The Musical Whimsy of Wes Anderson
by Jason Gubbels | March 24, 2014
Wes Anderson's new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is yet another painstakingly crafted and (largely) whimsical addition to a body of work now comprising eight films total. While Anderson's visual technique remains almost immediately identifiable (really, you rarely need more than a few frames to recognize who's behind the camera), it's time we paid closer attention to his soundtracks and evolving use of music. Far from embodying the fussy detachment of "twee" cinema, Anderson's musical considerations have shifted from film to film, running the gamut from 1960s French pop (OK, that's admittedly pretty twee) to first-line U.K. punk, Cuban boleros and Portuguese-language ballad interpretations of David Bowie.
Seu Jorge is the Bowie-crooning Brazilian who dominated Anderson's 2004 The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soundtrack, and that clever motif highlights the way Anderson repeatedly employs loose musical themes to help guide his films. Rushmore was originally intended to be scored entirely to songs by The Kinks (Anderson eventually amended this to mostly 1960s British Invasion tracks); major pieces by composer Benjamin Britten flow throughout Moonrise Kingdom; and The Darjeeling Limited uses musical selections from Indian cinema scores. And some of Anderson's choices mesh so fully with the onscreen action that some fans have difficulty separating the original songs from their use in his films, such as Elliott Smith's haunting "Needle in the Hay" accompanying the suicide attempt of Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson).
The Grand Budapest Hotel features less rock and pop than we've come to expect from Anderson. In fact, it relies completely on the original compositions of Alexandre Desplat and performances by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, a first for a director who has tended to plunder his record collection for his movie's soundtracks. We've selected key musical performances from all of Anderson's major features for this playlist, plus Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" from the short film Hotel Chevalier. Like Anderson's films, the selections are all over the place -- varied yet buoyant, fun and sweet, high and low. Once in a while they get a tad ridiculous (like the Italian duo masquerading as "Oliver Onions" on a song about legendary outlaw Zorro -- remember hearing that cut in Bottle Rocket?), and sometimes they're even a little bit, yes, twee.