The Obsessive Director: Wes Anderson

Sophie Monks Kaufman

this article is an Extract from Sophie Monks Kaufman’s Close Up Series:

To the casual observer, Wes Anderson is the director who makes symmetrical images. This quality cannot be denied. It is so true that the first thing regular cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, does on set is figure out precisely where to place his camera in order to ensure a centralised image.

It’s not something that I feel is important dramatically, it’s just for me,” said Wes, speaking in 2017 in Paris, “The way I might arrange things in a frame, I compare it to handwriting. You might try to write very well but really you have something that your brain is inclined to do.

He is so obsessed with detail and the integrity of a single prop, that everything you can see has a backstory. Originality is key. Adding visual texture or a storytelling layer is vital. All of Wes’s movies require repeated viewings because the extent of the worldbuilding is too exhaustive to appreciate in a single sitting.

The pre­planning that goes into the pre­planning which goes into the planning which goes into movie­making is such that it’s hard to imagine him wasting time or succumbing to any mental affliction (stress, egotism) which can derail the focus of a less organised mind (this writer would know). How did he come to be this way? What does he get out of stylising sets, costumes, camera movements and dialogue in ways that sometimes complement his themes and sometimes distract from them? Why does he spend months developing a prop that will appear in the background of a scene for a few seconds?

We will likely never know the answers to these questions. Wes is more interested in building worlds than in laying bare his own one – which isn’t to say that he lacks emotional depths, rather that he camouflages those depths within a bigger picture, never dialling back his theatrical style to expose something naked and quivering. He is open in acknowledging that his stories are inspired by life experiences, but he is also a hardcore cinephile who looks to bygone masters – like a technician would refer to a manual – when considering how to transform ideas into images. So, while all his characters are serious and sincere, the manner in which their dalliances are stitched together is gleefully constructed. He amplifies individual malaise with evocative costumes and casts actors who can convey rich swathes of feeling in a look or a delivery. If there is one word for his artistic values it is: elaborate.

Any sense of who Wes is amid all this machinery is a glimpse of a shadow caught in the corner of a funhouse mirror. And yet he is there – unmistakably – in every frame.

Sophie Monks Kaufman is a contributing editor to Little White Lies and a film writer.  Author of LWL's Close up on Wes Anderson, you can also find her on twitter at @sopharsogood

Credit to ScreenArgyll

Illustrations from @printedpeanut