He Saved Latin: A Wes Anderson Retrospective

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Today, after two delays and more than 17 months since it was set to premier at Cannes, Wes Anderson’s new film, The French Dispatch, is finally being released in cinemas. In order to celebrate this momentous (it is, right? Movies are back, people!) occasion, we take a look back at Anderson’s sprawling, whimsical, and oftentimes biting filmography.
Wes Anderson has a look. I don’t mean Wes Anderson the person (although yeah, he does); I mean Wes Anderson the filmmaker. There is a distinct charm, a symmetry, a style that is instantly recognizable and, to some, quite comical. We all know the score: the films and characters are quirky; everything is in the middle; the camera moves on a grid (in fact, commenters on YouTube were audibly shocked when they saw a camera move on a circular axis in the French Dispatch trailer) and there are pans galore; it all feels like it’s set in a different time, in a different place, in a world punctuated and dictated by aesthetics, stylized to the point of self-cannibalization. The imagery, the dialogue, the eclectic soundtracks, Bill Murray. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint the tropes and parody his style. Even SNL did it, and it was actually funny (imagine that…). From this description, Wes Anderson comes across as a pretty monotonous director.

And yet, while it may be easy to classify him and his works as homogenous and undeserving of the hyperbolic praise they receive, you can’t deny that they’re different. Not only do they look different, they feel different; there is something about that framing that controls not only the image, but the viewer. When you face the world Anderson and his collaborators have constructed, you have no choice but to enter it. You must. Sometimes, there isn’t even an invitation: you’re just in. Only the best directors can do this. Films appear to be Kubrickian, or Lynchian; these styles and approaches become intrinsically linked to these names, the artistry—and influence—unmistakable. And while Anderson’s name is hard to fit in this mold (Andersonian? Wesean?), what he lacks in mononomy he certainly makes up for in originality and recognizability (and then some!)

No one else’s films will ever look or feel like Wes Anderson’s films, and that’s a good thing. No one should even try. We go see a film because it’s a WES ANDERSON MOVIE, because everything is in the centre and the Kinks are playing and Alec Baldwin is narrating and the end comes in slow-motion and HOLY SHIT THE JAGUAR SHARK IS BACK and we’re not going to kill it but whew…close call. We go because we know what to expect, and yet have no idea what comes next. We go because Wes Anderson saved Latin, and Bill Murray’s career. What did you ever do?

I had the pleasure of That Shelf contributors Emma Badame (EB) and Colin Biggs (CB) joining me in this trip through Anderson’s filmography. Blurbs are by Marko Djurdjić except where noted.

Read the full retrospective at ThatShelf.com.