“There’s Freedom In Bondage”: 12 Things Learned At Cannes About ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ & Wes Anderson’s Hyper-Controlled Style

"There's Freedom In Bondage": 12 Things Learned At Cannes About 'Moonrise Kingdom' & Wes Anderson's Hyper-Controlled Style

Having received some of his best reviews in years, Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" made a grand debut opening the Cannes Film Festival in style last week. By all accounts (including one very positive review of our own), Anderson's latest picture and first live-action film in five years, is a pleasant, charming and enchanting return to form that's both nostalgic for those early pre-teen years and emotional in its exploration of adolescent angst and early love. Starring newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward with an excellent supporting cast featuring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman, Playlist contributor Aaron Hillis got a chance to sit down with some of the cast at the press conference in Cannes. 

What ensued was an entertaining conversation with Anderson, co-writer Roman Coppola, the narrator in the film Bob Balaban, plus Norton, Schwartzman, Gilman and Hayward. Here's twelve interesting nuggets from the chat in France, and note, there are some mild spoilers.

1. Wes Anderson had to wait three months to hear back from the Cannes organizers after he submitted "Moonrise Kingdom." Something he didn't take as a good augur.
"I was with a group of French people when I found out, we'd been waiting like three months to hear anything," Anderson said. The filmmaker remarked that he had never submitted a film to Cannes before so he assumed he might hear the next day or so, but "We didn't hear anything for a long, long time so I felt that it was probably not a great sign." When Anderson finally heard the belated good news, he received a typically aloof and amusing response from his French pals. "I  told my friends, '[We got opening night].' All of them were saying [affects unimpressed French shrug], 'Better to be in competition.' But then later we found out it was in competition too."

2. Ed Norton, who revealed he's wanted to work with Anderson for several years, said the Cannes announcement was a long time coming. 
Anderson's made seven feature films so far, but believe it or not, "Moonrise Kingdom" was the first time the director had ever been invited to Cannes with a film playing the festival. "The first thing I thought was, 'Well it's about time,' " Norton said. "I think of Wes as a filmmaker who I would think would have had five or six films at Cannes by now. So it's good that they finally got with the program and acknowledged one of my generation's really great auteur filmmakers." There was a second selfish thought as well after he heard the good news. Norton remembered he'd also get a chance to "have those nice little marzipans again that they serve at the Cannes press conference."

3. While Anderson has spoken about how Francois Truffaut, Ken Loach and Alan Parker's films centered around children influenced "Moonrise Kingdom," he also revealed a broader influence: the filmmaking duo Powell and Pressburger.
"For many years some of the movies that have most inspired me especially in a visual way are the Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger films," he said. "…so much of that work is about making these visual…quite artificial films and there's something very exciting about what they've made that's in front of the camera, and you know the 'Red Shoes' in particular is the subject matter too, but you know one of my favorites is 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp'…and also 'Black Narcissus'; [it's] about a woman in the Himalayas and they did it all on a soundstage."

Perhaps Anderson was describing how artifice — like what many critics complain about in his films — can be equally emotional and poignant when artfully constructed. "You really are transported to that place but you feel that someone has made these things and they're very emotional, moving films,"  the filmmaker said, also noted that their approach to music is very influential. "I also would say Powell and Pressberger, are a very good inspiration for music as well. 'The Red Shoes' is a movie where there's a very long sequence where the music was written first and the movie was made to the music, I mean it was a dance so it makes sense. In our movie this Benjamin Britten music that we use — a lot of the movie was choreographed to it and we drew a lot of the scenes and semi-animated them in advance. So we sort of knew where the cuts were going to be based on the music."

4. "Moonrise Kingdom" became Wes Anderson's first period picture by accident rather than by any specific design.
"You know it became a period picture when I was writing Bob [Balaban's] part as the narrator who introduces us to the movie and I was really sort of spontaneously you know, he explained. "Bob's character talks primarily about the weather. But I wrote what year it was and I had not had the intention to set it in the past but I sort of followed that and as Roman [Coppola] and I worked on [the script] it became more and more part of it. To me, I started feeling like it was a Norman Rockwell kind of America and one that was about to change. It's the end of the summer and maybe it's also supposed to be the end of some kind of metaphorical summer."

5. "There's freedom in Bondage." Edward Norton discusses the liberty in Anderson's meticulously planned films by referencing the rather popular bestselling erotic fiction novel "Fifty Shades Of Grey."
While some argue that Anderson's controlled style can be, well, controlling and stifling, Norton felt a director knowing absolutely what he wants is helpful. "Not to reference 'Fifty Shades of Grey' but sometimes 'there's freedom in bondage,' " he said with a laugh. "What might look like a very managed environment is actually providing an actor a lot of rich fodder to interact with and when certain things are pre-determined then other things that are improvisational can bloom out of it."

Norton described a scene where Anderson had crafted a long tracking shot in a scout camp, but when they came across some fireworks, both Norton and Anderson noted that the actor's cigarette smoking wouldn't jibe with those kinds of strict safety concerns that a scout master would have. "So we this reason to have the conversation with the cigarette held out [far away from the fireworks]," he explained. "Those are the kinds of things that emerge because of the fun constriction of the way that the shot is set up. But on a more fundamental level. I've never associated Wes' characters with the comedic qualities. The humor in Wes' films has always derived out of characters that are deadly serious. None of Wes' characters are anything less then urgently sincere about what they’re doing and their intentions and that's the easiest thing in the world to play. Wes draws a really well defined path. In many ways the greatest gift to an actor to make it clear what this character's after in life."

6. Speaking for the entire cast, Bob Balaban said the film was much more emotional than anyone expected it and described Anderson's approach as the "kindly dictator."
While it may read as a backhanded compliment, Balaban also defended Wes' style, orchestration and carefully designed way of working. "Wes is the perfect kindly dictator," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of relief to an actor to come into a situation and know what the parameters are."

The actor also explained how the emotional texture of "Moonrise Kingdom" took him and the cast by surprise when they first saw the picture. "It's very formal and very planned in many ways and I think that's the great power of the movie," he said. "Within formality there's this tremendous emotional life sort of coursing through it. I was very unaware of it at the time. The structure being so firm and organized has somehow mysteriously allowed this powerful emotion — something that you would think could have squeezed the life out of something, allowed it to be powerful. There was a huge amount of freedom and spirit [in the film] that was nurtured by something you might have thought would destroy it."

7. Trust the filmmakers of "Moonrise Kingdom": Scoutmasters were smoking in front of their troops in the 1960s.
"Oh, but they were," Norton said when one journalist thought this part of the film felt off. "Like if you Google from that time period, I'd say 50% of the photos I found of scoutmasters, they were hanging around the campfire with a cigarette in hand. I found some PR films about scouting in America from the late '50s and '60s and it's astonishing how omnipresent the cigarettes are in those. But it just wasn't a big deal at the time."

8. Anderson and Norton created an interesting opposite approach to his character. They created a front story instead of a back story.
"We found this picture of a scoutmaster with sunglasses. This guy was smoking a cigarette, he had sunglasses, he was a cool scout master," Anderson said. "But I remember that when we shared this picture Edward and I both had this thought that his character [was eventually] going to be in Vietnam in the next two or three years. It kind of triggered that for us. Whatever the opposite of a back story is."

9. Ed Norton says you just don't really improvise in a Wes Anderson film, but there were a few moments of improv that Anderson himself spurned on.
"I have great respect for Wes' specificity of language and script and dialogue because he's a craftsman and he cares about words," he said. "I have no impulse to casually monkey with Wes' dialog as scripted." Though Norton did describe his favorite improvisation in the movie when one of the scouts asks Norton's character, "What’s your real job?" and he responds "I'm an 8th grade math teacher."

"We did a couple of takes and then Wes said 'Actually I want you to talk back in and then say you know…'I want to change my answer, this is my real job,' " Norton recalled. "He came up with that in the moment I think, that wasn't in the script."

10. Before the ASPCA can get ahold of him, Anderson was once again asked about his prediliction to injury or harm dogs in his films.
"Well I've killed dogs before in my work and it never goes over that lightly," Anderson chuckled. "In ['The Royal Tenenbaums'] we had a car run over [the dog] but you just saw the leash." Anderson said the unfortunate accident involving a dog in "Moonrise Kingdom" was a more "graphic depiction" however, he did not "intend it as a confrontation." Ed Norton reminded the journalists that while killing an animal is considered a film rule you shouldn't break, there is a film they might remember called, "Old Yeller."

11. A modest Roman Coppola says he was a simply a conduit and fan of Anderson's who helped coax the script out of the director. It was also known as "The Island" project before it coalesced into "Moonrise Kingdom."
Coppola said a kernal of the idea had surfaced around the time they were making "The Darjeeling Limited' together, noting that the film was "known as 'The Island' project." Coppola said that he would check in on Anderson from time to time and ask how the project was coming along. Anderson was stuck. "I had spent a year and had gotten to page 15," he said. The Coppola's curiosity helped spurn the screenplay on. "I'd read the first section of the scout master award and after a while, a few weeks later I said, 'What’s next?' " Coppola recalled. "There were a couple of disappointing check-ins where there wasn't much progress. So we got together and I started to be demanding of where we stood and it was in those sessions of chatting and asking and trying to learn more about the movie that we ended up getting on a roll." 

Coppola describes himself of more of a guide, then a co-writer, but as a friend and fan of Anderson's work, he was fine with that role. "Some of the questions I asked provoked some good answers that made us realize we had a good rapport to kind of help draw it out," he said. "Wes as the director pretty much was the artist who conceived this thing and I was a person there just eager to hear the story and help to draw it out."

12. As homework preparation, Anderson had the young star of the film, Jared Gilman, watch a very unlikely film for inspiration and cues.
"Wes had me watch Clint Eastwood's 'Escape From Alcatraz,' " Gilman chuckled. "Kind of to show me some similiarities between Clint Eastwood's character and mine, in the sense that they're very resourceful and capable, so I got to see that through that movie, how to 'be' in a way."

"Moonrise Kingdom" opens in N.Y. and L.A. on May 25th and in additional cities throughout June. Additional theater information can be found on the official site.

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