Wes Anderson’s multi-layered and multi-faceted feature films continue to garner a massive fan base. Since 1996, with the release of Bottle Rocket, he’s moved from madcap independent cinema to Technicolor mainstream without negating his trademark collection of quirks in the process.
The recent release of his eighth feature film The Grand Budapest Hotel was an auspicious occasion, a French farce in essence; it brought together Anderson’s distinctive formula, along with his usual roster of actors like Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman et al.
The Anderson formula is centred on one specific thing – aesthetics – which has numerous composites. These aesthetics are solidified as a set of repetitions by which he structures each film. The first, which has been noted many times, such as by Forrest Wickman in Slate.com, are his Pythagorean stylistics. As Wickman wrote “Anderson favours symmetrical compositions i.e. “Symmetrical Framing.” It’s a style pioneered by Stanley Kubrick, the “one point perspective”, which gives the most harmonious and naturalistic way of viewing a scene.
What the German Mathematician Michael Maestlin decimally approximated as the “golden ratio” i.e. two quantities which have a ratio the same as the ratio of their sum. It’s this meticulous mathematical approach that forms the foundation to the Anderson formula.
Anderson’s use of “Symmetrical Framing” compliments and is complimented by the other stylistic methods which go into defining his unique cinematic language. Primarily, a coordinated scheme of muted colours, which rather than being used as background, are instead worked into the fabric of the narrative. This is something which Anderson has particularly focused on with each film, beginning to take shape in The Royal Tenenbaums and given precise execution in The Life Aquatic.
The collage of scenes below from The Grand Budapest Hotel, shows the degree of progression that Anderson has made in combining “Symmetrical Framing” with precise colour coordination, which inevitably makes for a blisteringly eye catching slice of cinema.
So, with these two primary cinematic elements acting as the base for his formula, Anderson then adds the wealth of subtle aesthetic repetitions. From the large and obvious to the small and unnoticeable to the lazy of eye, it’s those small repetitions specifically that our subconscious absorbs and can make us a Wes Anderson super-fan or venomous detractor.
Ranging from stop-motion and rapid camera movement to futura typeface and yellow titles, it’s a formula that works, and has made Anderson one of the best writer-directors of the new Millennium.