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Exploring the obscure cameos of Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson began his film career in the late 1990s with the release of Bottle Rocket in 1996, shortly followed by Rushmore two years later. Since then, Anderson has released eight more feature films, including the awkward yet endearing coming of age Moonrise Kingdom, and two animated features such as his well-loved Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the children’s story by Roald Dahl. Anderson has quickly become a highly respected director and cult favourite due to his auteur-style approach to filmmaking, a theme expressed through his specific pastel colour palettes, eccentric characters, and strikingly precise cinematography.

Anderson has a certain affinity for repeatedly working with the same actors. After the release of Rushmore in 1998, much praise was directed at the incredible performance given by Bill Murray, and henceforth the star has worked on every Anderson movie since, even taking on the main role of Steve Zissou in the aptly titled The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Other favourites of Anderson’s include Angelica Houston, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson. However, there is one person that very frequently appears in Anderson’s films – himself. Anderson countlessly finds unique ways to insert himself into his creations, whether that be through voiceover, the use of his hands, or as a background character oblivious to the action being filmed.

Much of Anderson’s style can be attributed to the French New Wave. An oblivious spectator may mistake a screenshot of Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou for an Anderson flick, as well as the film’s ending somewhat reminiscent of the comically dramatic moments that infuse Anderson’s work with their signature formalist, fantastical quality. Anderson’s latest release, The French Dispatch, pays direct homage to the New Wave in the vignette entitled ‘Revisions to a Manifesto’ which centres around a student uprising in 1960s ‘Ennui-sur-Blasé’, a fictional version of Paris, bearing a striking similarity to the Parisian student revolts of May 1968. Switching between saturated blue hues, pastel-tinged settings, and classic black-and-white, Anderson’s cinematography and narrative structure is unequivocally New Wave.

However, Anderson’s New Wave sensibility also sees him follow in the steps of the movement’s directors who would often insert themselves and their friends into their films. In Francois Truffaut’s 1959 debut The 400 Blows, a seminal coming-of-age about the mischievous yet tender Antoine Doinel, the director himself is spotted walking past Antoine, a small nod to attentive audiences on the meta quality of the film, which was based on Truffaut’s own childhood and love for cinema. Other cameos appear in the form of fellow New Wave director Jacques Demy as a police officer and French icon Jeanne Moreau as a dog walker. Similarly, Godard appeared in his debut Breathless (1960) as a bystander that points the police in the direction of the wanted Michel, inevitably leading to his demise.

Here, we explore some of Wes Anderson’s best cameos.

The obscure cameos of Wes Anderson:

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Arguably one of Anderson’s greatest films is The Royal Tenenbaums, which features a star-studded cast, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Gene Hackman, and Angelica Huston, playing members of a dysfunctional family living in 1970s New York. Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson (who also portrayed Eli Cash in the film) were nominated for Best Original Screenplay by the Academy Awards, however, they lost to Julian Fellowes for Gosford Park.

Anderson subtly inserts himself into the chaos of the Tenenbaum family through the appearance of his hand, stamping a library card in the film’s memorable opening sequence which details each member of the family. The director can also be heard as a TV commentator during Richie’s (Luke Wilson) tennis match.

Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

Co-written with Marriage Story director Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson took his first foray into stop-motion animation with his delightful feature Fantastic Mr. Fox. The film features George Clooney as Mr. Fox whose continuous thieving results in him (and his family) being hunted down by three human farmers, (Boggis, Bunce, and Bean).

Big fans of the director’s first of two animated films, (Anderson’s second animated film, Isle of Dogs, was released in 2018) may already have recognised Anderson’s voice as the real estate agent Stan Weasel in Fantastic Mr Fox. Not only does he sell Mr. Fox the house inside the tree, but appears later on to aid the animals in a rescue operation. Anderson even accepted a Special Filmmaking Achievement Award from the National Board of Review in the style of Stan Weasel.

Rushmore (1998)

In 1998, Anderson tried his hand at coming-of-age comedy drama, starring Jason Schwartzman in his film debut, playing the eccentric Max Fischer. Also co-written by Owen Wilson, the film was successful in its critical reception, and Anderson went on to win Best Director for his film at the Independent Spirit Awards in 1999, with Bill Murray also winning their Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for his role as Herman Blume.

Beady-eyed viewers may be able to spot Anderson sitting outside in the background on the grass behind Max, just after the play. You may also recognise his voice as the first to speak in the film, during Max’s dream, attempting to solve an equation.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Anderson’s first feature-length film, Bottle Rocket, a crime comedy that does not exactly retain the aesthetic sensibilities that the director has become known for, performed rather poorly at the box office, however, it garnered a fair amount of critical praise. The film put Anderson on the map, launching the career of one of today’s most well-loved directors. Even Martin Scorsese labelled Bottle Rocket as one of his top ten favourite films of the 1990s.

The film is based upon his black-and-white early short of the same name, shot in 1992 and released at Sundance Film Festival two years later. However, in the 1996 version, Anderson can be spotted sitting on the bus seat directly behind Owen Wilson’s Dignan, and Luke Wilson’s Anthony, after being released from a mental hospital.