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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rulebook Casefile: Wes Anderson’s Unique Imagery and Mood

Wes Anderson is one of those directors who defines “love him or hate him”…but really it’s both: many people who hate him will admit that there’s at least one they actually like, and even those who love him will admit there are some that are just too annoying.

How do you describe the mood of Rushmore? You might say odd, or delicate, or kooky, or precise. But there are also less charitable words that have been thrown around: Precious. Affected. Twee. Is that fair? It depends on you, and how successfully Wes has bewitched you into seeing things from his point of view. I definitely love Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I pretty much love The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, but I find both Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom to be a bit too much.

One thing that started to grate on me in Anderson’s later movies was the distinctive clothing choices. Anderson loves to pick a signature kooky outfit and stick with it in every scene. In Rushmore, however, it makes sense: At first, Max is at a private school where you’re required to wear the same outfit all the time, and Max is the most enthusiastic student, so we buy that he wears his blazer even off of school grounds. Then when he gets sent down to public school, it’s funny that he continues to wear it. Notably, however, as he begins to accept public school, he switches to new clothes: still kooky, such as a green felt suit, but Anderson isn’t afraid that we won’t recognize him, as he seemed to be with other characters in later movies.
It’s also to Anderson’s credit that he gives Max a bit of extra flair in some scenes but not others: Max’s red beret is stylish and distinctive, and it turned out to be a key piece of marketable imagery, appearing on the poster and DVD box, but it would be silly to wear it too much. Marketable imagery is essential, but a little goes a long way: Don’t sacrifice character or story logic in pursuit of a signature look, as Anderson does in some of his other movies.

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