Wes Anderson and the Intrigue of Low Affect
After recently watching Moonrise Kingdom we’re on a jag of Wes Anderson films at the Livingston Communication Tower (high over Saint Paul). Anderson brings a recognizable color palette and camera work to each piece of communication. He also brings a tone that is memorable for comedy touched by a bit of failure. Or failure touched by recognition and agreement.
Even his short persuasive tools earn my rapt attention: this American Express commercial is a masterpiece of jumbled information layered into less than straightforward answers, all of which makes no sense until suddenly it does. This Softbank commercial with Brad Pitt showcases Anderson’s playful direction that rolls with the action even as it creates its own. There is something lighthearted about the commercials while his films often circle a darker place.
The other night we watched Rushmore. In the middle of the movie, Mrs. Kirkistan wondered aloud how dark it would get. But by the end…well, I won’t spoil it, except to say it ends well, which is not a surprise. But along the way it is the understated communication that perpetuates a kind of unflappable honesty that runs through the characters and scripting. Bill Murray wears the honesty particularly well.
Color, emotional affect and carefully framed shots all figure highly in Anderson’s work. Each feels like a mini-play, like we could be watching it on a stage rather than on a small frame on the wall. Or maybe like we’re seeing an old, forgotten toy spin again, but this toy has a few barbs attached. The Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox certainly have this feel.
NY Times columnist Rick Lyman in his 2003 book Watching Movies, sat down with a number of movie-types to see the films that influenced their art and careers. Wes Anderson was one of these types, but in 2003 more “up-and-coming” than established. Lyman asked Anderson why he chose to watch Francois Truffaut’s Small Change.
Mr. Anderson, it turns out, is the sort of person who tells you—a little sheepishly—that he has no answer to something, and then spends the next two and a half hours giving you one.
Wes Anderson may be something like his movies. But then I would expect art to have a relationship with its creator.