5 Best Music Scenes in Wes Anderson Movies

When shelling out for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” this week (for those of you in New York And L.A. of course, the rest of the country has to wait a week), Wes Anderson fans can be certain their favorite filmmaker will pepper his newest effort with a few of his stylistic quirks: stylishly dressed characters, meticulous set design, an appearance by a Wilson brother, and of course, a few scenes scored to retro pop music. The latter has been a major part of Anderson’s style since 1996’s “Bottle Rocket,” and reached its peak with 2004’s overstuffed “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Taking a cue from his idol Martin Scorsese, Anderson at his best uses the music to take the scene to a magical, transcendent level — at his worst, a good song distracts from the on-screen action. Here’s a list of our favorite music scenes from each of Anderson’s films:

“Bottle Rocket”: Oliver Onions “Zorro Is Back” – Anderson’s first film features a surprising number of pop music selections, considering the limited budget. Though the uses of songs by bigger acts like The Rolling Stones’ “2000 Man” and Love’s “Alone Again Or” and even the stateside one-hit wonders Proclaimers’ “Over and Done With” are all used memorably, the one that wins out for both song quality and use in the film is Oliver Onions’ “Zorro Is Back.” Oliver Onions was the recording name of Italian brother duo Guido and Maurizio de Angelis, who did soundtrack and song work for a number of Italian films. “Zorro Is Back,” unsurprisingly, comes from the soundtrack of a 1975 Italian version of the masked hero. Anderson uses the song during the “on the lam” montage where the gang buys and shoots fireworks from their car right after Anthony (Luke Wilson) has found that Dignan (Owen Wilson) has been keeping the truth about the legendary Mr. Henry (James Caan) from him. The snippet of the jaunty, South of the Border-influenced tune fits Dignan’s “inappropriate” happiness (as Anthony calls it) so perfectly, that we can forgive Anderson for cutting off the rest of this beautiful tune. Unfortunately the scene isn’t on YouTube, but the song is. For more check out a feature we did on all the music featured in “Bottle Rocket.”

“Rushmore”: The Who – “A Quick One While He’s Away” – With a bigger budget, Anderson was able to make the soundtrack to his sophomore effort something of a British Invasion primer, featuring classic rock mainstays the Faces, Donovan, and, his favorites, The Kinks (Anderson had originally planned to use Kinks music exclusively for the film). Let’s face it, musically, none of his other films compare here and we could have easily picked five selections from “Rushmore” alone (springing to mind: the iconic Creation, “Makin’ Time” montage sequence, the show-stoppingly melancholy “I Am Waiting” by the Rolling Stones, the hilarious use of John Lennon’s “Oh Yoko!” while Bill Murray’s Herman Blume and Jason Schwartzman’s Max Fischer pop wheelies in unison) the one we picked is so good, effective and unexpected, that we can’t overlook it. Using the third and final part of the band’s eight-and-a-half minute mini-rock opera (“The Kids Are Alright” version, not the Live at Leeds version found on the soundtrack album and used in the original trailer, but the one from the Rolling Stones’ Rock N’ Roll Circus album and movie), the cue plays over the film’s “revenge sequence,” beginning with Max using his considerable beekeeper skills on Blume’s hotel room and ending with the cops carrying Max away for cutting the brakes on Blume’s Rolls Royce. With all due respect to Mr. Townsend and co., this song will forever be tied with the words “five foot three, 112 pounds, black hair, glasses, oval face”—not to mention Anderson’s best use of slo-mo yet. For more check out a feature we did on all the music featured in “Rushmore” a few years back.

“The Royal Tenenbaums”: The Rolling Stones – “She Smiled Sweetly” Though this film is legendary among the 20-something, Urban Outfitters set for its use of music, the wall-to-wall soundtrack in “Tenenbaums” is where things started to fall apart for us. While the music selected is almost uniformly excellent and indicative of good taste, Anderson’s use of it is no different than a director who instructs his composer to layer a swell of sappy strings over an emotional scene — we’re thinking the use of Nico’s “These Days” in particular. Admittedly, most of the songs work on initial viewings, but watching the film these days the music feels distracting — like Anderson is showing off his impressive record collection rather than scoring the scene with the intent of taking the on-screen action to the next level. However, there are exceptions, one being his third use of a Rolling Stones song in three films, “She Smiled Sweetly.” Taken from young Margot Tenenbaum’s favorite album 1967’s Between the Buttons, the song, playing from a toy record player, subtly layers a dark (for Anderson) and emotionally real scene between a post-suicide attempt Richie (Luke Wilson) and his sister (Gwyneth Paltrow)— excuse us, adopted sister — where the characters reveal their scars, both emotional and physical, and admit the truth about their “frowned upon” love. According to Anderson’s audio commentary, when the scene went too long and needed another song, he picked another track from the U.S. version of the album that compliments “Sweetly” quite well— the number one hit “Ruby Tuesday.” Though let’s note our favorite, favorite use of music in the film, is actually the use of Bob Dylan’s “Billy – Main Title” from his score to Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 version of “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid,” recycled for ‘Tenenbaums’ and used as the sad, disgraced music that plays as Royal Tenebaum’s (Gene Hackman) cancer hoax is revealed to a scam to the utterly disappointed and heartbroken family (but the scene isn’t available unfortunately,but here’s one version of the song). For more check out a feature we did on all the music featured in ‘Tenenbaums’ back in 2007.

“The Life Aquatic”: The Zombies – “The Way I Feel Inside” – Widely considered Anderson’s weakest effort, his fourth film suffers from the same packed-to-the-gills-with-pop-songs-itus as “Tenenbaums.” The filmmaker tries changing it up by having all but two David Bowie songs played live — in Portguese — by Seu Jorge, and picking a few songs outside his standard ‘60s/’70s songs wheelhouse, but he’s only half successful. While Devo’s “Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy” works, he stumbles with his use of Sigur Ros’s “Staralfur” during the jaguar shark encounter. While it sort of worked on initial viewings, the track now seems terribly out of place. A dubious choice, and frankly, we’re not sure where the man’s head was; early test screenings reported the use of Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” during the “let me show you my boat” scene, so perhaps it could have been worse. But, like some sort of savant, Anderson once more took a sad, ‘60s British rock song, and found a way to squeeze something great out of it. In this case, The Zombies’ “The Way I Feel Inside” plays as Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) carries his dead son Ned/Kingsley (Owen Wilson) out of the water after a bloody helicopter crash. A capella, save for a lone organ that enters halfway through the brief tune, the use of the song seems as much about lyrics as the music itself — unusual for Anderson who has been criticized in the past for using songs with little regard for incompatible lyrical content. For more check out a feature we did on all the music featured in “Life Aquatic.”

“The Darjeeling Limited”: The Kinks – “Strangers” – While Anderson decided to scale back the pop music on his most recent effort, the amount of transcendent musical moments are few and far between: his obligatory Rolling Stones song, though an excellent choice, falls flat in context — as do the other two Kinks songs, and his use of Satyajit Ray music isn’t as good as it could be. Still, Anderson manages to use the Dave Davies written track memorably, scoring the film’s funeral scene (shot in slow motion, naturally) with the gorgeous, acoustic based song blaring on the soundtrack. Again, Anderson seems to be taking lyrics into consideration — the words “For many men there is so much grief/And my mind is proud but it aches with rage/And if I live too long I’m afraid I’ll die/Strangers on this road we are on” are insightful in context, like something Owen Wilson’s Francis might say if he were more eloquent. A bit too on the nose, maybe, but then so is picking the “brother band” The Kinks to score a movie about brothers. We’ll let it slide — it also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of our favorite Kinks songs ever.

For “Fantastic Fox”? The pop music in the film is… fine. The use of the Beach Boys’ soft and sweet, “Ol Man River” is the best pop song used, but overall? We give an A+ to the score composed by Alexandre Desplat as it’s one of his best ever and rivals Mark Mothersbaugh’s scores for “Rushmore” and to a lesser extent, ‘Tenenbaums.’ For more, you could also check out (download) the If I Were Wes Anderson imaginary soundtrack collection we made a few years ago.