They say a filmmaker qualifies as an auteur if you can identify their work from any given shot. That might strike even cinephiles as a difficult task unless the filmmaker in question is Wes Anderson, who for twenty years’ worth of feature films now has defined and refined a cinematic style increasingly unique to him and his host of regular collaborators. What qualities constitute the unmistakably Andersonian? Vibrant colors, especially red and yellow. Old buildings. Uniforms. The sounds of the British Invasion. Perfect symmetry. The technology of the mid-twentieth-century as well as vintage American and European design of that era. An eye for the imagined past as well as the past’s imagined future (and its use of Futura). And of course, Bill Murray.
Anderson has used different combinations of these and other aesthetic choices not just in all his full-length films from Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but also in his commercials. Given the uncompromising look and feel of his “real” filmography as well as its overall success at the box office, one might not at first imagine Anderson as the kind of auteur with the need, desire, or even ability to make advertisements.
But make them he does, an aspect of his career that actually began with a self-parodying 2004 American Express commercial starring the director himself, hard at work on his latest, albeit fictional, quiet spectacle of meticulousness and anachronism (which also has explosions).
Ever the throwback, Anderson next shot a commercial for Japan, that land where, in the days before Youtube, so many American celebrities used to go to cash in on their image unbeknownst to their Western public. Specifically, he shot it for the Japanese telecommunications giant Softbank, casting Brad Pitt as a Jacques Tati-style vacationer, good-natured if bumbling and possessed of an eye for the ladies, in the French countryside. Two years later, he and frequent writing partner Roman Coppola returned to his beloved early 1960s for Apartomatic, a spot for Stella Artois (a brand that has also employed the likes of Wim Wenders) that brings to life every young man’s fantasy of the ultimate automated bachelor pad.
In 2012, Modern Life and Talk To My Car, a pair of thirty-second commercials for a new Hyundai sedan, brought Anderson back into the present. Naturally, he delivered a present deeply rooted in the dreams of decades past, which, when the idea is to sell a product as saturated with the mythology of the postwar years as an automobile, does the job ideally. “After months of creative development on the new Hyundai Azera we were almost out of time to produce the launch spots,” writes creative director Robert Prins. “At the last minute someone suggested asking Wes Anderson to direct. We all laughed. Then he said yes.” Imagine the resulting jealousy in the conference rooms of ad agencies all over the world, where the talk constantly references Anderson’s work without ever touching the genuine article.
The following year, we featured Castello Cavalcanti, Anderson’s eight-minute short film starring Jason Schwartzman (who became an Anderson regular, and a star in his own right, in Rushmore fifteen years earlier) as a race car driver who crashes into a strangely familiar village somewhere in 1955 Italy. He shot it at Rome’s legendary Cinecittà studio at the behest of a certain Italian brand called Prada (perhaps you’ve heard of them) and in collaboration with Coppola also put together Prada: Candy, a series of three somewhat more straightforward commercials embedded as a playlist just above. Set in France this time, they tell the Jules and Jim-esque story of twin brothers vying for the attention of the same girl, a blonde bon viveuse who happens to have the same name — and if you believe the marketing, the same personality — as Prada’s fragrance.
Just yesterday we featured Come Together, Anderson’s latest commercial directorial effort with Adrien Brody playing the dedicated conductor of a badly delayed passenger train on Christmas Eve. Though it ostensibly comes as nothing more than a promotion for fast-fashion retailer H&M, thousands of fans have already thrilled to this new glimpse into Anderson’s world — a make-believe one, but “we are all make-believe, too, every one of us,” as GQ’s Chris Heath puts it, “each self-assembled from a hotchpotch of dreams and experiences and wishes and ambitions and setbacks (and, yes, what we buy and what we say and what we wear and the way we choose to wear it, and all the rest of it).” Anderson himself might well agree. But when, we all wonder, will a brand come his way worthy of a commercial starring Bill Murray?
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.