In addition to raving about Elia Kazan in his interview with IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, Wes Anderson opened up about why he was so drawn to portraying the 1950s. As the film’s rave reviews have indicated, it’s a period of time particularly suited to Anderson’s meticulous aesthetic.
And that’s a style that fans seem intent on replicating themselves, through the faintest of imitations, via TikTok videos showing their creators attempting “The Wes Anderson Challenge.” Symmetrical compositions, intense color coordination, use of framing and depth of field similar to a shoebox diorama. Everyone here. All not as good as anything Anderson can do on his own. Each impersonation is more obvious than the last: and as Kohn indicated in his piece, these impersonations are not something Anderson himself ever pays attention to.
“I’m very good at protecting myself from seeing all that stuff,” he said.
“If someone sends me something like this, I’ll immediately delete it and say, ‘Please, sorry, don’t send me stuff from people who make me.’ Because I don’t want to look at it, thinking, ‘Is that what I do? Is that what I mean?’ I don’t want to see too much of anyone else thinking about what I try to be because, God knows, I might then start doing that.
Aside from the offensiveness of fans who think they know a director’s style better than the filmmaker (or think it can easily be reduced to AI-ready bullet points of an essence), it’s so indicative of the moment, when cheap copies of great work is thought to be fun for oneself. Particular concepts that have gone viral like a Wes Anderson-meets-“Star Wars” concept called “The Galactic Menagerie” (powered entirely by AI animation of course) couldn’t be more obvious and tired.
Believe it or not, even in “Star Wars” there are surprising symmetrical compositions: the opening shot of the original film, with the Imperial Star Destroyer flying above us, pretty much qualifies by itself. Yes, actually, the creator of “Star Wars” had his own distinct visual eye, with environments he populated with characters and creatures as “bizarre” as anything Anderson himself came up with. Making bold artistic choices about how to use framing is generally considered a foundation of cinema.
It’s another sign of flattened creativity as knowledge of film culture and history continues to shrink: Wes Anderson has to meet “Star Wars” because there are no other landmarks the parodists know about. At least the spoof that may have started all this, SNL’s imagining of a horror movie by Anderson, “The Midnight Gang of Sinister Intruders” did more than offer an algorithmic mashup.
Taking a close read on a director’s style — how they use color, lighting, framing, depth of field, actor block — is essential to film literacy. But to be film literate, it’s important to be “well read,” so to speak. There is much more to Anderson’s cinema (and to “Star Wars”), and there is much more to Anderson’s cinema than the tropes that some of his more literal-minded admirers continue to insist on identifying.
It’s an artistic appreciation like pinning butterflies to a board. It’s comedy as the mere identification of tropes and adding nothing else. Her world view reduced to simply pointing at things like Rick Dalton sitting on his couch, beer can in hand, index finger extended in recognition of his TV screen.
When does a tribute become an insult? What the imitators don’t realize is that Anderson’s work is far more irreducible than they insist, far more alive than anything that could be ready for parody. Where is the “she She she’s my Rushmore, Max” moment in each of these parodies? The “but I will say, it certainly sustained the illusion with marvelous grace”? There is a deep human feeling in Anderson’s films. You won’t find it in parodies. There is an extraordinary skill in Anderson’s films (every frame of “Isle of Dogs” has been painstakingly lit). You won’t see it appreciated in parodies.
The tropes are not in Anderson’s films, but in the lack of imagination of these “fans”.