Film soundtracks can heighten every emotion of a film, and if there’s anybody who knows about the value of this dimension, then it’s Wes Anderson. For the 2001 feature film The Royal Tenenbaums, he even hatched a plan to include The Beatles in his work, but George Harrison’s ill health would prove to be the unfortunate thorn in his side.
“Some of the ideas are kind of inspired by the songs, and I always want to use music to tell the story and give the movie a certain kind of mood,” Anderson once commented. “That’s always essential to me.” He expertly uses the sphere of sound to enhance and propel the narratives in his films even further.
It’s an essential skill of storytelling that Anderson has mastered, but things haven’t always gone as he initially envisaged. The filmmaker has had to rethink his ideas on the fly when circumstances throw up a red herring that forces him to completely change his vision, but sometimes things work out for the best.
The Royal Tenenbaums is an example of Anderson thinking on his feet when it comes to adversity. The motion picture is the third film of his career, and following the success of Rushmore, he had an allure attached to his name that meant that getting illustrious names like Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman and Danny Glover to appear in his work was no longer out of reach.
For the soundtrack, Anderson got the green light to use Paul Simon, Nico, John Lennon, The Rolling Stones and Nick Drake, but getting the go-ahead from George Harrison to use ‘Hey Jude’ was an impossible task due to the former Beatle’s cancer battle.
“We had gone through a long process of trying to get permission for these Beatles songs and in those days they weren’t doing it,” Anderson explained to IndieWire in 2014. “That changed but at that time we were trying to break the thing and get it to happen. The problem was we had some pretty good ins. We’d used some John Lennon music in Rushmore and Yoko Ono, I always had a feeling that she’s been supportive of me, even though I don’t know her.
“Paul McCartney had seen [Tenenbaums] and he said yes, but George Harrison was sick and dying,” Anderson added. “You had to get everybody to sign off and George was just not possible, no one was going to say, ‘Oh before you die could you please watch this movie and tell us whether we can use the music for it?'”.
With that in mind, Anderson decided that the next best thing would be to get Elliot Smith to take on the track instead. Sadly, he was going through problems of his own, and the cover didn’t end up sounding how the director or the singer had dreamt up in their heads.
“So then we got Elliot Smith,” he continued. “Then I thought I’d like to see if Elliot Smith could do this. He did a version but he wasn’t in a great mental or physical space at the time and it just was not a successful recording session. It was kind of a mess.”
Adding: “He did ‘Hey Jude’ but he wasn’t happy with it and it didn’t really work. He wasn’t comfortable with the whole situation it seems. Then at the last minute I got asked by Mark Mothersbaugh, ‘Can we do this?’ Mark and [music supervisor] George Drakoulias and I, we just went in and very quickly we did the whole thing and we had good revisions and Mark just made it happen. And then it was fine.”
Anderson still got his way and made sure ‘Hey Jude’ found its way onto the screen. However, it wasn’t the original or Smith’s version that appeared on the final cut with Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh’s orchestra Mutato Muzika’s attempt on the classic now engrained into cinematic history.