Before Wes Anderson Was Wes Anderson

This video essay looks at how Wes Anderson’s style has evolved from ‘Bottle Rocket.’
Bottle Rocket Owen Wilson
By  · Published on July 31st, 2018

This video essay looks at how Wes Anderson’s style has evolved from ‘Bottle Rocket.’

When you think of Wes Anderson‘s style, what comes to mind? His meticulous symmetrical framing? A comical, whimsical tone? And where do these hallmarks originate from?

Now, you might hesitate to name Bottle Rocket as the answer to the latter. After all, his debut arguably has the least Wes Anderson-y qualities. And on the surface contains very little of what we now consider to be the defining characteristics of his work. But in many ways, Bottle Rocket shows us the origin of his style and why attempts to emulate it are rarely successful.

In a new video essay, Thomas Flight explores this idea, highlighting all the elements that can be traced back to Anderson’s debut. The video is a must-watch for any Wes Anderson fan, highlighting that there’s so much more to the director than just his visual style.

Flight points out that everything about Anderson’s style starts on a script level. From the comical over-use of “by the way,” highlighting his love for comically delivered mundane dialogue, to over-formalization, as seen in the robbery scene from Bottle Rocket.

Another essential aspect of Anderson’s stories is the obsessive protagonist, Flight says. In his films, we often see characters with a comically over the top dedication to an occupation or activity. From hotel management to the perfect vacation, these can all be traced back to Dignan’s driven attitude toward committing crimes.

This portrayal of obsession may also be traced back to Anderson himself. As a director dedicated to his extremely specific style, the filmmaker certainly fits the bill as one of his own protagonists.

Also touched upon here is the contrast in Anderson’s portrayal of adults and children. Only seen briefly in Bottle Rocket is the type of intelligent, well-spoken child that would become a staple of his work. And these characters will often be contrasted with immature adults for comedic effect, with no greater example being in The Royal Tenenbaums.

These examples highlight just how meticulous Anderson’s style is, as it seeps into every single aspect of his work. And can’t simply be replicated by borrowing his visual style.

But said visual style is also absolutely essential to creating that Wes Anderson feel. And while many of these elements would later be refined and exaggerated, they can be seen in Bottle Rocket if you take a closer look. Layers of action, use of motion to develop a shot, and the walk and talk are all on show here. And while they may not be as pronounced in Anderson’s feature debut, it’s easy to see how his style has evolved from there.

In addition to this, Anderson’s later films usually make a point to make violence look a little pathetic. Scuffles are often framed as childish and comical, without any trace of making fights look slick. And no character in the director’s filmography embodies this idea more than Dignan himself.

To say that Anderson’s films are distinctive is a severe understatement. And while many have tried to emulate him, few understand how his style is built in from the screenplay and works its way into every aspect of the film. One film that does successfully crib from Wes Anderson, however, is The Brothers Bloom. Rian Johnson’s second film borrows from Anderson but does so in a way that demonstrates an understanding of his style, all while still feeling like a Rian Johnson film.

And while Bottle Rocket may forever be known as the least Wes Anderson-esque of his films, it’s definitely worth reconsidering that idea. And there’s no better place to start than this video essay:

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