A Look at Artifice

Let me tell you a Story

I chose to begin with the more contemporary film, particularly this one, for its stylistic treatment and the use of a narrator. The narrator in this movie, and couple of others I’ve chosen, is visual confirmation that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a story told within a story.

There are many other ways of doing however, for example:

The use of voiceover can be seen in Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenebaums” 2001

The film “Saving Mr Banks” which I am looking further into a bit later, uses flashbacks as its story within the story. The blog Let’s Schmooze written by Douglas Eboch looks at this further.

A bit about the Narrative

The Grand Budapest Hotel” (dir. Wes Anderson 2014) is the most contemporary film I’ve chosen. It’s stylistic features underpin the artificiality and the sense we are being told a story. The continuous sense of being inside the frame/box reinforces the theme of a story within a story.

Colours and Shapes

For this particular film I am going to focus on the colour palette and the aspect ratio used.

As defined by Corrigan and White’s The Film Experience, theatrical mise-en-scène is defined as the creation of “fantastical environments that display and even exult in their artifice and constructed nature”(89). They further define it in a way that I believe best identifies Anderson’s intentions:

“The mise-en-scène takes on an independent life that requires confrontations or creative negotiations between the props and sets and the characters.” (Corrigan and White 89)

The aspect of mise-en-scène in this film which I find most visually prominent is the colour palette.

The idea of the constructed, of the surreal, is rampant. At first glance, establishing shots of settings such as the one above made me think of puppet show sets.

If you look at other Wes Anderson films, you’ll notice a theme between them. Oddly enough, the characters in Anderson’s film Fantastic Mr. Fox 2009 actually are puppets animated with stop-motion. Wes Anderson’s film hold determined stylistic choices which present a particular look and feel; you can read more about it at David Bordwell’s Film blog.

The colour palette is meticulously planned and executed so that everything matches and compliments each other within the shot. This is a purposeful choice. The filmic reality created by Wes Anderson is independent, not following the laws and nature of society it revels in the artifice.

A peek at the cinematography:

The story of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is told from three different points in time, within this film we are not only being told stories within stories, but we visually see the translation from each time frame.

The aspect ratio emulates the screen the particular audience of the timeframe in the film would be familiar with.

Corrigan and White defines three types of Aspect ratio:

“Academy ratio- standardized in 1932 by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The image ratio was 1.33:1 and was the standard from the 1930s until the 1950s. This ratio is similar to that of a TV screen, a square image much like a window or a picture frame.” (107)

This was used for the scenes set in the 1930s

“Widescreen ratio- used from the 1950s and ranged from 1.66:1 to Cinemascope ratio 2.35:1” (Corrigan and White 107)

These were used for the portions with the author, both old and young.

The framing in this film is paramount in creating the atmosphere of artifice, of peering into the story as it is being told to us. The theme of being within a frame, within a story is physically played out in the manipulation of the aspect ratio. These visual cues are what take this narrative to its contemporary level.

It’s a Film about Telling a Story

Of course, all films tell a story. What I mean is, this is a film in which the characters within the world are telling us a story. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” captures the adventure, romance and most importantly, improbable nature of the fictional tale. Every decision made in regards to building the world of this film are related to crafting the imaginary and bringing life to fantasy.

Works Cited

Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Observations of Film Art. 26 March 2014. online. 21 April 2015.

Timothy Corrigan, Patricia White. The Film Experience: An Introduction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s., 2012.

The Grand Budapest Hotel. Dir. Wes Anderson. Perf. Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham and Amalric Mathieu. 2014. Film.


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