Exploring the permanence, appeal of director Wes Anderson’s college classics
Wes Anderson's films are college favorites—but why?
A select few films fall into the collegiate must-watch category. Students can overhear their famous lines echoing through the halls of Carman and John Jay on drunken Friday nights—”The Big Lebowski,” “Fight Club,” “The Graduate”, and perhaps most notably, Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.”
What makes a film like “Rushmore” appeal to the college crowd? “Rushmore” describes a semester in the life of Max Fischer, an eccentric teenager, and his obsession with Rushmore, an elite private academy. Although “Rushmore” tends to be collegiate in nature, it is also representative of Anderson’s oeuvre as a whole, and shares many elements in common with other Anderson favorites, like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” currently nominated for 2010’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Anderson is a modern-day auteur, a filmmaker who strives to control every aspect of production, resulting in a series of films with a very distinct personal aesthetic.
Something about this aesthetic resonates deeply with young adults. All of Anderson’s films could be considered standard Friday-night college fare, and the passion that young adults often feel for Anderson is unparalleled by any other director, except perhaps the Coen brothers. According to Andrew Balmer, CC ’10, an Anderson devotee who recently hosted a “Rushmore”-focused movie night in his East Campus suite, “Anderson markets to younger adults, although I suspect his audience includes a wide age range. His soundtracks, which include some popular songs, the actors he routinely casts—Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke and Owen Wilson, Bill Murray—and the sense of humor he employs all seem attractive to a younger generation.”
Anderson is also known for his distinctive color palettes, which make his films look painstakingly composed. He employs highly saturated primary colors, which make his films appear slightly outside the normal bounds of realism. Even before “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was produced, Anderson’s work was compared to these particular qualities of Roald Dahl’s novels.
Another aspect of the “Anderson look” involves the use of long takes and “dollhouse shots.” “He pans from one part of a set to another, revealing different simultaneous activities. It was great to see his use of this technique in his stop-motion ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ since he was unrestricted by some of the inherent limitations of live-action,” Balmer said. “For example, Anderson could pan between three rooms in three neighbors’ houses, plus a system of underground tunnels linking them, all in a single take.”
The combination of these aesthetic choices with signature classic rock soundtracks—often including names like The Kinks and The Rolling Stones—makes Anderson endlessly appealing to the indie generation. As Anderson is such a beloved director, it is perhaps odd that none his films have ever received an Oscar—although “The Royal Tenenbaums” was nominated for Best Screenplay. Is Oscar gold truly the definitive standard for a good film? Are Anderson’s films actually subpar, and are students just going along for the aesthetically pleasing ride? Is it possible that Anderson’s often homogenous fan base of young, hip intellectuals restricts his mass-market potential at the Oscars? Has Anderson become “too cool for school,” or at least, too cool for the Academy? Perhaps. But, as in the case of Godard, mixed critical reception has often been the mark of a true auteur.