Moonlight Mile: The Audio Adventures Of Wes Anderson
Monday, 2 April 2018
An introduction to the director's expert use of sound...
For the past 22 years, director Wes Anderson has been creating meticulously produced gems filled with unforgettable imagery and singular characters. His off-kilter scripts, instantly recognisable visual style, and overall charm have made him one of the 21st century's most celebrated auteurs - and quite rightly so. Love him or hate him, Anderson's attention to detail and talent at world building have made him an icon.
Key in part to his success has always been his impeccable use of song. Much like Tarantino, Anderson uses a jukebox quality when approaching his soundtracks, grabbing pop songs, classical pieces and even music from other flicks to add a surprising, yet emotive tone to his work. It's just one of the many trademarks that continue to garner him new generations of fans.
With this week seeing the release of his ninth feature Isle Of Dogs, we thought it a prudent time to jump into his filmography and press play...
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*Bottle Rocket* (1996)
Anderson's crime-caper debut has many of the hallmarks that made his name, albeit in a more unpolished fashion. Made when he was just 25, the film was a box-office disappointment but did manage to receive plaudits from critics and filmmakers, including one Martin Scorsese.
Despite its low budget, the film is still chock-full of unique charm, helped in part by an eclectic soundtrack featuring Cha Cha artist René Touzet, The Proclaimers and Psych pop group Love.
"They'll never catch me, man... because I'm fucking innocent."
The Stone's '2000 Man' perfectly accompanies Owen Wilson's Diggan as he flees from the police. A blueprint for not only Anderson's brilliant use of tracking shots, but also his natural ability to combine the farcical with the emotional.
The director's second feature is the first where his customary themes and flourishes really began to take shape. Jason Schwartzman's Max Fisher and Bill Murray's Herman Blume are both insufferable human beings, but endlessly watchable. Their rivalry for the heart of widowed elementary teacher Rosemary Cross is filled with petty revenge and endlessly quotable dialogue.
Originally the entire soundtrack was to be composed of songs by The Kinks, this however changed during filming. In the end, Anderson opted for mainly a mix of 60s and 70s greats including Cat Stevens, John Lennon and Donovan.
“I SAVED LATIN… What’d you ever do?”
While Max and Rosemary's reconciliation dance to the Faces 'Ooh La La' is a sweet and touching finale, The Who's 'A Quick One, While He's Away', soundtracking the inventive ways Fisher and Blume *screw each other over*, fits the film's wit like a glove.
*The Royal Tenenbaums* (2001)
On paper, the lives of an affluent yet wildly dysfunctional family might seem like a bore, or at least unrelatable. Not so with the Tenenbaums, a confused and ill-balanced group of child prodigies stuck with an eccentric absentee father, emotional scars, and great fashion sense.
While some contemporary critics found Anderson's whimsical style and obsessive design nearing irritating, it still garnered an Oscar nomination for its screenplay and is now regarded as one of the noughties greatest pictures.
Picking up where Rushmore left off, the soundtrack is filled with classics by The Clash, The Velvet Underground as well as less obvious numbers from Dylan and Nick Drake.
"That's the last time you put a knife in me!"
Anderson's *choice of Nico's 'These Days'* as Richie and Margot reunite is pure magic, however the later use of Elliot Smith's 'Needle In The Hay' during Richie's suicide attempt is truly gut-wrenching. Arguably still the most powerful scene he's committed to film.
*The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou* (2004)
Co-written with Noah Baumbach, Anderson's marine-themed comedy is unashamedly quirky, at times utterly ridiculous, but ultimately rewarding if you can tap into the surreal trip. There are Jaguar Sharks, pirates, and pregnant reporters all on offer, the hijinks often accompanied by Bowie tracks sang in Portuguese.
While these acoustic covers by Seu Jorge have become synonymous with the feature, The Thin White Duke a fan of them himself, there's more to enjoy. Scott Walker's '30 Century Man' makes a welcome appearance, as does The Zombies 'The Way I Feel Inside' and The Stooges ever incendiary 'Search And Destroy'.
"Don't point that gun at him, he's an unpaid intern."
While Jorge's easy charm is a key to the film's appeal, frequent Anderson collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh's bombastic score is a real driving force for the action, no more so than during Ping Island / Lightning Strike Rescue Op.
*The Darjeeling Limited* (2007)
More family feuds for the director's fifth feature, this time Adrien Brody joining veteran collaborator Owen Wilson and a returning Jason Schwartzman.
A tale of brotherly love, grief, and coming to terms with your past, the film is gorgeously shot on location in India, Anderson deciding to pepper in music composed by Bengali filmmaking icon Satyajit Ray. It's a bold choice, but one that pays off handsomely, numbers such as 'Charu's Theme' from Ray's 1964 classic Charulata adding a sense of texture and wonder.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Wes Anderson movie without some vintage guitar music, The Rolling Stones' 'Play With Fire' also cropping up for good measure.
"I love you, too, but I'm going to mace you in the face!"
The Davies brothers gained a lot from The Darjeeling Limited, The Kinks being introduced to a whole new generation of hip fans. Three non-singles from 1970's 'Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One' were selected, 'Powerman' itself accompanying the finale where the three brothers emotionally and physically get rid of their baggage.
*Fantastic Mr. Fox *(2009)
Anderson's first animated feature and adaptation proved that no matter the medium, he could put his stamp on it. Roald Dahl's classic children's novel was a perfect match for the filmmaker's chaotic yet sweet tone, George Clooney and Meryl Streep leading a cast of regulars and even family members.
Working with French composer Alexandre Desplat for the first time, the film's soundtrack is as light-footed as its hero, filled with banjos, bouncing brass and breezy flute work. Elsewhere, the nonsense of Burt Ives' "Fooba Wooba John" is perfect for the film's country setting while The Beach Boys' 'Heroes And Villains' lays on some laid-back charm.
"I understand what you're saying, and your comments are valuable, but I'm going to ignore your advice."
The prize has to go to Jarvis Cocker's 'Fantastic Mr. Fox AKA Petey's Song'. Not only does it go over the narrative in true children's film fashion, the manner in which Michael Gambon's Bean lambaste's him for 'weak songwriting' is simply hilarious.
*Moonrise Kingdom* (2012)
Ditching adult screw ups for a couple of introverted tearaways, Anderson's coming of age tale is a love letter to childhood summers.
Opting out of his usual mix of vintage rock classics, Anderson leans on another playful score by Alexandre Desplat, as well as excerpts from Benjamin Britten's 'The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra'.
Both match Sam and Suzy's New England set adventure to tee, the hazy Super 16mm film and woodland setting adding a tangible sense of nostalgia. A couple of Hank Williams numbers help add bounce to their star-crossed tale.
"We're in love, we just wanna be together...what's wrong with that?"
As obvious as it is, Suzy and Sam's little beach boogie to Françoise Hardy's 'Le Temps de l'Amour' is awkward perfection. The pre-teen runaways dance is filled with all the excitement and apprehension of first love. They successfully got away... but what now?
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*The Grand Budapest Hotel *(2014)
A 1930s set murder mystery revolving around a missing oil painting and an eccentric concierge, Anderson's eighth feature became his most critically admired. Nabbing BAFTA's, Golden Globes and a few Academy Awards, including Best Score, 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' managed to combine the director's meticulous world-building with a new sense of maturity and scale.
His most esoteric use of music to date, the whole feature is accompanied by another masterful score by Alexandre Desplat, bar the use of some traditional Russian folk. No Stones or French language track in sight.
"Did he just throw my cat out of the window?"
It's hard to pick just one moment from Desplat's balalaika filled soundtrack, but the raising and conspiratorial 'The Society Of The Crossed Keys' is a real treat.
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Isle Of Dogs is at cinemas now.
Words:* Sam Walker-Smart*
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