Wes Anderson Explains How He Built Asteroid City, the Fictional American Desert Town in His New Film

Wes Ander­son­’s lat­est pic­ture Aster­oid City is named for the small Ari­zona town (pop­u­la­tion: 87) in which its cen­tral sto­ry takes place. That town, in turn, is named for the inci­dent that made it (mod­est­ly) famous: the impact of an aster­oid that left behind a large crater. That crater was one of the fea­tures that Ander­son and his pro­duc­tion design­ers had to make for the shoot — but then, so was every­thing else in Aster­oid City, which had to be raised whole in an out-of-the-way area of Spain. Unlike­ly though it may sound in itself, the cin­e­mat­ic project of re-cre­at­ing the Amer­i­can West in south­ern Europe isn’t with­out prece­dent: the “Spaghet­ti West­erns” of the nine­teen-six­ties and sev­en­ties also relied on the Span­ish desert to pro­vide the right atmos­phere of sub­lime des­o­la­tion.

Just as movies like A Fist­ful of Dol­lars or Djan­go are root­ed in a cer­tain con­cep­tion of the sec­ond half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, so Aster­oid City is root­ed in a cer­tain con­cep­tion of the mid­dle of the twen­ti­eth. This comes through most clear­ly in the archi­tec­ture of their sets.

“The thing was to try to make build­ings that were as evoca­tive of the time as we pos­si­bly could,” Ander­son says in the short mak­ing-of video above. But this thor­ough­ly mid­cen­tu­ry-provin­cial set­ting also need­ed its mys­te­ri­ous ele­ments: the crater, of course, but also the obser­va­to­ry and “the free­way on-ramp there that goes to nowhere.” The ful­ly assem­bled Aster­oid City felt like not just a set, but some­thing approach­ing an actu­al place: “Once it was built, we could be a tiny group in this what seemed like an aban­doned town.”

Any­one who’s spent enough time road-trip­ping across the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca will rec­og­nize that, con­ti­nen­tal loca­tion notwith­stand­ing, Aster­oid City cap­tures some­thing essen­tial about that coun­try’s more remote set­tle­ments, inhab­it­ed or not, locat­ed in arid regions or oth­er­wise. This required the fab­ri­ca­tion of not just build­ings but the flo­ra, fau­na, and geo­log­i­cal for­ma­tions of an entire land­scape, prac­ti­cal­ly all of it adher­ent to Ander­son­’s sig­na­ture hand­made aes­thet­ic scheme, which some­how con­vinces through arti­fi­cial­i­ty. Even detrac­tors of Ander­son­’s work sure­ly derive plea­sure from the result­ing qual­i­ty of sheer phys­i­cal­i­ty, some of which also owes to his still shoot­ing on good old 35-mil­lime­ter film — as this video’s pub­lish­er, Kodak, does­n’t hes­i­tate to remind us.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Wes Ander­son Uses Minia­tures to Cre­ate His Aes­thet­ic: A Primer from His Mod­el Mak­er & Prop Painter

Wes Ander­son Movie Sets Recre­at­ed in Cute, Minia­ture Dio­ra­mas

Wes Ander­son Explains How He Writes and Directs Movies, and What Goes Into His Dis­tinc­tive Film­mak­ing Style

Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Revis­its Aban­doned Movie Sets for Star Wars and Oth­er Clas­sic Films in North Africa

A Star Wars Film Made in a Wes Ander­son Aes­thet­ic

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

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