the a-z of wes anderson
As the wildly imaginative, infectiously whimsical director celebrates his birthday, we look a little closer at what makes his work so unique. From 'The Simpsons' to Scorsese, and hawk kidnappings to Wilson brother gun battles.
A is for Archer Avenue: Though there really is a 111 Archer Avenue, it's in Mt. Vernon, New York — about 12 miles from 339 Convent Ave, the Harlem house where Anderson shot The Royal Tenenbaums.
B is for Bill Murray: Though classmate Owen Wilson is Anderson's longest standing off-screen collaborator, Murray is his most frequent on-screen partner in crime. The eccentric actor has appeared in all of Anderson's films except for his first, Bottle Rocket, most recently signing on to voice a stop-motion dog puppet in Anderson's as yet untitled forthcoming film.
C is for Charlie Brown: It's been widely reported that Anderson sneaks a Peanuts reference into all of his films, having named animator Bill Melendez among his chief influences. Though some of these allusions are explicit (the Moonrise Kingdom's dog is named Snoopy) Matt Zoller Seitz — the author of a book on Anderson's work — contends that the cartoon's influence is often far deeper: "particularly in Anderson's characters who, regardless of age, seem, like Schulz's preternaturally eloquent kids, to be frozen in a dream space between childhood and maturity."
D is for Dog hater: Late last year, Anderson confirmed his Grand Budapest follow-up will be his first stop-motion forray since The Fantastic Mr. Fox. He also revealed that it will be about dogs — animals he's long been rumored to loathe, due to the number he's killed on-screen. Snoopy was pierced by an arrow, The Fantastic Mr. Fox's Spitz succumbed to a plate of poisonous blueberries, and we all remember what happened to Buckley.
E is for Eric: Anderson's artist brother, who illustrated all of the visuals for his Criterion Collection editions of Rushmore,The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Royal Tenenbaums, in which he not only made a cameo as a medical student, but for which he created all of the artwork credited to the young Richie Tenenbaum.
F is for Fans: Anderson has many ardent admirers, who often use his whimsical worlds as jumping off points for their own creative endeavors. One of them is rapper Angel Haze, who last year released a track called "Moonrise Kingdom." 70 others staged a viral art show. And still more Anderson lovers have created imaginative supercuts that explore the director's most depressing scenes, catalogued his symmetrical shots, and reimagined his grand hotel as something slightly more sinister.
G is for The Gambler: Like Rushmore's Max Fischer, Anderson enjoyed staging elaborate plays in high school. One of them was a sock puppet re-enactment of Kenny Roger's 1978 album, The Gambler.
H is for Hawk ransom: Many of Anderson's films can be classified as caper tales, stories involving a heist or kidnapping. Art imitated life on the set of The Royal Tenenbaums, when the hawk that was supposed to play Richie's faithful Mordecai was kidnapped and held for ransom. Production couldn't wait for the original bird, which is why its character returns later in the film with "more white feathers" — it's a completely different animal. It's been reported that the original Mordecai was never found.
I is for Irish smokes: At first pass, it might look like Margot is chaining packs of American Spirit yellows (a sensical assumption, considering her relations with cowboy novelist Eli Cash and Anderson's fondness for the color) throughout The Royal Tenenbaums. Turns out, her smokes were discontinued in the 70s and only sold in Ireland — a choice Anderson made in keeping with the film's continued references to the decade.
J is for Jaws: At some point, actor Seymour Cassel told film critic Roger Ebert he always wished one of his characters would be eaten by a shark. Anderson made that bizarre dream come true when Cassel's Life Aquatic character fell prey to the oceanic beast.
K is for Kanye: We're still waiting on the Pablo edits, but this really never gets old.
L is for Lime limp: Owen Wilson plays a badly banged-up brother in The Darjeeling Limited. In order to achieve the neurotic Francis' constant limp, Wilson walked with a wedge of lime (sweet, sweet lime) in his shoe throughout filming.
M is for Martin Scorsese: The iconic director is a huge Anderson fan, having named the young director's debut Bottle Rocket one of his favorite films of the 90s — even calling Anderson "the next Martin Scorsese." It was on Marty's suggestion that Anderson first traveled to India, a trip which lead to the production of The Darjeeling Limited.
N is for Nine grand: That's all Murray was paid for his supporting role in Rushmore. He didn't care, of course. He even personally loaned Anderson $25 thou for a helicopter montage Disney wouldn't pay for; the scene was cut, but Anderson never actually cashed the check —it's said he still has it.
O is for Outdoors: Anderson amassed a seriously star-studded cast for The Fantastic Mr. Fox (Meryl Streep, casual) but he didn't roll out the red carpet. Actually, Anderson brought them to a farm in Connecticut to help get them in character. Here's Oscar winner George Clooney recording his lines in a chicken coop.
P is for Prada: The Italian house has commissioned Anderson to create a short film, shoot commercials for its Candy fragrance, and design the bar inside its Fondazione. But Prada isn't the only Anderson fan luxury brand: Marc Jacobs designed The Darjeeling Limited's luggage during his tenure at Louis Vuitton, and Lacoste paid tribute to Richie Tennenbaum's tennis glory days during fall/winter 15.
Q is for Queuing: Get ready to stand in some long ass lines if Anderson's dream theme park with his frequent musical collaborator — former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh — ever becomes a reality.
R is for Reverse: "Let Me Tell You About My Boat" — the Mark Mothersbaugh instrumental that plays as Steve Zissou introduces us to The Life Aquatic's Belafonte — is actually another of his Anderson compositions played backwards: "Scrapping & Yelling" from The Royal Tenenbaums.
S is for Simpsons: Other than the use of yellow, it might be difficult to think of any connection between Anderson's preciously preppy families in crisis, and The Simpsons' relative American mundanity. But were it not for James L. Brooks — the super producer who first commissioned Matt Groening to create cartoons for the Tracey Ullman Show that would evolve into The Simpsons empire — Anderson might not be where he is today. After seeing a short version of Bottle Rocket screened at Sundance in 1996, Brooks secured a $5 million budget for Anderson to complete the full-length feature. Read a letter from a young Anderson thanking Brooks for his aid on a Rushmore project — it looks exactly how you imagine.
T is for Tunes: Anderson's unique sensibilities are brought to life with pastel sets and retro props, but also with great music. Though he has a thing for 50s and 60s pop, he's dipped his toes into later decades (The Royal Tenenbaums heavily relies on 70s songs), and even thrown a few contemporary gems in the mix, like Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay." Revisit pretty much every tune he's ever used in this epic playlist.
U is for University of Texas: Anderson's alma mater, where he obtained a bachelor's in philosophy and first met Owen Wilson in a playwriting class. He once gave the school an on screen shout-out, though probably not the one they were hoping for: some Life Aquatic pirates wear Longhorns caps.
V is for Video game: You might not be able to live inside of Anderson's quirky colorful worlds in real life, but you can virtually immerse yourself in one of them. Created by students at NYU's Game Center, Masquiard is a journey through The Grand Budapest Hotel, where each player must eavesdrop on guests to discover which one of them is holding the secret documents you need.
W is for Wilson number three: If you thought Owen and Luke were the only Wilsons in the mix, take a closer look at The Royal Tenenbaums. It's not Ben Stiller's hand with the BB bullet lodged in there, it's the boys' brother Andrew's. He was shot by Owen during their childhood, and the BB has been stuck between his knuckles ever since.
X is for XXX: Yes, there is Wes Anderson parody porn. For your viewing pleasure, The Great Sausage Pizza.
Y is for Yellow: You don't need to spend a night in the Hotel Chevalier to see how much Anderson loves yellow. His fondness for the color was not only the subject of scholarly research, but also a super cut that probably made the folks at McDonald's very, very happy.
Z is for Zissou: Though Murray has appeared in all of Anderson's films save Bottle Rocket, he's only taken the lead in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the parody of and homage to French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
Text Emily Manning
Still from The Grand Budapest Hotel