Telling a story with visual medium alone was quickly kicked to the curb as cinema quickly became a multimedia event. But while the introduction of scores and dialogue offered up another textured level to how directors could set out their storytelling stall, it is the use of pop music that really makes an impact. Though famed for his unwavering aesthetic, it’s something Wes Anderson noticed and quickly jumped on when he began his own directorial career.
Much like the indiewood contemporaries of Anderson, the director has always been smart enough to include some of the finest pop music into his filmography. Using the songs that we all know and love to not only enhance the stories unfolding before us, but also to embolden them with a sense of attainability that can otherwise be lost. To put it simply, if Anderson is telling the story of what he would perceive as normal people, then they should be accompanied by normal music too. Below, we’ve got ten musical moments in Wes Anderson films that made us squeal.
So prevalent is Anderson’s use of pop music in his scores that when his latest film Isle of Dogs arrived without a single scrap of golden-age pop pomp, we let out a collective sigh. The director has been an unsanctioned champion of the sixties sounds for much of his directorial career, so it landed like a shock to not include any in his latest film.
From the very beginning, Anderson has made sure that there is a grain of reality in all of his films. From the very first picture Bottle Rocket, Anderson ensured that his characters were given the ample backdrop of The Rolling Stones and Love. As time moved on, and so did his stories, the director still found room to included more rock stars of old, with David Bowie playing a central figure in his 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Pop music means as much to Wes Anderson as the film itself.
Therefore, finding ten of his greatest musical moments was pretty easy to do. However, to cut the plethora of different scenes we had lined up down to just ten, is the real difficulty.
10 best musical moments in Wes Anderson films:
‘Ooh La La’ by Faces – Rushmore (1998)
Perhaps the film that launched Wes Anderson’s care with some serious intent, Rushmore is a unique film that deserves the star-studded soundtrack it received. Across the board, the film is littered with opportune pop moments. But perhaps our favourite is the closing scene when our protagonist Max convinces the DJ to drop his dinner party jazz in favour of this classic.
The Faces may have only released a few albums but their work is no less iconic. This song, ‘Ooh La La’ may well be their most famous and works effortlessly within this scene. “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger,” is the perfect final lines for a coming-of-age film about a young man finding his way in the world.
‘Life on Mars’ by David Bowie – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
If rumours are to be believed, Wes Anderson was extremely keen on titling his 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou with the byline, ‘Featuring Music by David Bowie’. That’s because the Starman has a hand in almost all of the most impressive and imposing scenes.
There are Bowie moments all over the film, with his songs ‘Starman’ and ‘Changes’ included in the film but in Portuguese, with Seu Jorge providing translation for these and some notable other tracks which end up closing the film. That said, none are quite as powerful as this inclusion of ‘Life On Mars’.
As Zissou, played handsomely by Bill Murray, is confronted by both his past and his future in the form of a son he never really knew he had, Bowie’s classic song plays in the background. The grand orchestral sound, the otherworldly notion and the sense of disbelief all accurately play out alongside Murray’s own performance. It’s expertly aligned.
‘Judy Is A Punk’ by Ramones – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The New York City punks the Ramones are a perfect fit for any modern film. Not only did they have a habit of creating covers that sounded like three-chord juggernaut but they could pretty much present any song in the world and make it perfect for a montage.
The band manage to fit in their expert single ‘Judy Is A Punk’ within the three-minute mark and Anderson does an equally bang-up job to work the song into his 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums. The music works to perfectly capture the eccentric love life of Margot Tenenbaum, never letting up for a minute, it really encapsulates the mood of the piece.
‘Making Time’ by The Creation – Rushmore (1998)
Jason Schwarzman arguably gave the performance of his career in the very early stages of it. Taking on the role of Rushmore‘s own perenially irritating school-loving know-it-all Max may have seemed a risk but he pulled it off with the ease and comfort of a true veteran.
While Max is certainly a love of school, he’s not so keen on the school work that goes with it. Instead, he rather prefers the extra-curricular activities the school can provide. The Creation’s song ‘Making Time’ therefore works as the perfect accompaniment to the scene where we see Max busying himself with everything but actually doing the work the school had asked him to do.
‘Le Temps De L’Amour’ by Francoise Hardy – Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
It’s easy to drop in a crooning French number to add a little class to proceedings yet Wes Anderson uses the work of Francoise Hardy so delicately that you’d imagine he was still scared of employing the cinematic trope. The song works as the charming backdrop for the love of Sam and Suzy, the film’s protagonists.
The two kids in question present their touching story like a sweet-as-candy tableau of how butterflies are supposed to feel in your stomach. This scene, in particular, is extremely beguiling and with the inclusion of the song, the cute camera angles and the excitement of the moment, this is arguably one scene that typifies everything that is great about Anderson’s filmmaking.
Naturally, Francoise Hardy’s song is lilting and gentle, providing itself as the perfect canvas for a new expression.
‘2000 Man’ by The Rolling Stones – Bottle Rocket (1991)
Let’s go right back to the very beginning and see how Anderson’s 1991 feature film Bottle Rocket set the scene for all of Anderson’s following soundtracks. Using the searing sixties to underpin his story, Anderson lets ‘2000 Man’ by The Rolling Stones juxtapose the storyline unfolding in front of us.
As our protagonist, Dignan’s troubles continue to swell, and the sweet smell of freedom gets further and further away from his nostrils, Anderson uses The Rolling Stones’ hazy number to undercut the feelings of entrapment.
Much like Scorsese before him, rather than use the music to affirm his point, he uses the Stones to counterbalance his narrative.
‘These Days’ by Nico – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Some songs are just made for movies and Nico’s beautiful number ‘These Days’ is certainly one example. A piece constructed around the theme of feeling out of sync with the changing world around you is perfect cinematic fodder for any filmmaker but, in the hands of Wes Anderson, its use is devastatingly wonderful.
Used as part of The Royal Tenenbaums, Nico’s song is now inextricably linked to the characters of Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Richie (Luke Wilson). The song plays as Margot steps off the bus into a brand new facet of the storyline. It allows the scene’s gravity to land more acutely, and allows the details within the frame to shine more brightly than ever.
With this song, gorgeous as it is alone, the scene pops and the details that may have escaped us are magnified. The truth is, we will never be able to hear this song again without picturing Margot and Richie.
‘Strangers’ by The Kinks – Darjeeling Limited (2006)
If there’s one thing that always needs some killer music in movies, it has to be the slow-motion walking scene. Most films will have them and, usually, the scenes will be leading to a pivotal moment in the story, or showing the unity of the characters in the frame. For Anderson’s 2006 indie charmer Darjeeling Ltd. we have a heavy dose of both.
Not only is the song wholly appropriate for the film — the three brothers at the centre of the picture have spent much of their recent lives living as strangers to one another — but also is one of The Kinks’ most significant numbers. Yes, the scene may well be one of the more usual tropes used within cinema, but it’s no less impactful.
Much of that is down to the story at hand but one cannot deny the use of The Kinks and suggest they didn’t have a little something to do with it.
‘Heroes and Villains’ by The Beach Boys – Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
The wonderful children’s story of Fantastic Mr Fox was taken under Anderson’s wing in 2009 and given a stop-motion makeover that few could have imagined. With a stellar cast and arguably one of the finest fox performances in cinema history, those who were worried Hollywood would sully their favourite tale, had nothing to worry about.
As well as the beautiful production on the film, Anderson also uses a clear sense of right and wrong to underpin his movie. Though relying heavily on Roald Dahl’s text for direction, Anderson’s choice to use The Beach Boys classic ‘Heroes & Villains’ as our heroes face certain doom, is the mark of a true cinematic genius.
Subtle and suitable, the song’s inclusion still provides all of the refrain we need to deal with the scene at hand.
‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)’ by Peter Sarstedt – Hotel Chevalier (2007)
A short film but with no less need for musical inclusion. In fact, we’d argue that without the clever choice of romantic music within this Natalie Portman and Jason Schwarzman led production; Hotel Chevalier may not have found as many fans as it did. But that’s not the case — Anderson’s choices are perfect, and the fans of this short film are plentiful.
The song that underpins it all is ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)’ by Pete Sarstedt. Not necessarily a barnstormer, the song subtly flies under the radar as a piece of pop gold. Natalie Portman’s character realises it when she says “what’s this music?” giggling how only people in French hotels can.
Soon enough, the moments between Portman and Schwarzman’s Jack become charged, and the song that had been so playful takes on a brand new meaning.