The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s love letter to The New Yorker, is, as you might expect, a charming way to pass a couple of hours – but not as funny or as tight as we might like, and certainly a disappointment in the light of his last two films, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs (although, in fairness, reaching those heights even twice, let alone a third time consecutively, would be a big ask for anybody). Still, despite The French Dispatch‘s pleasures, some gorgeous imagery and a terrific, star-packed cast, we’re left asking what it’s all about, really – is it more than a vaguely diverting trifle based on Anderson’s favourite publication? And why can’t an ode to an icon of American sophistication be set in America?
How does Wes Andeson represent fatherhood? Georgia Smithies tells us in this lovely and perceptive video essay. That ‘an Andersonian father, if he´s ruined his child´s life, must also be able to fix it in some way, dead or alive,´ is but one of the many insights offered in this enjoyable video.
Wes Anderson and Fathers – Author’s Statement
Wes Anderson is critically revered for his visual style, with his auteur status hanging on elements such as his use of symmetry, colour and, of course, the Futura font. Often overlooked however are ‘Anderson’s themes – While his films could be regarded as shallow and pretentious, the honesty and emotion with which Anderson and his collaborators write their familial dynamics should also be held with great consideration. Anderson’s fathers in particular stand out as key elements of his works, and are a continuous and repeated feature, with all nine of his films including some kind of element of fatherhood or paternity.
The Andersonian father, as argued in this video essay, is generally either a ‘surrogate’ or ‘absentee’ father, with almost all of his paternal characters fitting into either or both of these categories. A ‘surrogate father’ is a character who is not biologically related to their ‘child’, but forms a familial type bond with them, whereas an ‘absentee father’ is a character who is biologically related to their child, but is absent from their life either physically or emotionally. In both categories, fathers tend to be somewhat aloof, and are all invariably flawed, but are not difficult to like. A key aspect of Anderson’s narratives of fatherhood is that the fathers and/or their children grow as a result of their familial relationship.
Anderson also frequently touches on Oedipal themes, with both The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Rushmore giving centrality to a complex love triangle between a father, his ‘son’ and the woman they both love. Joshua Gooch discusses Anderson’s Oedipal narratives, including his tendency towards ‘paternal castration’, however he also claims that these ‘paternal plots’ can be considered limiting to ‘what his characters – and films – can do.’
Anderson’s daughters could perhaps be suggested to be somewhat represented, which is here explored through Suzie Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom and, more primarily, Margot Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums. Both women lack a sense of identity, tied in various ways to their strained relationships with their fathers. In particular, Margot’s loss of her fingertip – a representation of her sense of identity – while seeking out a family, is reflective of her inability to slot comfortably into any family she seeks out, with both her adoptive, biological, and marital families seeming unsatisfactory for her.
The establishing of an ‘intertextual fatherhood’ is key to Anderson’s films, as we recognise certain actors as performing specific roles – namely that of fatherhood for actors like Bill Murray. Murry is the most essential example of Andersonian fatherhood, as he plays a father character in at least four of the eight Wes Anderson films he appears in, and thus becomes emblematic of the paternal figure in Anderson’s work. This plays a significant role in The Darjeeling Limited, where fatherhood is a vital element of the plot – while the Whitman brothers’ father does not appear physically, he is ever present in the brothers’ hints of mourning for him. Murray, who appears only briefly in the film, is abandoned on a train platform by Peter Whitman in the film’s opening sequence, and according to Kim Wilkins ‘shadows the thematic presence of the Whitmans’ deceased father.’ This is illustrated through a comparison between the first and final scenes of The Darjeeling Limited. He thus eventually represents an abandonment of Anderson’s usual patriarchal characters when the Whitman brothers abandon their father’s suitcases on another train platform. Peter Whitman must abandon the influence of his own father in order to become one himself, his wife due to give birth to a son.
Anderson’s focus on fatherhood should thus not be overlooked when discussing his films as it often plays a vital role. While his visual style is one of the main draws of his films, Anderson’s narratives are capable of being deeply effective, owed in part to the attention he draws to fathers and their complexity17.
Kunze, Peter C. (ed.), The Films of Wes Anderson: Critical Essays on an Indiewood Icon, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
Gooch, Joshua, ‘Objects/Desire/Oedipus: Wes Anderson as Late-Capitalist Auteur’, in Kunze (ed.) The Films of Wes Anderson, pp. 181-199.
Wilkins, Kim, ‘Cast of Characters: Wes Anderson and Pure Cinematic Characterisation’, in Kunze (ed.) The Films of Wes Anderson, pp. 25-39.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Dir. Wes Anderson, Prod. Touchstone Pictures
American Empirical Pictures, (2004).
Rushmore. Dir. Anderson, Prod. Touchstone Pictures, American Empirical Pictures, (1998).
Moonrise Kingdom. Dir. Anderson, Prod. American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, (2012).
The Royal Tenenbaums. Dir. Anderson, Prod. Touchstone Pictures, American Empirical Pictures, (2001)
The Darjeeling Limited. Dir. Anderson, Prod. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Collage Cinematographique, American Empirical Pictures, Dune Entertainment, Cine Mosaic, Indian Paintbrush, Scott Rudin Productions, (2007)
 Joshua Gooch, ‘Objects/Desire/Oedipus: Wes Anderson as Late-Capitalist Auteur’, in Kunze (ed.) The Films of Wes Anderson, pp.181, 183
 Kim Wilkins, ‘Cast of characters: Wes Anderson and Pure Cinematic Characterisation,’ in Kunze (ed.) The Films of Wes Anderson, p. 33.
The Extensively Colourful world of Wes Anderson in: ‘Isle of Dogs’ (2018)
This video essay delves deep into the colourful world of Andersons set designs and characters discussing the emotional (and general) effects that his extensive colour palettes are able to elicit focusing on Anderson’s second animated feature film, ‘Isle of Dogs’ (Wes Anderson, 2018). Set in a dystopian near future Japan in a city called ‘Megasaki’ , it is a moving tale about responsibility and sense of belonging in which we follow a young boy (Atari) who is in search for his dog (Spots) after the species is banished to ‘Trash island’ following the outbreak of a ‘canine flu’. Colours effect on us is a psychological anomaly, we may not know exactly why they affect us in these ways, but they do, and we continue to read the scene and tone through the film’s palette.
Wes Anderson has become one of the most beloved filmmakers of today known for his very distinctive visual and narrative styles. His incomparable aesthetic vision has given him his reputation of a modern-day auteur creating fantasy worlds which we become warped into through many elements and techniques of filmmaking. Most noticeably, he has created these bittersweet narratives with fine detail paid to his composition and precise colouration. Colour is the most fundamental element of any film and yet falls second to last in many directors’ final cuts, it can be used to elicit emotions in the audience psychologically whilst connoting certain ideas and moods through complex yet simple colour palettes.
The films colour choices subvert Andersons traditional washed out, pale toned palettes of his previous work taking to a darker more monochromatic tone with hints of pastel pinks and blues used to accentuate the grittier, gloomier themes of the film. There is an acute relationship between the colours used and emotion(s) with an ironic play between bright colours and hollow sadness (themes involving violence, death and suicide). The film is renowned for creating these distinctive emotional effects or cues in particular moments. The essay goes into detail regarding how colour is chosen in films and how this can affect the way in which we watch them and perceive the events within them.
There are 3 factors which determine colour, these are the hue, saturation and brightness. The hue is the colour itself i.e. red or blue, the saturation refers to the intensity of that colour, when the saturation is increased the purer the form of the colour, as it decreases the colour becomes more washed out. Wes tends to use quite highly saturated colours in his animated features to make the main characters and their environments stand out (however he does still incorporate de saturated and washed out colours in particular scene but only in a way to accentuate both the brighter (radioactive) and darker colours of Trash island). And finally, the brightness which refers to how light or dark that colour is. These colour choices are based on schemes which favour colours that harmonise together to create and communicate an appropriate tone for a film. These include the Triadic, which uses three colours evenly spaced out within the colour wheel often used in animations such as ‘Isle of Dogs’ as it is exciting and striking. And Complimentary colour schemes, which create less tension using colours opposite to each other on the wheel i.e. red and green, high contrasts of complimentary colours create vibrant looks especially when used at full saturation (also appears common to the palette of the film). By utilising these elements and properties, we can precisely identify the right colour to convey certain emotions to audiences. We find throughout the essay that the best way to control colour is to limit it. Wes is known for his limited colour choice with recurring images of red and yellow, the essay dives deeper into the meaning of these two colours for both the auteur as well as its implications in the film in relation to the colour meanings in Japan as the interpretations of colour are multifarious, and can be influenced by culture. Japan is steeped in tradition and they use the language of colours in their art, dresses, phrases and rituals. Red and white are prominent traditional colours in Japan, both used in decorations at events which represent happiness and joy. However, as Anderson has created a niche which holds high standards on his colour decisions as well as composition, I find that he attempts to place a western meaning onto the traditional cultural aspects of Japan used in the film, utilising the artwork and robes as props rather than communicating through them.
Particular colours are used sequentially throughout with the introduction of brighter colours seeping throughout the narrative with browns, greys and white the most predominantly used. The darker and more monochromatic palette allows for other complimentary colours to pop out more, guiding our attention towards them.
The aim of this essay was to explore the psychology behind colour in film and how it is utilised to portray sentiments throughout the narrative, referring to different theories of colours presented by theorists such as Vaughn Vreeland and Greg Smith. Smith argues colour is the most fundamental aspect of a film and is needed to fulfil a successful structure which aims to increase probabilities of evoking emotions (this is the ‘Mood Cue Approach’). Colour is widely agreed to be an integral element when creating cinematic worlds like ‘Megasaki’ and ‘Trash Island’. This essay aims to link these theories to Andersons ‘Isle of Dogs’, with textual analysis of scenes which portray the ideas conveyed throughout this statement.
- Block, B. (2008). Colour. In: Actipis, E. Anderson, C the Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV, and Digital Media. 2nd ed. UK: Focal Press. 136-166.
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- Criswell (2015). Colour in Storytelling | CRISWELL | Cinema Cartography. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXgFcNUWqX0 Last Accessed: 25th April 2019
- CW Contributor. (2017). Ten things we love about Wes: a guide to Wes Anderson. Available:https://www.culturewhisper.com/r/things_to_do/preview/752. Last accessed 20th April 2019.
- Harding, M. (2017). Colour and mood in Wes Anderson’s films. Available: https://www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/colour-and-mood-in-wes-anderson-s-films/. Last accessed 21st April 2019.
- Hardy, J. (2016). Colour Theory in Moving Image. Available:https://jhardysite.wordpress.com/2016/12/03/wes-andersons-use-of-colour/. Last accessed 23rd April 2019.
- Havlin, L. (2014). Wes Anderson’s Colour Palettes. Available:http://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/3586/wes-andersons-colour-palettes. Last accessed 21st April 2019.
- Heckman, H. (2009). Colour and the Moving Image. Available: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/scope/documents/2010/february-2010/conf-rep-feb-2010.pdf. Last accessed 24th April 2019.
- Javier Pacheco (2014) A Montage of Wes Anderson’s Films. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yma4g3l0ZU Last accessed: 29th April 2019
- N/a. (2014). 25 Things We Learned from Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ Commentary. Available: https://filmschoolrejects.com/25-things-we-learned-from-wes-andersons-fantastic-mr-fox-commentary-5af385cfae54/. Last accessed 21st April 2019.
- N/a. (2018). Wes Anderson’s unique approach to the art of visual storytelling. Available:https://www.theguardian.com/20th-century-fox-isle-of-dogs/2018/mar/26/wes-andersons-unique-approach-to-mise-en-scene-and-the-delicate-art-of-visual-storytelling. Last accessed 24th April 2019.
- Olesen, J. (2019). Colour Meanings in Japan. Available: https://www.color-meanings.com/color-meanings-japan/. Last accessed 20th April 2019.
- Risk, M. (2019). How to Use Colour in Film: 50+ Examples of Movie Colour Palettes. Available:https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/how-to-use-color-in-film-50-examples-of-movie-color-palettes/. Last accessed 20th April 2019.
- Sarah W & Fiona. (2013). The Traditional Colour of Japan: Everything Is Better in Colour. Available: https://www.tofugu.com/japan/color-in-japan/. Last accessed 21st April 2019.
- Studio Binder (2018). Colour Theory in Film — Colour Psychology for Directors: Ep5. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lINVnA3rVIE Last accessed: 20th April 2019
- Sunhee Lee (2016) Wes Anderson’s ambivalent film style: the relation between Mise en scène and emotion, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 14:4, 409-439, DOI: 10.1080/17400309.2016.1172858
- Technicality (2017). Why Do Wes Anderson Films Look So Good? (feat. PlayTheMind). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EocXrcNfmns Last Accessed: 25th April 2019
- Vaughn Vreeland, A. (2015). Colour Theory and Social Structure in the Films of Wes Anderson. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 6 (2), 35-39
- ‘Bottle Rocket’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Gracie Films, USA, 1996
- ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises, UK, 2009
- ‘Hotel Chevalier’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Premiere Heure, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, USA, 2007
- ‘Isle of Dogs’. Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Indian Paintbrush, 3 Mills Studio, Studio Babelsberg. USA, 2018, Main Cast: Jess Goldblum (Duke), Bill Murray (Boss), Bryan Cranston (Chief), Edward Norton (Rex), Scarlett Johansson (Nutmeg), Live Schreiber (Spots), Koyu Rankin (Atari), Kunichi Nomura (Mayor Kobayashi)
- ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Indian Paintbrush, Scott Rudin Productions, American Empirical Pictures, Moonrise. USA, 2012
- ‘Rushmore’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Touchstone Pictures, USA, 1998
- ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Fox Searchlight Pictures, RatPac Entertainment, Dune Entertainment, USA, 2007
- ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Studio Babelsberg, TSG Entertainment, Indian Paintbrush, USA, 2014
- ‘The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Touchstone Pictures, USA, 2004
- ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ Dir: Wes Anderson. Prod. Touchstone Pictures, USA, 2001
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion story of the utmost beauty and wit. We discuss its cinematography, compositions, lightness of touch, allegorical relationship to reality, and place in Anderson’s body of work. We also reserve particular praise for Bryan Cranston’s vocal performance and Alexandre Desplat’s score.
Recorded on 1st April 2018.
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Paddington 2 wins us over in the end. We found it accomplished, lovely to look at, and with Brendan Gleeson and Hugh Grant giving career-best performances. The film sent us home on a high with a final, gloriously campy musical number that has Grant tapping down a staircase à la Stairway to Paradise to delight his captive audience in borstal (think pink!).
The beginning of the filkm irritated both of us: Its cosy, idealised version of England as a large, racially inclusive community of upper middle-class toffs with clipped accents and impeccable manners; its view of London neighbourhoods as small villages where everyone knows each other; the way all of it seems encased in the same cloud of amber-tinted nostalgia so familiar from Ms Marple films — perhaps it’s depicting the way we would all like it to be and perhaps it’s asking us to measure the distance between what we see and what we know. But it veered dangerously close to sap-land and brought out the ornery in me. This feeling disappeared once the film tossed in some acidity to brighten up proceedings.
We discuss the film’s glorious visuals, with various styles of animation seamlessly incorporated into the film’s clear but complex storytelling; the similarity to Wes Anderson; we diss Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent. It’s not as perfect as everyone seems to say — offering us plenty of scope to criticise — but we both left the cinema in admiration and in a cloud of good feeling. A feel-good, Brexit Paddington (and negotiations would be going much better with him at the helm). Mike mentions the word masterpiece.