Watch: How Aspect Ratio Limns a Film Director’s Vision

Watch: How Aspect Ratio Limns a Film Director’s Vision

You only know as much about a film as a director tells you. You only see as much, furthermore, as the director allows you to see. And, in considering the story within a film, you may think you are looking outwards when you allow the film to inspire expostulations and intellectual ramblings–and yet you are, in fact looking inwards, deeper into the images unrolling above you. One way we are reminded of this is through aspect ratio, which is, for the layperson, simply the proportional relation between the width of the frame and the height of the frame. De Filmkrant‘s video essay addresses the use of and experimentation with this element in recent films. Xavier Dolan’s frame tightens slowly on a woman’s face, going slowly out of focus; in another Dolan scene, a character actually pries the screen wide open. In Gust Van den Berghe’s ‘Lucifer,’ a circular frame is used throughout, giving the whole film, and subsequently its story, the quality of a vignette, from a film of an older era. Joost Broeren and Sander Spies, the video essay’s editors, attribute some of this experimentation with aspect ratio to the growth of digital filmmaking, but not all, in this survey of directors ranging from Wes Anderson to Ang Lee, and beyond. 

Watch: How Wes Anderson and Yasujiro Ozu Are Very, Very Similar

Watch: How Wes Anderson and Yasujiro Ozu Are Very, Very Similar

When you think about it, the influences of Wes Anderson are hard to trace, as much as he might be discussed and re-discussed–if you had to find one director he was "quoting," it might be slightly difficult. His influences, such as they are, are more easily found within visual art and literature (Joseph Cornell, Franz Kafka) or even music (Serge Gainsbourg, for instance). Similarly, it’s hard to find a director Wes Anderson is "like"–he cultivates a meticulous distinctiveness that makes it tricky to compare him in the same way you might compare, say Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, or David Fincher and Christopher Nolan. Nevertheless, Anna Catley, who has posted memorably at Vimeo, has waded in and made a strong, fascinating comparison between Wes Anderson and Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, perhaps most famous for his 1953 film ‘Tokyo Story.’ Catley finds many points in common, such as strong repertory casts or a love of complex interiors, as well as many thematic overlaps, which make the comparison seem wholly logical–and might make one wonder why it hadn’t popped up before.   

Watch: The Books in Wes Anderson’s Films

Watch: The Books in Wes Anderson’s Films

Wes Anderson is the most bookish American filmmaker there is. You don’t watch his films, you read them, just as you might have done with Richard Linklater’s recent ‘Boyhood.’ There are no loud crashes, alarming close-ups, or slamming crescendos to grab your attention, nor is there any great rush through their narratives. They develop at a loping speed, at most, often more of a trot. It makes sense, then, that Anderson would feature books so prominently in his movies, given that if Anderson’s work has a spirit animal, it’s the hardcover child of Gutenberg. The A to Z Review has put together a gorgeous compendium of all the books (or the most notable ones) in Anderson’s films; watching it reminds us that the act of storytelling, less than that of creating suspense, developing characters, etc., is the foundation of Anderson’s work, from ‘Rushmore’ to ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ to ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’

Watch: Wes Anderson: A 10-Minute Tour

Watch: Wes Anderson: A 10-Minute Tour

How about a leisurely stroll through the work of Wes Anderson? I know, I know: the amount of commentary, printed, online, and video-edited, about Anderson is at this point reaching sky-scraping proportions. But: this tightly constructed little piece is worth your 9-10 minutes. Paul Waters takes us through Anderson’s basic biography, shows us some of the director’s dapper commercial work, and then discusses how Anderson has interpreted such basic cinematic techniques as the overhead shot and the single shot for his own Joseph-Cornell-meets-Walt-Disney purposes. We also get close looks at such Anderson trademarks as the ubiquitous Futura font and his characters’ eccentric accoutrements. The best directors can always be revisited, and Anderson, being such, is no exception.

Watch: Wes Anderson’s Films Are More Violent Than You Think

Watch: Wes Anderson’s Films Are More Violent Than You Think

If you like Wes Anderson’s films, and you probably do, do you ever wonder if the reasons you like them aren’t quite the reasons you profess? He’s widely accepted as a master of aggressive whimsy, of believably awkward intimacy, and of the soundtrack, period. But what about the less comfortable moments, the moments of jarring violence? What about Royal Tenenbaum’s stabbing in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums‘? What about Max Fischer’s pummeling in ‘Rushmore‘? And what about M. Gustave’s rough treatment in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel‘? Is it possible that what keeps you coming back to this director’s films is not the combination of humor and tenderness and charm, but the fact that here might be another ingredient in the stew, one that, if you’re not careful, might choke you? Dávid Velenczei’s wide-awake supercut raises this question eloquently and with great vivacity. If you’ve asked yourself this question before, no reason not to watch: it’s a question that can be turned over more than once without risk of diminishing it.

WATCH: A Video Essay on Wes Anderson’s Use of Red and Yellow

WATCH: A Video Essay on Wes Anderson’s Use of Red and Yellow

One can say that Wes Anderson is a master creator without implying that he is superior to other filmmakers. He is masterful in showing us that he is creating something, actively, onscreen–and moreover that we are creating it with him, in our reactions to it. He does this without seeming pretentious, overall. This video by Rishi Kaneria whips us through a cavalcade of Anderson’s films, showing off Anderson’s fascination with the colors red and yellow throughout the director’s work. Trying to assign a significance to the deep red of the carpet in the halls of the Grand Budapest Hotel, or the yellow of the Tenenbaum siblings’ tent, or the red of the curtain behind the awkward but confident Max Fischer is absurd. The deepest signficance is in the color itself–that Anderson has chosen it, and that he has left his mark on viewers’ retinas; the fact that it has personal significance for him should be all the "meaning" we need. Frustrated by this explanation? Don’t be. Watch this ever-so-brief but highly dense supercut, and enjoy.

WATCH: A Video Essay Based on a New Book about Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

WATCH: A Video Essay Based on a New Book about Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

If there were an Endowed Chair in Wes Anderson studies, Matt Zoller Seitz would probably occupy it. The man has immersed himself as thoroughly as one might conceivably immerse one’s self in the director’s work for untold years, and two great books have come out of it: The Wes Anderson Collection, a remarkable survey of Anderson’s work, and now a supplementary volume devoted solely to The Grand Budapest Hotel. This video essay for, which is based on the new book, is in and of itself a master class, of sorts, thanks to the collaboration of Seitz and expert video editor Steven Santos. If you ever wanted to know how to time a voice track over film clips in a video essay, watch this piece. If you ever wanted to know how to avoid saying too much in a video essay, watch this piece; Seitz says quite a bit with a remarkably economical script. And, if you ever wanted to know how to teach others how to appreciate a director’s work, watch this piece: Seitz’s enthusiasm for Anderson’s films, particularly this one, fed by admirable scholarship, is infectious.

Watch: The Fantastic Animated Trailer for a Book on Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Watch: The Fantastic Animated Trailer for a Book on Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

Roughly at the midpoint of this animated book trailer for The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel, its author, Matt Zoller Seitz, gets punched in the face. Later, he gets his fingers chopped off. But this doesn’t deter him from guiding us through his new book on Anderson’s most recent film, due out from Abrams on February 10th, which includes interviews, essays, and intricate, quasi-acrobatic book design, along with a wonderful introduction by Anne Washburn. It’s like a circus in print, folks, and Seitz is its intrepid ringleader! This trailer is beautifully and cleverly animated by Kristian Fraga of Sirk Productions, using lovingly drawn figures by Max Dalton. The volume is an annex to Seitz’s masterful book, The Wes Anderson Collection, also available from Abrams, an equally stunning accomplishment. But, before you delve into either book, watch this trailer! It’s a masterpiece, in and of itself.

Watch: A Video Essay About Stanley Kubrick’s Influence on Wes Anderson and Others (NSFW, Maybe)

Watch: A Video Essay About Stanley Kubrick’s Influence on Wes Anderson and Others (NSFW, Maybe)

Press Play veteran Nelson Carvajal offers, with this video essay, a look at the ways Stanley Kubrick has visually influenced many directors, including Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfonso Cuaron, and others. As Carvajal superimposes one scene on top of another, you may spot connections you hadn’t made before–or perhaps some you had made without quite realizing it yet. To add to the fun, Carvajal has presented some of the clips in mirror fashion, like a kaleidoscope–all too appropriate, because, after all, the modern work reflects and builds upon its predecessors as much as it creates a world of its own. Right?

An Effete New World: Why We Need THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

An Effete New World: Why We Need THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

nullWes Anderson is more or less at a midpoint of his career:
well past being the hip newcomer, he has established a trademark style that has
both earned him a devoted following and attracted a host of critics.  The latter found much to dislike about his
most recent film, The Grand Budapest
, which is as lush and eccentric a celebration of style as anything
Anderson has yet created.  The opening
scene might be read as depicting both sides of the Anderson divide: into a
deliciously bleak European cemetery walks a hipster girl who might represent
Anderson’s ideal fan—quiet, bookish, nattily dressed, with a beret and a
quaintly retro smattering of badges on her lapel.   Outside the cemetery stands a disaffected
boy, who’d rather stand alone in the cold than pay homage to the anonymous
“Author” whose memorial lies within.

Later, the film’s protagonist, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes),
praises his protégé’s new fiancée, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and when he learns
that she also feels fondly about him, replies: “That’s a good sign, you know.
It means she ‘gets it.’  That’s
important.”  With Anderson, it’s clear that
plenty of critics don’t “get it.”  Stephanie
Zacharek of The Village Voice
complains: “This meticulously appointed dollhouse of a movie just went on and
on, making me want to smash many miniature plates of plaster food in frustration,”
while David Thomson condemns it as “an avalanche of sickening sweetness … a
remorseless succession of pretty frames with frosted colors.”  What is implied by these criticisms is that viewers have to make a choice between prettiness and seriousness, between frivolity
and politics.  But maybe there’s another
choice—maybe prettiness is political.

One of the film’s harshest critics, Kyle Smith for the New York Post, actually seems to get it
just right when he notes that: “The most Wes Anderson-y moment … is the
arrival, at a prison security desk, of foodstuffs meant for the inmates. A loaf
of bread? Violently stabbed. A sausage? Sliced to bits. Then comes an
enchanting little pastry, a frail folly of icing and butter. To check it for
the hidden and forbidden would be to destroy it. So the guards (unseen,
unremarked upon) simply pass it through untouched. It contains, of course, digging tools with
which our heroes will break out of prison.”  Those who love Anderson’s films
would likely agree with this interpretation: some things are too precious to be destroyed, and that’s exactly what this film
is about.

So what’s so wrong, exactly, with a couple of toughened
prison guards refraining from destroying a preciously decorated pastry?  If such a response is considered too
implausible, this says more about our ideas of beauty, and of how men respond
to it, than it does about Anderson’s particular brand of beauty.  What Anderson offers us in this film is an
idea of masculinity and of culture that finds strength in making and preserving
beautiful things rather than destroying them. 
It’s no surprise this idea would be a hard sell in some quarters of
American cinema.  Whether it’s blowing
things up at the Cineplex, or remorselessly tackling topical issues at the Art
House, Americans seem bent on seeking darkness and violence rather than life
and color. 

Contrary to popular opinion, Anderson does not shy
away from violence: it’s there, even in his effete protagonist, M. Gustave.
When his protégé, Zero (Tony Revolori), visits him in prison, he finds his face
horribly bruised.  We first assume that
the perfume-wearing concierge has been beaten (or worse), but instead, he
explains: “What happened, my dear Zero, is I beat the living shit out of a
snivelling, little runt called Pinky Bandinski who had the gall to question my
virility—because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from penny dreadfuls,
it’s that, when you find yourself in a place like this, you must never be a
candy-ass. You’ve got to prove yourself from Day One. You’ve got to win their respect.”  But after he spits out a mouthful of blood
into his coffee mug, he adds, “He’s actually become a dear friend.”  There is violence in this world, the film
tells us, but also grace, manners, and wit.

The character of M. Gustave, in what is surely
Ralph Fiennes’ finest performance in many years, represents the Anderson ethos:
among men dressed in black, he is the purple-clad servant of beauty.  The concierge glides through his pink hotel
like the spirit of a lost world, one where color, form, and pleasing scents are
more important than money and power. 
True, the hotel where he works is the exclusive dwelling place of old
Europe’s one percent, but Anderson’s heroes are those who make that world, the
concierges, the lobby boys, the baker’s assistant.  They sustain a beautiful illusion while all
around them Europe is giving way to the brutalities of war.  In one crucial scene, Gustave and Zero are
saved by a police officer (Edward Norton), who remembers the concierge’s
kindness to him when he “was a lonely little boy.”  After he leaves, Gustave turns to Zero and says:
“You see? There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse
that was once known as humanity. Indeed, that’s what we provide in our own
modest, humble, insignificant,” and at this point Gustave seems to recognize
he’s getting on a soap box and concludes, “Oh, fuck it.” 

This is a key Anderson moment, and in some ways a key (or
crossed key) to the film itself: there’s a message here, something important to
be said, but by all means let’s not be boring about it.  The mannered delivery of his characters, the
stylized sets, and the meticulous mise en
are not substitutes for ideas: they are the ideas.  When Gustave steps off the soap box here, he’s
not evading making a statement—he’s letting the medium itself make that
statement.  And at the risk of being
ponderous where Anderson’s characters are elegantly restrained, the statement
might be something like this: meet violence with grace, austerity with color,
meanness with beauty. 

If the response of financial experts and governments to hard
times is to impose austerity measures, we might at least avoid imposing them on
our films.  In America, in particular, we
are uncomfortable with beauty.  We equate
it with frivolity, with weakness.  In M.
Gustave, the film presents us with a kind of stand-in for the director himself,
clad in vivid colors and fussing over every beautiful detail.  Though the villains in the film call Gustave
a “fruit” and a “fucking faggot,” he represents a model of behavior that
reconciles qualities traditionally designated male or female.  Confronted by bullies, he responds with
manners and wit, and though he gets knocked around quite a bit, he never loses
his impeccable color sense, or his moral sense. 
For Anderson, these two sensibilities are inextricably entwined.  They may also be of another era. 

The film is ultimately an elegy, but perhaps one to a time
that never existed except in the imagination. 
The anonymous author who narrates the film asks the now-aged Zero
Moustafa what The Grand Budapest, that “costly, unprofitable, doomed hotel,”
means to him: “Is it simply your last connection to that—vanished world?  His [M. Gustave’s] world, if you will?”  But he disagrees: “To be frank, I think his
world had vanished long before he entered it—but, I will say: he certainly
sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.” 
And this, Anderson’s work suggests, is really the point of making
films.  Isn’t it, darling?

Claire Hero is the author of Dollyland (Tarpaulin Sky), Sing, Mongrel (Noemi Press), and two other chapbooks: afterpastures (Caketrain) and Cabinet (dancing girl press). Her poems have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Denver Quarterly, Handsome and elsewhere. She lives in upstate New York.

Jed Mayer is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York, New Paltz.