Common sense tells us that Joan Baez and Iggy & The Stooges don’t belong on the same mixtape, nor do The Clash and Erik Satie. But Wes Anderson and his musical supervisor Randall Poster make it work on their soundtracks, pulling buried gems out of pop, punk, classical, Bollywood and other esoteric genres with the dainty grace common to Anderson’s characters.
Stylistically vibrant as his cinematography may be, the soundtracks to Anderson’s movies are arguably as distinct, and definitely more influential to the casual consumer. You can’t imagine your average schmo walking out of “Rushmore” and into a French film phase, but you can picture them getting really into The Faces.
While his visual choices have only refined into a tight formula, Anderson’s musical selections have changed considerably over the years. To mark the release of his latest film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” we take a look at Anderson’s most pivotal soundtracks.
Anderson’s first box office movie started off as a short film, featuring classic jazz numbers like John Coltrane and Duke Ellington’s “Stevie” and Artie Shaw’s swinging “The Chant.” Though less than 15 minutes long, he managed to cram in eight songs, an early showing of the premium he’d put on music throughout his career.
Likely owing to licensing costs, the full-length commercial release scrapped the big name jazz songs. Instead, the soundtrack was cut chiefly by Mark Mothersbaugh, co-founder of Devo and mastermind of the recent Lego Movie’s synth-y soundtrack. For “Bottle Rocket,” Mothersbaugh left the red cone hats and electronics in storage, favoring an organic palette of acoustic instruments. A few outside tracks like The Rolling Stones’ “2000 Man” (see above) and the Proclaimers’ “Over and Done With” lent the film moments of sonic familiarity in key plot moments.
Anderson had originally intended for the soundtrack to his next film, “Rushmore,” to be composed entirely of songs by British rock band the Kinks. But as filming progressed, he decided to use less and less of the quartet, until only “Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl” remained.
As great as that moment is, the film’s finest musical set piece—one that set the tone for music’s crucial role in his films—occurs in the final scene, when Rushmore gets the slow dance he’s long pined for. It fits so perfectly, it would come as little surprise if Anderson had the song in mind when he wrote the scene. Watch it above.
The Royal Tenenbaums
There are a couple of reasons “The Royal Tenenbaums” was Anderson’s break-out success. It was the first movie that nailed his mix of idiosyncratic comedy and drama; it featured A-list celebrities like Bill Murray, Gweneth Paltrow and Gene Hackman; and had some actual likable protagonists in Richie and Margo Tenenbaum.
No less crucial was its soundtrack, a love letter to the pop and rock of the 70s and 80s. Some choices are obvious—the Velvet Underground’s “Stephanie Says” and Emmit Rhodes’ “Lullaby” are cut from the same ethereal cloth as Anderson’s visuals. Others, decidedly not, like The Ramones’ “Judy Is A Punk” and Bob Dylan’s bizarre instrumental “Wigwam,” from the oft-maligned “Self Portrait.” Aside from the beautiful use of Nico in the bus scene above, the film’s features a stroke of scoring genius later on, when Elliot Smith’s “Needle In The Hay” is set to a character’s attempted suicide. It’s unshakeable, and for many, the first taste of Smith’s gutting music.
The Darjeeling Limited
“The Darjeeling Limited” marks a major departure for WA. Most of the film’s music is taken from old Bollywood films. Many were so obscure that the master tapes had to be tracked down by music supervisor Randall Poster in person (as if Anderson didn’t have hipster cred enough).
It’s appropriate, because the film takes place in India. True to form for him, the soundtrack sheds light on songs that many viewers would have never known they liked (or experienced at all) had they not seen the movie. “Darjeeling” also used a couple of Kinks songs (like for the closing scene in the clip above), a known penchant, and a song called “Where Do You Go To My Lovely” by Peter Starstedt that was featured heavily in the film’s promotional prologue, “Hotel Chavalier.” A fitting choice: born into a British family, Starstedt spent the first twelve years of his life living in India back when it was still a colony of Britain.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
There’s something peculiar about the trailer to Wes Anderson’s latest film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” It’s not the casting—standbys like Willem Defoe and Adrian Brody make an appearance; it’s not the cinematography, which is as painstakingly framed as ever.
It’s the music. There isn’t a bar of a song that’s recognizable in the two-and-a-half minute teaser. Like “Bottle Rocket” before it, it has an almost completely original score, with most of its compositions owed to French film composer Alexandre Desplat, who also worked on 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom” for Anderson. Unlike that movie, you won’t hear a chord of Hank Williams or any other recognizable lyrics in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”: it’s the first Wes Anderson film to feature an all-instrumental soundtrack.
You can stream the soundtrack for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” on Spotify here.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s all-purpose news blogger and album reviewer. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.