What do anthology films bring to the film world that full length feature films cannot truly present? They show the synthesis and thematic similarities across a wide array of stories.
There are many films, TV shows and books that split themselves into completely different segments, which take on new narrators, worlds, ideas and plots than the stories that already exist in the medium.
One of the brilliant uses of anthology collections is that it is a prime way for younger, newer artists to grasp a project and showcase their work through it. Young filmmakers that have limited experience in the film world are able to take a chance and make a story their own with a more limited screen time, which allows for a wider appreciation of their art.
One anthology where multiple directors came together to create a sci-fi anime collection is “Memories”. All three directors were in the prime years of their careers when they made this collection. Within “Memories” are three 40 minute short films that depict the human struggle to survive in an apocalyptic world setting.
In “Magnetic Rose” (directed by Koji Morimoto) space garbage men explore an eerie, ancient dump. In “Stink Bomb” (directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, who made “Akira”) there is a bioweapon outbreak in Japan. In “Cannon Fodder” (directed by Tensai Okamura, one of the “Evangelion” directors) we experience a war-lusted world through the perspective of a young boy.
Each of the short films bring out perspectives only a science fiction writer could extrapolate from the world. I love being able to see the synthesis between the beautiful animation styles and stories that these directors have made for us to see.
The diversity of the directors adds to the value and appreciation of this anthology. Because each story was handled and made by a different person, it’s like having a perfectly planned three course meal where each course complements the next or the one prior.
“Coffee and Cigarettes” and “The French Dispatch”
Another way film directors use anthologies is to express themes that transcend one person’s life and they take on a more expansive view of humanity as a whole. In “Coffee and Cigarettes” by Jim Jarmusch and “The French Dispatch” by Wes Anderson, there is little to no overlap between the stories that are shot on screen.
In “Coffee and Cigarettes”, each scene and story are focused on coffee and cigarettes. Cups of blasted clay clink together for a “cheers” and the sharp inhale then pause after a drag from a cigarette are seen and heard in almost every scene. This film collection focuses on the mundane and chaotic world we live in. Bill Murray, RZA, GZA, Iggy Pop and other familiar faces flash on the screen for a few minutes of time as their characters process cigarettes and coffee.
Similarly, “The French Dispatch” has a diverse cast, but the narrative thread is more prominent: it’s the last issue of the fictional newspaper, “The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun”, and all of the journalists’ stories are shown in order of publication in the paper.
Each of the stories in “The French Dispatch” have their moments of tension and some are more passionate and evocative than others. “Coffee and Cigarettes”, I think, has the same issues. These movies combine all the fragmented pieces of life into one big place that can be split up or reassembled in many fashions. Both these anthology films are fun to re-watch, as the stories grow more powerful every time I watch them.
I put Wong Kar-wai in his own little section of this essay because of how well he is able to synthesize strangers’ lives. In “Chungking Express” specifically, Wong Kar-wai takes one tiny food vendor and a few characters to explore love.
The first half of the film is focused on a recently dumped detective who wants to fall in love, and the second half is focused on a cop who is dealing with an ambiguously defined relationship and being alone. Both main characters are remarkably different and are set in the same world, location and time. The two stories briefly overlap and that is it.
“Chungking Express” (and “Fallen Angels” too) perfectly blend two seemingly separate stories into a beautiful hulking beast that is a testament to how chaotic and crazy finding love can be.
All the mentioned anthology films are only a slice of what is out there. In TV shows like “Adventure Time” there are few episodes that focus on multitudes of stories that kind of overlap, and many literary magazines publish collections of short stories by different authors which can tie together in some fashion.
The anthology is not an uncommon form of media representation, but I think it doesn’t get enough attention and use by artists trying to pave their way in a culture where it is hard to make even enough money to live. I would love to see more budding artists combining together to create mass works of art in the future so I can see how the minds of collaborators make giant artistic feats.