park. A house in the Thousand Islands region in New York was used as the model for the interior of Suzy’s house on the film’s set.

The Life Aquatic was filmed in and around Naples, Ponza, and the Italian Riviera. And also other Italian cities such as Rome, Florence and Lazio. For instance, the stairs and door seen in the final shot of the movie is the actual back entrance to the Quirinal Palace in Rome. The initial scene in the theatre was shot in the Real Teatro di San Carlo. The scene on the stairs was shot in the Royal Palace of Naples. The Explorers Club is Palazzo Sacchetti.

The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums was mostly filmed in New York City. The house used in the film is located near the famous Sugar Hill in the Hamilton Heights section of Harlem in Manhattan at 339 Convent Avenue. The Waldorf-Astoria was used for the hotel scenes, while Central Park Zoo depicted a rain forest. A United States Navy training ship represented Richie’s ship. The crew also added 10,000 square feet of AstroTurf at Forest Hill, to depict Richie’s tennis match.

Rushmore was shot in and around Houston, Texas, where Anderson grew up. His high school alma mater, St. John’s School, was used for the picturesque setting of Rushmore Academy. Lamar High School in Houston was used to depict Grover Cleveland High School, the public school. In real life, the two schools are across the street from each other.

Bottle Rocket was shot entirely in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Hillsboro, Texas. The scenes at Bob Mapplethorpe’s house were filmed at the John Gillin Residence, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Undergraduate Writing

“The editor of the Analecta, the official literary and art journal of the University of Texas at Austin, was flipping through some old volumes when she came across the writings of former UT student and current filmmaker Wes Anderson.

Published in the Analecta in 1989, Anderson’s short story, The Ballad of Reading Milton, isn’t as good as some of the screenplays he has co-written since but it is certainly full of the quirky charm that has inspired so many people to become fans of his work.” [slashfilm.com]

Books

Some recommended books are the following, being the first one my favourite:

Awards

Anderson and team at The Oscars Photo by Jason Merritt – © 2015 Getty Images – Image courtesy
  • He has 5 Oscars nominations.
    • Best Animated Feature Film (Isle of Dogs)
    • Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing and Best Writing, Original Screenplay (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
    • Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Moonrise Kingdom)
    • Best Animated Feature Film of the Year (Fantastic Mr Fox)
    • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (The Royal Tenenbaums)
  • He has accumulated 75 wins and 174 nominations in total. See the full list on IMDB.

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