Wes Anderson, the Auteur of our Generation

There are a lot of theories about what an auteur is, but it is not my intention to choose one of
these theories as correct nor to imply that it is truly a theory or politique. I merely want to use this term to prove that Wes Anderson is indeed an important director who does something new and exciting in a consistent manner.I acknowledge that the auteur theory is considered to be rather old-fashioned, and that it seems odd to use this term to speak of an innovative director.However, auteur theory is still useful if we agree to see the realization of auteur theory as something evolving. The main features of auteur theory, namely repetition and a recognizable style, personality, and technical capability will, of course, remain important in the analysis of Wes Anderson as a director.

Anderson is also known for often alluding to other films, especially auteur movies, like those of the Nouvelle Vague. He is extremely aware of the auteur debate and participates in it through his own extracinematic material and interviews. Ever since Bottle Rocket came out, Anderson has been regarded as a cult figure and his fans encourage his status as an auteur. Though he is often described as shy, Anderson succeeds in establishing a relationship with his audience, which is important when it comes to feeding a cult. This relationship is established through the possibilities DVD technology has brought about. This technology is rather new, and Anderson makes use of it in an innovative way.

The New Auteur Has Risen

It is not always easy to determine who the author of a film is because even though the director is usually considered to be the author, screenwriters, producers, set-designers, cameramen, and so many other contributors to the film put their stamps upon the final result:

Most people who study cinema regard the director as the film’s primary “author”. Although the writer prepares a screenplay, later phases of production can modify it beyond recognition. And although the producer monitors the entire process, he or she seldom controls moment-by-moment activity on the set. It is the director who makes the crucial decisions about performance, staging, lighting, framing, cutting, and sound. On the whole, the director usually has most control over how a movie looks and sounds. This doesn’t mean that the director is an expert at every job or dictates every detail. The director can delegate tasks to trusted personnel, and directors often work habitually with certain actors, cinematographers, composers, and editors (Bordwell and Thompson 33).

This is true for Wes Anderson because he usually works with the same actors and crew. These collectives are extensive in quantity because a Wes Anderson film needs a good amount of contributors to realize his visions. Can we speak in this case of a Collective film production? And is the author therefore the entire group? (ibid.). Anderson stresses the collaborative nature of the making process of his movies in documentaries and interviews. But, as Orgeron makes clear in his article “La Camera-Crayola”, this focus of the director on the collectiveness encourages his status as an auteur:

With images of overpopulated sets filled with cast and crew, interviews with and commentary by cinematographers, costumers, set designers, and the like, Anderson’s strategy to foreground the collective has, interestingly, buoyed his reputation as auteur” (Orgeron 59). While Anderson tries to deauthorize – or at least give the impression to do so – by concentrating on his joined forces with collectives, he is trying to be “the Author of the Fiction of the Author Anderson (Orgeron 43).

Anderson is in other words the author, or the constructer, of his own persona according to some critics. This persona is a shy, odd, sympathetic young director who is proud to work with his friends, family and other contributors on his films. But, as is always the case with personas, this does not coincide with who the “real” Wes Anderson is – or so people say.

Emily Dugan, who interviewed Anderson for The Independent, calls him “the man in the iron mask” because she feels that he is not sincere. It bothers her that he seems to be playing a part: “he seems every bit as detached and downright odd as the characters in his films, but this is Anderson playing Anderson” (Dugan). One of the reasons Dugan thinks Anderson is not sincere, is because he acts as a “shy schoolboy”, while he is a well-established director. In other words, he does not have a reason to be so shy. Not only is his shyness fake, his oddness is acted as well, says Dugan. “Wes Anderson wants us to think he’s weird. He would probably be very happy to find himself staring out of the page under a dictionary definition of “weird”. His life and career are all about his own studied brand of peculiarity, and he’s not about to change that now” (Dugan). While it is true that he does nothing to avoid being thought of as weird, it is not fair to call him a fraud. Interviews are constructions and the interviewee as well as the interviewer always tries to pay attention to their image.

This question about interviews breaking down or constructing the persona of the author is something Anderson includes in his film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou as well as in his own extras on his DVDs. In The Life Aquatic, the character of Jane, a journalist and therefore an author as well, underlines the questionable authority of the “author” Steve Zissou. She asks critical questions which Zissou tries to avoid as he hoped it would be a “puff piece” (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). This obvious allusion to directors wanting to control their public image through interviews becomes ambiguous when we watch the extracinematic material Anderson offers. It seems as if the interviews with himself and his crew “both nurture and question the seriousness of cinematic authorship, a crafty sort of ambivalence that allows the filmmaker to have his cake and eat it, to laugh at and protect his unique position” (Orgeron 54). The way he is perceived, does not leave him cold, for he and one of his collaborators Noah Baumbach have articulated “their hope that they do not sound ‘phony or pretentious,’ admitting that they spend a good portion of their time talking about themselves” (Orgeron 60). It is as if Anderson is both criticizing the construction of a persona and defending himself and other authors for doing so. Journalism is an art in itself, and journalists do not always care for the truth, or want to show only the sensational side of the truth. While Zissou defends himself by pulling a gun and threatening Jane, Anderson is more creative because he authors his own interviews on his DVD extras.

When an old man asks Zissou to autograph a bunch of movie posters of former documentaries made by Zissou, he only signs three of them and tells the poor fan to forge the rest of them himself. He answers, “but I could’ve done that at home”, to which Zissou says “get out of here” (The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou). This suggests that Zissou’s authorial autograph carries no meaning or value whatsoever.

Another notable auteur-themed allusion in The Life Aquatic is the use of an author’s name as a brand and the notion of a celebrity figure. Captain Steve Zissou and his team have become a product due to their own “heavy branding of their image” and their fans who have encouraged this branding (Orgeron 53). Team Zissou is recognizably dressed in a blue uniform with a “Z” on it and a red hat. They have their own diving suits, their own Speedo swimming trunks, their own Adidas shoes, a membership ring, a flag with a “Z” on it, writing paper with their logo, Team Zissou dressing-gowns, and so on. Zissou’s rival Hennessey is also a brand. Team Hennessey dresses in immaculately white uniforms and their gear is equally minimalistic, colorless and branded with their logo. When Zissou and their team steal the gear of team Hennessey they have to cover all of it when they enter their ship because of the recognizability.

Both Zissou and Hennessey “are a parody of the stock our culture takes in the author’s name and the phenomenon of celebrity” (Orgeron 53). Ambiguously, Anderson is also parodying himself, because he has often been criticized of being a brand and therefore insincere and inauthentic. His extras on his DVDs, the interviews he gives, the commercials he did for AT&T and American Express along with everything else he does which forms a public image of himself contribute to the brand name he has been criticized of developing and carrying out.

From this we can deduce that Anderson is indeed very aware of the image he is spreading of himself, although I do believe that we ought to take it with a grain of salt. Dugan goes on to complain that Anderson resembles his characters in his appearance and behavior:

Each of his answers is delivered like a line from one of his scripts, with calculated timing and with his face almost expressionless. In fact, his demeanour is of one who’s performing for a close-up. Even his posture has artifice, his bony hands motionlessly clasped over a crossed knee and his back bolt upright in an armchair that I am sure he has selected for its symmetry between two lamps (Dugan).

According to Dugan, Anderson is trying to move and act as if he is a character in one of his own movies. But it seems as if she has not considered the possibility that perhaps it is the other way around and that his characters are actually fictionalized parts of Anderson.

His appearance is also very Andersonian according to Dugan, in the sense that his clothes seem to have come right out of a “costume cupboard” instead of a normal person’s wardrobe. The mix of eccentric and nerdy suits Anderson wears are indeed not something “normal” people would wear, but in his defense, he is a movie director, and they are usually a tad more eccentric than the boy next door. Mr. Fox, the Whitman brothers, Rushmore’s principal, Steve Zissou, Royal Tenenbaum and other Andersonian characters on the other hand, would wear the same “odd” outfits Anderson himself wears. He even had the same tailor who created the suit he was wearing during the interview, make a “near-replica for Fantastic Mr Fox”(ibid.). Fortunately, Dugan does admit that Anderson, as well as his movies, have “enough charm to be endearing” despite the lack of sincerity she attributes to the auteur.

The auteur as a construct is, as Orgeron explains, “not a new phenomenon” (42). He presents Truffaut’s self-mythologization as an example of how Nouvelle Vague auteurs have created a mythic identity for themselves in the past ( 42). But by focusing so much on the role of the collectives he works with, Anderson is, as mentioned before, trying to deauthorize himself. This, however, does not rule out that he is still an auteur. We are living in what Orgeron has called the age of the “new Auteur” and Anderson has been using DVD technology and other media as a “primary weapon to reflect back less upon the mythic and mythically elusive author himself and has opted, rather, to reflect upon the author’s tenuous fit within a larger community” (Orgeron 59). The new auteur, in short, underlines the importance of community in the making process of an auteur film. This community also includes the spectator. Like aforementioned, Anderson attempts to have a relationship with his audience through media. Orgeron remarks that Roland Barthes’ notion of texts being authored by the reader, comes true in this idea of community, in which the spectator is included, as the author (Orgeron 59). Without the spectators who buy the DVDs or go online to look for interviews or promotion material, there is no relationship possible, and thus no complete community who is the author of the work.

Orgeron mentions Adrian Martin who has proposed first “that the question as it was posed fifty years ago is no longer relevant since our contemporary culture trains us all the be faithful (albeit unwitting) auteurists. He then suggests that our collective hesitation over cinematic authorship arises from a crisis within world cinema” (Orgeron 40). This crisis has led to a new manner of looking at auteurism, which Martin calls without further explanation “something new” (ibid.). Orgeron goes on to suggest that this “something new” has to do with “Anderson’s consistent cinematic and extracinematic confrontation with the very question of authorship” (41). Like Sarris has implied, auteurism is constantly evolving and keeping up with the times. The new generation auteurs use DVD technology to feed their self-aware status as an auteur and have inaugurated “a new age of the cinematic author” (Orgeron 58).

Auteur theory is not dead, it has returned – or is reborn – with “new vigor and omnipotence (ibid.). DVD technology, the new auteur, his persona, and collectivity and community are inseparably linked. This community is also a growing one, for Anderson keeps adding actors and collaborators to his collectives and tries to reach not only his fans from the first hour through his extracinematic products, but also “aim[s] to create, via a uniquely revised authorial logic, a very particular, seemingly inclusive fan community” (Orgeron 42). This fan community can buy the DVDs and watch them at home, in private, as if they are reading the film instead of consuming it. It opens up the possibility to reflect on a film in your own living room: Fans can watch the movie as many times they like, push the pause button if they feel like examining something in detail or meditate upon a scene. His still growing fan-community comes together on the world wide web to worship their idol and discuss his films. The website rushmoreacademy.com, for example, collects interviews and articles published on the subject of Anderson, and contributors regularly write blog posts about his persona or his films. There are numerous other blogs and sites dedicated to Wes Anderson who contribute to the Anderson community.

La Camera-Stylo can be taken literally in the case of Anderson’s extracinematic material, because DVDs have similar qualities to books. Anderson is very aware of the literary qualities of DVDs, and in the case of The Royal Tenenbaums DVD he even intensifies this link by having it “packaged to look like a well-worn book” (Orgeron 58).

The DVD can be “read” at home and through the extracinematic material, the author steps into ones living room. In the case of Anderson, it is an eccentric and quirky director and his talented community who speak to us from the screen. His audience feels as if he is “one of them” and because of all of his efforts to build up a relationship with his fans, he becomes relatively reachable (Orgeron 41). Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or the Peter Pan Generation, grows up with all kinds of social media and other interactive technologies which opens up numerous possibilities. Therefore they think highly of uniqueness and personal style, but also want to belong and to be part of a community. They spread personal messages through their blogs, but do this to find like-minded youngsters with whom they can build a community. Wes Anderson responds to this mix of uniqueness and this wanting to belong with his extracinematic material and thus so wins the hearts of generation Y.

But his movies also respond to this longing to be part of a community or family and are therefore definitely relevant products for this generation of Millennials. Not only in the public figure that is Wes Anderson, has the new auteur risen, but also the characters in his films can be considered to be authors. Like the films of the sixties and seventies, his protagonists are often misunderstood, male individuals who do not fit in the system or society. “In this respect, his films seem consistent with those oft referred to 1960s and 1970s modernist films that aligned spectatorial sympathies with the represented filmmaker/creator and against the “system” beleaguering the creative process” (Orgeron 44). These outsiders often feel misunderstood and therefore withdraw in their own world filled with childlike creativity: They write novels and plays, they paint, they make plans, they take the lead, they take on numerous hobbies, etc. The difference, however, is that Anderson’s headstrong, narcissistic authors will eventually learn how to work with this community or family instead of fighting against it. Anderson’s heroes are treated with a lot of sympathy, but are criticized as well for not trying hard enough to assimilate. Their disaffection and (self-) destructiveness is frowned upon. “The Andersonian author must learn to channel his authorship productively” (Orgeron 44). What Orgeron means with channeling the authorship productively, is to use it in such a way that the bond between family or community is restored. But not only Anderson’s heroes need to change their perception, the community has to be more open-minded as well. Orgeron explains that in terms of the heroes being authors and the community readers, “his authors must learn to acknowledge their “readers,” and their “readers” must learn to read differently. While his films critique the author function spun out of control, then, they ultimately redeem the author himself and his effect on the collective imagination” (Orgeron 55).

Bibliography

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: an Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2008.

Dugan, Emily. “Wes Anderson: The Man in the Ironic Mask”. Independent.co.uk. The Independent, 21 February 2010. Web. 25 June 2012.

Orgeron, Devin. “La Camera-Crayola: Authorship Comes of Age in the Cinema of Wes Anderson.” Cinema Journal 46.2 (2007): 40-65.

Part 1? The World Needs Dreamers:

https://waystomakeyousee.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/the-world-needs-dreamers/

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One thought on “Wes Anderson, the Auteur of our Generation

  1. Pingback: The World Needs Dreamers! | Ways To Make You See

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