Steal Like Wes Anderson: A New Video Essay Explores How Wes Anderson Pays Artful Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman & Other Directors in His Films

Although not the debut film of direc­tor Wes Ander­son, and cer­tain­ly not of star Bill Mur­ray, Rush­more intro­duced the world to the both of them. Ander­son­’s first fea­ture Bot­tle Rock­et (an expan­sion of the short film pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) had­n’t found a par­tic­u­lar­ly large audi­ence upon its the­atri­cal release in 1996. But quite a few of the view­ers who had seen and appre­ci­at­ed it seemed to run in Mur­ray’s cir­cles, and in a 1999 Char­lie Rose inter­view the actor told of being sent copy after unwatched copy by friends and pro­fes­sion­al con­tacts alive.

But Mur­ray only need­ed to read a few pages of Ander­son­’s new script to under­stand that the young direc­tor knew what he was doing, and his abil­i­ties became even more evi­dent on set. “I said, ‘What’s this shot we got?’ He goes, ‘Oh, it’s one I saw in Bar­ry Lyn­don.’ ” But in Rush­more it depicts “the inter­mis­sion of the school play,” a full-fledged Kubrick­ian shot “com­ing past a lot of, you know, moth­ers and fathers going — jab­ber­ing, and all the way out past peo­ple buy­ing Cokes and drinks.” Yes, “the good ones copy, the great ones steal,” but to Mur­ray’s mind that say­ing “sort of sends a mis­di­rec­tion.”

Not to Ander­son, how­ev­er, whose rare com­bi­na­tion of cinephil­ia and direc­to­r­i­al skill have inspired him to make films both rich in cin­e­mat­ic homage and pos­sessed of their own dis­tinc­tive sen­si­bil­i­ty — a sen­si­bil­i­ty that let Mur­ray break out of the stan­dard goof­ball roles that had threat­ened to imprison him. In the video essay “Steal Like Wes Ander­son,” Thomas Fight exam­ines the now no-longer-young film­mak­er’s more recent repur­pos­ing of the work of auteurs who came before. In 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, for exam­ple, Ander­son near­ly remakes an entire scene from Torn Cur­tain, Alfred Hitch­cock­’s Cold-War thriller with Paul New­man and Julie Andrews that also hap­pens to involve an east­ern Euro­pean hotel.

Ander­son does­n’t sim­ply lift Hitch­cock­’s shots but recom­pos­es them to “fit with­in his more plano­met­ric and sym­met­ri­cal style,” using the cin­e­mat­ic ref­er­ence “to add to the expe­ri­ence of the sto­ry” and play with audi­ence expec­ta­tions. If you’ve seen Torn Cur­tain, you know how New­man’s char­ac­ter shakes the man tail­ing him; if you’ve seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, you know it does­n’t work out quite so well for Jeff Gold­blum’s char­ac­ter. But only if you’ve seen both films can you appre­ci­ate Ander­son­’s sequence — and indeed, Hitch­cock­’s orig­i­nal — to the fullest. Even now, those of us excit­ed­ly antic­i­pat­ing the Octo­ber release of Ander­son­’s lat­est fea­ture The French Dis­patch are spec­u­lat­ing about not only which clas­sic films inspired it, but also which clas­sic films it will com­pel us to revis­it and enjoy afresh.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Wes Ander­son & Yasu­jiro Ozu: New Video Essay Reveals the Unex­pect­ed Par­al­lels Between Two Great Film­mak­ers

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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