The golden ratio

Wes Anderson’s last big screen outing as a solo director was ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ – yet another meticulously crafted masterpiece, a slice of cinematic charm that mixed his distinct blend of madcap folly and fine direction. Like all of Anderson’s oeuvre since his first concoction, ‘Bottle Rocket’ in 1996, he continued perfecting his personal aesthetic which in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is more solidified than ever before. Those rich hues, dreamlike scenery and that penchant for vintage props were all there, most noticeable was Anderson’s use of the one-point perspective. A long admired trait by Anderson fans since the beginning, he didn’t really begin to explore it fully until ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ in 2001. It’s an especially meticulous attention to detail, one that as Aaron Souppouris in The Verge noted, Anderson shares with the celebrated director, Stanley Kubrick.

The one-point perspective is pure geometric perfection; a mathematically precise use of the camera which has been used in painting since the Renaissance, with Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci as its main proponents. Stemming from Aristotelian philosophy, the one-point perspective is the Golden Mean, which Aristotle described as the desirable middle between two extremes. In filmmaking, the one-point perspective is achieved when “the painting plate (also known as the picture plane) is parallel to two axes of a rectilinear (or Cartesian) scene – a scene which is composed entirely of linear elements that intersect only at right angles.”

Photo by manfred majer

Photo by manfred majer

Kubrick’s first use of the one-point perspective came not as a film director, but as a photographer when he was hired as an apprentice at Look Magazine. His exploration into what would become his trademark appears in a photographic essay of Chicago’s bustling streets, published in 1949. As the years went by, Kubrick was able to combine the one-point perspective with his passion for atmospherics, creating his own cinematic language in the process. Throughout his films, Kubrick became a master of this language, with gems like ‘The Shining’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – to name a few.

The one-point perspective became synonymous with intensity and drama, which is why Wes Anderson’s use of it is so important. What Anderson shows is that the language can work seamlessly with comedy too. As photographer Jose Antunes explains: “the difference is that in many of these films and sequences (Wes Anderson’s) the one-point perspective or symmetry is the basis for a humorous take instead of a horror moment. So, although Anderson is paying homage to Kubrick’s work, he is using the same language in completely different ways – and sometimes the same, to create tension, should be said – to create his own watermark in the films he makes.”

Kubrick brought something entirely new to cinema, it’s like an architectural viewpoint, with spacial awareness and a distinct focus on symmetry. Anderson has continued where Kubrick left off, incorporating the language into different visual formulas.

Kubrick and Anderson have shown that the one-point perspective can be used in many variations of films, in a promotional video for example, it can be used perfectly to emphasise any number of moods and styles. Perfect for bringing a bit of big screen magic to the small screen, the one-point perspective enhances the viewer's experience, drawing them into the scene. Moreover, it creates the feel of perfect harmony.