Wes Anderson is the writer/director of four films: "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou." On the surface, his movies are known for their quirky humor, but his characters always have surprising depth. He’s considered one of the most talented directors in the business, and is also one of the very best at utilizing music in his films. While most directors will use songs as placeholders during filming, hoping to get the rights by the time they wrap, Anderson pre-approves all of his music, so that his actors know exactly which songs will be used in each scene. Many directors have used music with good results in film – just check out our list of the Top 40 Music Moments in Film History – but Anderson has an uncanny knack of taking obscure songs and using them to punctuate important moments in his films. As a result, each song takes on a completely new meaning within the world of Wes Anderson.
The following is a comprehensive (but by no means complete) summary of the music in Anderson’s films, split into two parts. IMDB.com provides a detailed list of all of the songs used in each movie – Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – but the following list, Disc One, covers some the biggest moments his in first three films. Part Two will follow shortly. All songs can be found on the movie’s soundtrack unless otherwise indicated.
Also, be sure to check out our Wes Anderson entertainer page, which contains a description of each of his movies as well as other interesting facts about his career.
Disc One: (Caution: spoilers ahead)
"Zorro is Back," Oliver Onions
This up-tempo song plays during a montage after the three friends – Dignan (Owen Wilson), Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Bob (Robert Musgrave) – rob a bookstore. Even though they’re supposed to be on the lam, they stop at a fireworks stand and Dignan proceeds to shoot bottle rockets out the car window. Oliver Onions is the pseudonym for Guido and Maurizio de Angelis, Italian musicians who have done a good bit of soundtrack work. The song provides a feeling of freedom, and the montage shows Dignan’s childlike optimism, regardless of the circumstances.
"Alone Again Or," Love (Forever
This song plays during the sequence where Anthony runs from the diner back to the hotel where he (sort of) proclaims his love for one of the maids, Inez (Lumi Cavazos). The two fall in love even though they don’t speak the same language. The song features a Latin horn solo, which ties in the cross-cultural affair.
"Over and Done With," The Proclaimers
This track plays as Dignan steals a car so that he and Anthony can head back to town. The car breaks down and Dignan goes into a hilarious rant: "What a lemon! I don’t know, one minute it’s running like a top, the next minute it’s broken down on the side of the road. And I can’t fix a car like this because I don’t have the tools to do it, man. And even if I had the tools, I can’t promise you that I’d know how to fix a car like that." The Proclaimers are mainly known for their megahit, "I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)," but "Over and Done With" underlines the end of Anthony’s affair with Inez.
"2000 Man," The Rolling Stones (Their
Satanic Majesties Request)
The Rolling Stones will allow their songs to be used in a film but, with the exception of 2002’s "Moonlight Mile," they won’t let them appear on a movie’s soundtrack. "2000 Man" plays during the final heist sequence. Mr. Henry (James Caan) is robbing Bob’s house while the three friends are attempting to rob a factory. Once the alarm sounds, Dignan sacrifices himself to save his friends and ends up in the clink.
"Making Time," The Creation
This track plays during a montage that introduces of all of Max’s (Jason Schwartzman) extracurricular activities, including the Calligraphy Club, the Fencing Team, the Bombardment (Dodgeball) Society, the Rushmore Beekeepers and the Max Fischer Players. Originally, the song didn’t do well in the US, but it’s a great example of the British mod sound, and holds its own alongside the best of the Who and the Kinks.
"Nothin’ in This World Can Stop Me Worrin’
‘Bout That Girl," The Kinks
Speaking of the Kinks, this beautiful acoustic track plays while a lethargic Herman (Bill Murray) throws golf balls into the pool at his twin sons’ birthday party. Depressed over his wife’s infidelity, he climbs the diving board (in his weathered Budweiser swim trunks), and as everyone looks on, he does a cannonball into the pool. The song continues for a moment as he stays underwater, creating a shot reminiscent of a similar scene in "The Graduate."
"Here Comes My Baby," Cat Stevens
After Max gets kicked out of Rushmore for going forward with the construction of an unapproved aquarium, this song’s lovely melody plays during a montage as Max makes "a go of it" at Grover Cleveland High School. It ends symbolically, just as Max casts schoolmate (and future girlfriend) Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka) in his new play.
"A Quick One While He’s Away," The Who
Rock’s first mini-opera spans almost nine minutes, but Anderson just uses the last four during the war montage between Max and Herman. After Max finds out about Herman and Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), he lets bees loose in Herman’s hotel room. Herman then retaliates by driving over Max’s bike. Max escalates the feud when he cuts the brake line on Herman’s car. The song hits its crescendo as Herman narrowly avoids an accident at Rushmore and Max gets arrested for his dastardly act.
"I Am Waiting," The Rolling Stones (Aftermath)
Max and Herman call a truce and meet in the cemetery. As Max leaves, Herman says, "She’s my Rushmore." Max replies, "Yeah I know. She was mine too." This track punctuates that line and leads into a depression montage where Max gets a job at his father’s barbershop. In fact, all of the main characters are pretty miserable.
"The Wind," Cat Stevens
While Max flies a kite with his friend, Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble), he runs into Margaret, and realizes that she is truly a kindred spirit. (She faked the results of her science project, so she’s a misfit too!) This beautiful track starts up immediately after this meeting and Max finally emerges from his depression. It continues as Max reaches out to an even more miserable Herman.
"Oh Yoko!," John Lennon
This delightful song plays during a montage where Max and Herman hatch a plan to finally build the aquarium for Miss Cross. Max is past his crush and he starts writing another play.
"Ooh La La," Faces
There is no song with more intrinsic nostalgia than "Ooh La La," which plays at the wrap party after the premiere of Max’s hit play. He successfully gets Herman back in Miss Cross’ good graces and Margaret announces that she is his girl. Ron Wood’s sing-a-long chorus – " I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger " – provides a perfect ending to an almost perfect movie.
"Hey Jude," The Mutato Muzika Orchestra
This instrumental plays in the background as Alec Baldwin provides the Tenenbaum back story with a terrific voiceover. The song stays pretty faithful to the Beatles’ original, and hits a crescendo just as young Richie releases his falcon, Mordecai, into the sky. The Mutato Muzika Orchestra is part of the production company founded by Mark Mothersbaugh, a former member of Devo who has scored all of Anderson’s films.
"Look at Me," John Lennon
This poignant song plays as Chas (Ben Stiller) moves back into the Tenenbaum house with his two sons. He’s still reeling from the death of his wife and John Lennon’s lyrics paint a bleak picture of his state of mind.
"These Days," Nico
Nico’s distinct vocals and the song’s lovely melody provide the background as Margo (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets off the Green Line bus to pick up her brother. The scene is shot in slow motion to magnify its importance. Richie (Luke Wilson) is in love with (the adopted) Margo, and this is the first time he’s seen her in a long, long while. Surprisingly, the song was written by Jackson Browne.
That wraps up Part One, but there is still a lot more music to cover. Check back next week for Part Two.