Just when it seemed Quentin Tarantino was safe on his throne as king of the American soundtrack, along came Wes Anderson and his Euro-Art sensibilities and knocked him clean off. From B-sides to Bollywood, Bowie to Britten, Wes Anderson’s soundtracks are as exquisitely crafted as the films themselves.
ABCKO Records are set to release a box set with all of his soundtracks later this year (no doubt it will be achingly tasteful in its design), so now seemed a good as time as any to have a look at the elegant Texan’s musical inclinations, as well as giving props to the people who help him indulge them.
Anderson is justly famous for his use of existing music, but Mark Mothersbaugh, who scored the Anderson’s first four films (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), deserves credit for helping Anderson create his unique style.
Below is a song called The Hardest Geometry Problem in the World, taken from the opening scene of Rushmore. It neatly shows the wonky genius Mothersbaugh brought to the table – gasp as he takes a melody through the Baroque period and into the gypsy jazz age.
As well as scoring films (The Lego Movie being the most recent example), Mothersbaugh has also written for TV, where his credits include the almighty Rugrats theme.
Better yet, Mothersbaugh also happens to be a founding member of the art-rock band Devo, one of the most interesting bands of the New Wave, best known for their 1980 smash, Whip It.
The scene below (taken fromThe Life Aquatic) features the song Gut Feeling from the band’s first, and finest, album: Q – Are We Not Men? A- We Are Devo!
(This scene is also a good example of a classic Wes Anderson camera technique, namely, the exquisitely choreographed tracking shot that takes in a world of action and detail. He’s used it in all of his films to great effect.)
Satyajit Ray and Randall Poster
Satyajit Ray was a prolific Bengali auteur who wrote, directed, and even scored his own films. Anderson cites him as a major inspiration for the Darjeeling Limited, a film which is unfairly reviled by critics, though in my opinion it’s one of his most accessible and entertaining works. It features songs from a number of Bollywood films, including several by Ray.
Anderson’s longtime music supervisor, Randall Poster, had to travel all the way to Calcutta to get hold of Ray’s music for the film. In an interview in Rolling Stone, Poster explains that he had to convince the Satyajit Ray Family and Foundation to digitize the original master tapes, as the music wasn’t available on CD.
The song below is Charu’s Theme, a short piece taken from the Ray’s Charulata. It’s a lovely little song, which sits perfectly aboard Anderson’s meticulously designed train. (It’s also the DVD menu music, and I can tell you from experience that there are way worse menu screens to pass out in front of.)
In the same interview for Rolling Stone, Poster revealed how he and Anderson have accumulated a “vault” full of songs, a soundtrack waiting for a film.
One example of a song from their vault is Le Temps de L’Amour, the sexy French number that plays while Sam and Suzy dance on the beach in Moonrise Kingdom. Poster and Anderson had apparently discovered it while searching through songs for a Japanese commercial.
Another example is The Bobby Fuller Four’s Let Her Dance, a song they’d had on hold for ten years, which eventually provided the perfect accompaniment to the supermarket dance that ends Fantastic Mr Fox.
(I’m afraid I couldn’t find a video of that scene alone, but the one below is still pretty cool.)
With Anderson’s latest film, the excellent Grand Budapest Hotel, being entirely scored by the prolific French film composer Alexandre Desplat, some critics wondered if this was to be the end of his jukebox style soundtracks. Poster, however, assured Rolling Stone that he and Wes still have a number of songs hidden away in their safe, just waiting for the right moment.
Who knows what forgotten gems they still have in store?
You might also enjoy a short piece I wrote last year about Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola and their use of music. It can be found here.