Film

A Dispatch from '24 Hour Wes Fest', or The Peculiar Oddities of a Wes Anderson Cinematic Endurance Test

What happened when we sent our intrepid correspondent to watch every single one of Wes Anderson's movies in a butt-numbing, mind-bending 24-hour marathon?

Wes Anderson films: Asteroid City, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Fantastic Mr Fox. Images: 87 Productions/Focus Features, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Everett Collection

Wes Anderson films: Asteroid City, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, Fantastic Mr Fox. Images: 87 Productions/Focus Features, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Everett Collection

Wes Anderson’s films are known for being, well, unlike anybody else’s. A few things are guaranteed: pristine, pastel colours; sharp, symmetrical composition; emotionally-stunted characters talking in hurried, clipped dialogue. Anderson’s vibe is highly ordered and detailed, which is not how you feel if you watch every single one of his films back-to-back over 24 hours.

Rory and his friend Ewan, in the grips of a Wes Anderson cinematic marathon
Rory and his friend Ewan, in the grips of a Wes Anderson cinematic marathon. Photo: Rory Doherty

On Saturday 17 June, three British coastal cities – Brighton, Edinburgh, and Liverpool – hosted a day-long marathon of Anderson’s films, starting with his debut Bottle Rocket and closing with a preview of his examination of space-age wonder, Asteroid City. The idea of consuming only Wes Anderson for an extensive period will undoubtedly repulse his critics. His dependency on a singular filmmaking language has led to some dismissing him, in recent years, as someone who can only do one thing. But one thing at Picturehouse’s 24 Hour Wes Fest was clear – Anderson is capable of something no other working filmmaker can offer.

Duke of York’s Picturehouse in Brighton tried to accommodate everyone from fervent superfans to morbidly curious casuals, with half hour breaks between films, complimentary pastries and hot drinks offered at intervals, and light entertainment offered by local Wes Anderson-themed improv troupe Yes Anderson. Such measures were not intended to soften the effects of 24 hours in Anderson’s company, but to encourage us across the finish line. From staff and audiences, the pervading energy from staff and audience alike was, “This is an insane thing to do, let’s enjoy doing it.”

The community that gathered for the marathon – many dressed in suitably Andersonian attire – may not have all been impassioned devotees to the Cult of Wes, but it was clear that everyone recognised Anderson as someone whose work deserved, maybe even demanded, a celebration this momentous. At a time where most marathons centre on copyrighted characters or corporate franchises, it’s significant that people will assemble for an artist most known for their visuals, their command of cinematic craft.

In recent months, Anderson’s visuals have been homaged and co-opted in equal measure; TikTokers have eagerly aped his mannered aesthetic (complete with French/60s needle drops) for charming glimpses of their routines and wardrobes, while artless AI software has appropriated his recognisable style to reimagine other properties. A hunger for the feelings conjured by his work pervades internet culture, but regardless if these efforts were playful or exploitative in nature, they lacked the special ingredients present in all of Anderson’s work: dark, bittersweet melancholy, reflexive witticisms, and a perplexing but touching affinity for grief, regret, and loss.

What, exactly, do you get from a complete Wes Anderson marathon? “Intergenerational love-triangles with heists. And precocious children,” says Helen Boobis, one member of Yes Anderson. “Often smoking,” clarifies fellow member, Tim Meredith. The improv group (also repped in Brighton by Jenny and Ezra Haufek) boasted some of the top costumes of the event, bested only by the moment where everyone wearing the bright red beanies of oceanographer Steve Zissou (in total, nearly a dozen) congregated onstage for a photocall, looking like one of the many niche afterschool clubs found in Rushmore.

Thankfully, attendees could come and go freely, meaning breaks could be taken for food, fresh air, or wake-up shots at a nearby metal bar during Fantastic Mr Fox. During the daytime, there were a lot of “day-shifters”, who were willing to sacrifice a big chunk of their weekend but not compelled to stay the night. A lot of people who lasted the full 24 hours were students, unbothered by the possibility of messing up a delicate sleep cycle. “I’m in my mid-thirties, and I have work on Monday,” one day-shifter told me. “If I pull an all-nighter, I’m not going to be on it.”

@thebigissue

What happened when we sent our intrepid correspondent to watch every single one of of Wes Anderson’s movies in a butt-numbing 24-hour marathon? https://www.bigissue.com/culture/film/wes-anderson-cinematic-endurance-test/ Video by @Ewan Shand #wesanderson #wesandersonfilm #wesandersontrend #wesandersonedit #wesandersonmovie #wesanderdonchallenge #wesandersoninspired

♬ original sound – Big Issue

For those attending the entirety of Wes Fest, its time commitment was strangely undaunting. There was something competitive about its cinephile call-to-arms, a challenge to fans to prove their commitment to poppy auteur cinema in a climate dominated by commercialisation. As the marathon entered the eye of the storm (kicked off by Moonrise Kingdom at 1am), Anderson-themed costumes were outnumbered by comfortable sleepwear, and no judgement was passed at those who opted to nap through the more minor films. There was a touch of poignancy when, post-The Grand Budapest Hotel, we ventured outside, rebirthed, to meet the new dawn, and were startled by the appearance of a fox apparently a few hours late to his own screening. Excitement never wavered for Asteroid City throughout the night, closing the marathon with Wes’ best work in nearly a decade – a film that fittingly questions why we gather for spectacle, and why we’re so compelled by searching for answers and meaning.

24 Hour Wes Fest may not have played to a packed house, but such high-concept events aren’t often programmed outside London, and the preciousness of this happening during a perilous time for UK cinemas was not lost on anyone. Attending meant being reminded of cinema’s biggest appeal; this is an art form still worth gathering for. We were familiar with Wes Anderson’s cinema, and yet we still felt a hunger for more of his form of self-expression, a hunger that was turned into a unique, demanding, and lasting collective experience. In an act of programming astuteness, 24 Hour Wes Fest turned watching films into a story that, in and of itself, needed telling.

Rory Doherty is a critic and filmmaker. @roryhasopinions

Wes Anderson’s latest film, Asteroid City, is in cinemas from 23 June.

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