Wes Anderson’s Cinematic Debt to Stanley Kubrick Revealed in a Side-By-Side Comparison

Most film fans hold the work of Stan­ley Kubrick and Wes Ander­son in high regard, even if they don’t find one, the oth­er, or both to their par­tic­u­lar taste. And at first glance, it might seem hard to under­stand what kind of taste could pos­si­bly encom­pass both Kubrick and Ander­son. The for­mer made most­ly com­plex and emo­tion­al­ly chilled peri­od pieces, visu­al­ly grand yet stark, tinged with grim humor, and pos­sess­ing a dim view of human­i­ty. The lat­ter makes col­or­ful, out­ward­ly high-spir­it­ed come­dies, some­times even ani­mat­ed ones, that seem to delight in their own care­ful­ly cul­ti­vat­ed aes­thet­ics.

But both bod­ies of work reveal direc­to­r­i­al minds that take cin­e­ma itself very seri­ous­ly indeed. “Kubrick is one of my favorites,” says Ander­son in an inter­view clip used in the video essay com­par­ing shots from his films to shots from Kubrick­’s, just above. “Usu­al­ly, by the time I’m mak­ing the movie, I don’t real­ly know where I’m steal­ing every­thing from. By the time it’s a movie, I think it’s my thing, and I for­get where I took it all — but I think I’m always pret­ty influ­enced by Kubrick.” That influ­ence, on a visu­al lev­el, does come through in this com­par­i­son, cer­tain­ly in all those first-per­son per­spec­tives and views through port­holes, but even more so with the cam­era moves, espe­cial­ly in the track­ing shots and zooms.

As Bill Mur­ray said in a 1999 inter­view with Char­lie Rose of Rush­more, the pic­ture that would make Mur­ray an Ander­son reg­u­lar, “Boy, this has got some great moves in it.” By that he meant “the way sto­ries get told in pic­tures.” A film­mak­er needs a script, of course, but “the way you shoot it, too, shows how you want to impact things on an audi­ence.” He describes Ander­son and his col­lab­o­ra­tors as pos­sessed of “an enor­mous film cul­ture,” recall­ing shots from cin­e­ma past and, in their own pro­duc­tions, repur­pos­ing them com­plete­ly. Mur­ray remem­bers Ander­son describ­ing a shot in Rush­more as “one I saw in Bar­ry Lyn­don.” “You remem­ber Bar­ry Lyn­don?” Mur­ray asks Rose. “It was this enor­mous thing. Ours, though, is the inter­mis­sion of the school play.”

That school play, you may recall, appears as one of sev­er­al put on by Rush­more’s pro­tag­o­nist Max Fis­ch­er, whose sen­si­bil­i­ties (and artis­tic abil­i­ties) may dif­fer from Ander­son­’s, but who shows just the same zeal for cre­ative­ly “rip­ping off” from the movies. “I talk to a lot of those guys who come in here, these young direc­tors,” Rose says of Ander­son and his gen­er­a­tion. “They’ve seen every movie. They’re more stu­dents of cin­e­ma than most.” Mur­ray cau­tions that “it always gets per­vert­ed when peo­ple say, ‘Oh, the good ones copy, the great ones steal,’ ” an idea that can lead to emp­ty for­mal trib­utes, but “Wes,” to his mind, was dif­fer­ent. Pos­sessed of both “mind and body,” he “just knows how to get these things togeth­er in one place,” using the lan­guage of cin­e­ma, whether invent­ed or bor­rowed, for max­i­mum impact — as, in a dif­fer­ent yet star­tling­ly sim­i­lar way, did Kubrick.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing Reimag­ined as Wes Ander­son and David Lynch Movies

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

A Glimpse Into How Wes Ander­son Cre­ative­ly Remixes/Recycles Scenes in His Dif­fer­ent Films

Cult Films by Kubrick, Taran­ti­no & Wes Ander­son Re-imag­ined as 8‑Bit Video Games

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, 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.

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  • Leon Trotsky says:

    As for the slow pull-out shot, it can­not be anoth­er “Kubrick­ian” ele­ment. In this same year of 1972, Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la would open his movie ‘The God­fa­ther’ with an open­ing shot just like in ‘A Clock­work Orange’.

    It was a rather new thing for the era, because in both of these exam­ples they actu­al­ly active­ly pulled the cam­era slow­ly away from the sub­ject in the giv­en shot. Yet, even though ‘The God­fa­ther’ is a much more famous and acclaimed movie by the pop­u­lous, it does­n’t make much of an impres­sion with its open­ing shot. This is because it was not used as expert­ly as Kubrick did, and the shot meant some­thing. It instilled uneasi­ness, it gave us more and more detail about the sur­round­ing club, it set a tone for the entire first act.

    So while the Moloko club slow pull-out shot was much more pow­er­ful, MUCH MORE, it is not a “Kubrick­ian” object in my opin­ion. Most notably because in Wes Ander­son­’s films we can see not the same style of pow­er­ful mean­ing in these shots but rather the motion is used as more of just a sim­ple util­i­ty to make a great-look­ing shot that is focused upon one per­son.

    I should final­ly say that my opin­ion is that the shots in gen­er­al, being all of the com­pa­ra­ble sim­i­lar shots and cam­era move­ments between Kubrick and Ander­son, most are not the Moloko Club shot. Most are sim­ply the prod­uct of a man behind the cam­era that knows how to make a good shot, and be rel­a­tive­ly cre­ative with that cam­era move­ment or the cam­era place­ment.

    I will give one more exam­ple, which is the cam­era being the sub­ject of which is looked at by the scene. This is not some­thing that must be a “Kubrick” thing, just because he did it some­where down the line too. The man has a lot of movies under his belt and thou­sands upon thou­sands of shots with­in his career most like­ly. Stop say­ing that this direc­tor’s projects are “Kubrick­ian this” or “Kubrick­ian that” if you get the pic­ture, TL;DR cor­re­la­tion not cau­sa­tion.

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