American filmmaker Wes Anderson traffics in his own special brand of film making. He creates movies that are often enigmatic, deeply affecting, but also carry the aura of not being of this world. They are visually rich, animated movies that are made in live-action form, each colored with Anderson’s certain style of – well, I’ll let The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis explain:
Like many of Mr. Anderson’s films, including his last one, the truly fantastic “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” there’s a deliberate, self-conscious once-upon-a-time quality to “Moonrise Kingdom.”
That “deliberate, self-conscious once-upon-a-time quality” is exactly what helps define the cinematic world crafted by – and some would argue, only by – Wes Anderson. It’s easy to glimpse at a single frame from one of his movies and identify it unequivocally as a “Wes Anderson film”. But, as stunning and clever as they often are, we aren’t here to talk about Anderson’s signature visuals. This is SongLyrics.com, dammit, so we’re here to discuss music.
For anyone who has seen even just one of Anderson’s movies, they know just how important a role the film’s music plays in the overall telling of the story. In fact, his soundtracks are themselves often gems, exploring and expanding the artistic definition of what a soundtrack can actually be. In an Anderson movie, the music is its own unspoken character: organically adding another layer of depth to the film and just as integral to the emotional journey of the tale as any of its celluloid characters.
But he doesn’t do it alone: the man that helps make all of this musical magic possible is Randall Poster. In addition to having served as music supervisor for each of Wes Anderson’s films, save one (Bottle Rocket), the widely-respected Poster has also been music supervisor to a slew of other high profile and critically-acclaimed projects alike, including Hugo, Up in the Air, Zodiac, The Aviator, Lost (2006-2007), I’m Not There, Revolutionary Road, and Velvet Goldmine. Additionally, he is currently working on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
In their collaborations, Anderson and Poster have typically relied on the vintage rock legends hailing from the golden age of vinyl. Music by such artists as the Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie have been frequently tapped over the years. In a recent interview with NPR, Poster discussed his work with Anderson and even remarked at the amount of Rolling Stones music he and Anderson have used, going so far as to say the Stones seem to have become their unofficial “house band”.
On May 25th, Wes Anderson’s most recent film (with Poster again acting as music supervisor), Moonrise Kingdom, opened to stellar reviews. And because I thought it would be a fun nostalgic indulgence for me, ummm I mean all involved, I decided to revisit the music used in each of Anderson’s past films. Away we go…
Bottle Rocket (1996)
This film marked Wes Anderson’s feature film directorial debut (he had previously directed a short by the same name upon which this feature was based). Musically speaking, the use of the Rolling Stone’s “2000 Man” to score the action as Digman (Owen Wilson) rushes back to the scene of the crime to try to save his friend is next to perfect. The song perfectly encapsulates the character and everything he embodies: it’s his theme. In a 2000 article in Esquire magazine, Martin Scorsese cited the scene, saying:
“…I also love the scene in Bottle Rocket when Owen Wilson’s character, Dignan, says, ‘They’ll never catch me, man, ’cause I’m fuckin’ innocent.’ Then he runs off to save one of his partners in crime and gets captured by the police, over “2000 Man” by the Rolling Stones. He – and the music – are proclaiming who he really is: He’s not innocent in the eyes of the law, but he’s truly an innocent. For me, it’s a transcendent moment. And transcendent moments are in short supply these days.”
The use of The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away” during the escalating feud montage between Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman’s characters is just one of the many memorable moments in a fantastically fun film that is enhanced even further by some brilliant soundtrack work.
Songs included (but limited to): “The Wind” and “Here Comes My Baby” by Cat Stevens, “I Am Waiting” by The Rolling Stones, “Nothin’ In This World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl” by The Kinks, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” by The Who, “Rue St. Vincent” by Yves Montand, “Oh Yoko” by John Lennon, and “Ooh La La” by The Faces
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
This soundtrack is a veritable tour through some of rock ‘n roll’s greats. Each song serves the story and miraculously never distracts from what is being told up on the screen; in fact, every musical number here – from the rock to the pop to the indie folk – feels absolutely necessary and it is hard to imagine scenes like this, this, or this without them.
Songs included (but not limited to): “Judy is a Punk” by The Ramones, “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” by Paul Simon, “Ruby Tuesday” and “She Smiled Sweetly” by The Rolling Stones, “These Days” (Jackson Brown cover) by Nico, “Everyone” by Van Morrison, “Hey Jude” (Beatles cover) performed by The Mutato Muzika Orchestra, “Wigwam” and “Billy (Main Title)” by Bob Dylan, “Police and Thieves, by The Clash, “Christmas Time is Here” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and “Needle in the Hay” by Elliott Smith
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Though it isn’t generally regarded as Anderson’s best cinematic effort, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has a killer soundtrack. It leans heavily on a slew of enchanting David Bowie covers as done by Brazilian artist Seu Jorge. There is also a number by the beloved Icelandic band, Sigur Ros which will knock your socks off.
Songs included (but not limited to): “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Rebel Rebel”, “Starman”, “Lady Stardust”, “Space Oddity”, “Five Years”, “Life on Mars?”, “When I Live My Dream” and “Queen Bitch” – all David Bowie covers by Seu Jorge, “Gut Feeling” by Devo, “Here’s to You” by Ennio Morricone and Joan Baez, “Passacaglia in C Minor” by Johann Sebastian Bach, and “Staralfur” by Sigur Rós
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
My personal favorite of Anderson’s films (I am often alone in this opinion, though I love Tenenbaums and Mr. Fox just as much as the next gal), Darjeeling expertly weaves the likes of The Kinks, Debussy, and scores from past Indian motion pictures into a heartbreaking and affecting comedy-drama about grief, family, despair, and reconciliation. The use of “Strangers” by The Kinks alone in this film is both powerful and jaw-dropping.
Songs included (but not limited to): “Powerman”, “Strangers” and “This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks, “Play With Fire” by The Rolling Stones, “Debussy: 3. Clair de Lune (Suite Bergamasque)”, “Charu’s Theme”, “Montage”,”The Deserted Ballroom” and “Ruku’s Room” all by by Satyajit Ray, and “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt
Hotel Chevalier (2007, short)
This short film is an intriguing companion piece to The Darjeeling Limited and serves as a prologue to the feature-length film. The song, “Where Do you Go To (My Lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt is about a fictional woman named Marie-Claire who grows up and to live a glamorous but tenuous lifestyle that, it is alluded to, has not brought her much happiness. It may be considered a reference to Natalie Portman’s enigmatic character, or possibly Jason Schwartzman’s, or both. The song is then (depending on your outlook) painfully and/or hilariously played and re-played by Schwartzman’s despondent character in Darjeeling.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
This joyful caper film based on the anti-fable by Roald Dahl is simply lovely. It’s quaint stop-motion feel of the animation may not be everyone who prefers a more polished execution, but the homespun style of the movie is what I found to be the most charming (not to mention, visually arresting). And I think that was precisely the point: that deliberate playfulness and nostalgia for childhood make believe is supposed to echo the plays and puppets we animated ourselves in our youth, using whatever stuffed animals, dolls, or action figures were available to us. And of course, the slyness and wit of our main animal characters get me every time. The songs used here – from The Beach Boys to Burl Ives – enhance the “days of youthful yore” quality of the film. But it is “Let Her Dance” by The Bobby Fuller Four that is the real standout. The emotional life of the song truly embodies the real freewheelin’ style of our characters and is a fitting musical bookend to the film.
Songs included (but not limited to): “I Get Around”, “Ol’ Man River” and “Heroes and Villains” by the Beach Boys, “Une petite île” (music from François Truffaut Film “Two English Girls” (1971) by Georges Delerue, “Buckeye Jim” by Burl Ives, “Fooba Wooba John” by Burl Ives, “Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones, and “Let Her Dance” by Bobby Fuller Four
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Though the music to be found in this latest cinematic work is a departure from British Invasion and other rock Hall of Fame greats Anderson and Poster have traditionally used in the past, the soundtrack is no less integral or moving. The film opens with Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Persons’s Guide to the Orchestra” (remember “Peter and the Wolf”?) and then integrates are a variety of Hank Williams songs along the way. It may sound like an odd musical mash up for a soundtrack, but believe me when I say it beautifully fits the story like a glove.
Songs included (but not limited to): “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” by Benjamin Britten, “Kaw-Liga”, “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” and “Ramblin’ Man” by Hank Williams, along with a score by French composer Alexandre Desplat