I consider myself a fan of cinema. Actually, I suppose I am a fan of story telling and I think that while a story can be told by anyone, it only becomes really valuable when the story is well told.
As background, I can say that at College I studied the art of storytelling in multiple media, including film and television production and then as a part of my BA I have studied Film and Television History. Please don’t misunderstand me, dear reader, I am not saying these things to claim any expertise or that I know better, but rather just to emphasise how I feel about a well-told story and how I will always appreciate the discipline. Also, there will here be little talk of the specifics of the films and guaranteed spoiler free. This blog post is more about my appreciation rather than the hours of technical critique I would happily enter into.
I think I started early on my obsession with narrative. For me, when I was growing up, music was always theatrical; Meat Loaf, Kate Bush and Pink Floyd for example, not just tunes or beats but stories and the decision of someone’s fate over evocative, emotion twisting rhythm. It’s fun to have a song that leaves you wondering what happened to the characters at the end.
As I have matured (okay, not so much matured, but at the very least aged) I have kept this part of my mind very open to different stories and different perspectives. I like all sorts of stories about any subject as long as it is well told. This, in film, puts pressure on the artists both on and offscreen, and occasionally and brilliantly there is a combination of brilliant story, brilliant direction, brilliant cinematography and of course brilliant performances.
Sometimes there are books, songs, paintings and certainly films which refuse to give up their reservation in that corner of your mind that they occupy because they make you happy, or sad, or reflective, or relieved, reassured or sometimes scared. These are not artificial emotions, they are deeply felt because of someone, or a group of people, knew very well how to tell a story.
The real subject of this post is the work of Wes Anderson. There are many directors, producers, and writers I admire, and although I am not keen on the word favorite, I must say that Wes Anderson, for me, is the greatest auteur in modern cinema.
His body of work is not just inclusive of examples of fine storytelling but in this case, I have come to love every film he has made. Oddly, when I first saw one of his films – ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001) – I decided to watch it because I recognised some of the high profile comedy actors I had seen in films before, most notably from my perspective Bill Murray (for the likes of Ghostbusters for example) so when I watched it through I found it funny and certainly competently filmed but it was not what I expected and therefore I don’t feel it really penetrated. It’s worth noting that I was a teenager at the time. When I saw it in a rental shop later I decided to watch it again and found that I was seeing things that I didn’t even notice before, certain trademarks of Anderson’s that I would come to see in his later work (railed tracking shots, heavy use of the Futura typeface, the most awkward familial relationships imaginable). I was becoming a fan.
I looked into the back catalog and found Bottle rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998) and the fanaticism turned to near obsession. By the time The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) was released, in a disappointingly low number of cinemas where I lived, I made the effort to track down a viewing and watch it. Twice. It was somewhere during this second viewing when listing to delicious Portuguese covers of much-loved David Bowie songs that I fell in love with the ability of Wes Anderson and his regular collaborators to make me feel the stories they were telling.
This reached it’s peak with The Darjeeling limited (2007) which I have been able to describe as not only my favorite film but possibly my favorite piece of art.
As an aside here, when you do come to watch The Darjeeling Limited, (which I really do feel would be a monumentally difficult decision to regret) do first start by watching the short two-character film Hotel Chevalier featuring two key characters from the main film, portrayed by the brilliant Jason Schwartzman and the ever wonderful Natalie Portman.
In the meantime, there has been The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012) which have both immensely impressed and been very well received. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a particular pleasure because it’s the only one of his films that I can enjoy with 7-year-old Pip (and she really does enjoy it).
The latest (and possibly most popular) piece is The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). As usual, this film has an ensemble cast of some of the best people practicing the craft today, mostly regular collaborators who have worked appeared in several films previously with Director. I was very impressed with Ralph Fiennes who was the undoubted star of the piece and fit in so well with the style that from the perspective of a viewer I am very hopeful that he will also become a regular fixture in the growing Wes Anderson Collection. The film, after one viewing left me with a massive question over my favorite now, as although the Relationship between the main characters of The Darjeeling Limited remains in my mind unbeatable, the overall scale and humor of the Grand Budapest Hotel are difficult to ignore. As well as the many trademarks the director already includes, there are new features in this film which show that the toolbox is growing.
After the first 20 minutes or so of the film, it is noticeable that with the different time periods the story is covering, the aspect ratio used changes, different aspects are used, which while I have not researched (lazy me, but remember this is not a technical review!), would feel almost certainly are going to be typical or popular for cinema at the time they seek to convey. Later in other scenes, I won’t detail to avoid spoilers, the way action shots are filmed (I will say as much as to mention for example skiing, which is apparent in the trailer) the shots used suggest that there is an attempt to imitate the stop animation techniques of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Now that I draw the post to a close, I look above at what appears to be a love letter to a story teller, and I suppose it is. These are films I will always watch again and again and will always appreciate. I have not once felt the charm diminish or turn and I can’t imagine it happening in the future, a future in which I hope this Director will create more brilliant work, and gain more momentum, and in which more story tellers make their way into my field of vision.
I plan to write reviews on each film in the future but don’t wait. If you have not seen these films I genuinely suggest doing so whenever you get the opportunity.