Top 15 Classic Rock Moments in Wes Anderson Movies
To create brilliant musical film moments requires a director of supreme talent — reason enough to celebrate the Top 15 Classic Rock Moments in Wes Anderson Movies. He ranks high on a list of filmmakers (along with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater) who fashion something new through a synthesis of the perfect track with the perfect scene. Since his 1996 debut, the Texas-born director has emerged as a sort of cinematic sommelier, a man who excels at pairing a scene with the perfect big single or underrated chestnut. As you’ll hear in our Top 15 Classic Rock Moments in Wes Anderson Movies, these songs no longer belong just to the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Who and Paul Simon. They are now shared with the stories of Dignan, Max, Royal, Steve, the Whitman brothers and Mr. Fox …
‘Ooh La La’
We begin at the end of Rushmore, where this folksy Faces tune soundtracks the “Heaven & Hell Cotillion Dance.” The song, written by Ron Wood and Ronnie Lane, features Wood (in a rare vocal performance) singing about a conversation between a grandson and his wise old granddad. It’s the perfect way for Rushmore to go out, seeing as Max Fischer is the most grandfatherly teenager in the history of movies (with a great deal of naivete under that blazer). He gets the girl (well, for a dance, at least), everyone’s together on screen, the motion goes slow and the curtains close on Max, who knows a bit more than he did when the film started.
‘Heroes and Villains’
You can’t help but smile a Smiley Smile when this effervescent Beach Boys track pops up at the start of Anderson’s animated Fantastic Mr. Fox. The song compliments Fox and Felicity’s acrobatic detour to pilfer fowl, which goes foul when the overconfident Fox springs a trap. Brian Wilson’s cheery take on the good and evil in the world is powerful enough to span the flash-forward, where we find a grown-up Fox failing to stifle his animal instincts.
‘Judy is a Punk’
After cataloging Max’s extra-curriculars to the sound of garage rock (see below), Anderson matched Margot Tenenbaum’s secret history to full-on punk. This scene brings together the joyful insouciance of the Ramones with the youthful indiscretions of a prodigy, from busting out of school to dalliances with lesbianism to various affairs witnessed on public transportation. “Judy is a Punk.” So is Margot. Plus, as Bill Murray‘s Raleigh St. Clair deadpans, “She smokes.”
‘Search and Destroy’
“Love in the middle of a firefight,” Iggy Pop growls on the Stooges‘ behemoth of a song. “Search and Destroy” is dispatched at just the right moment in the movie to emphasize the (yes) raw power of Steve Zissou, who breaks free, grabs a pistol and rescues his beloved Belafonte (along with its motley crew) from Filipino pirates. Steve is the world’s forgotten boy, the one who’s searchin’ to destroy … a jaguar shark.
‘This Time Tomorrow’
This entry in the Top 15 Classic Rock Moments in Wes Anderson Movies actually represents all three Kinks songs that Anderson used in The Darjeeling Limited (each from Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One). The three tunes come at auspicious (and mostly slow-motion) moments in the movie, bookending the film’s first and final train journeys and leading into its center-point flashback. “This Time Tomorrow” is especially appropriate for the Whitman brothers’ travels because Ray Davies wrote it about being “in perpetual motion.” Meanwhile, Bill Murray’s unnamed businessman would have just been happy to make the train.
‘Street Fighting Man’
Maybe it’s in a documentary about the ’60s, or maybe I made it up in my head, but when I hear the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” I always picture cities in the throes of a riot, young protesters clashing with helmeted cops. It wasn’t until the film version of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox that I was given another, equally violent image. Now, Keith Richards‘ slicing riffs and Charlie Watts‘ martial drumbeats signified a rolling team of bulldozers ready to rip apart the forest just to catch one lousy fox. Wait, make that one fantastic fox.
‘Alone Again Or’
What better soundtrack for the rush of love than Love’s rushing “Alone Again Or”? Except that, of course, the upbeat song is actually slightly despondent. It’s almost as if Anthony’s subconscious is forecasting the loneliness that will inevitably occur when the money runs out and he and Dignan have to leave the motel, and Inez, behind. But in the moment, this is sheer excitement, the best “sprinting to a lover” scene since Dustin Hoffman got a lift from Simon and Garfunkel.
‘Play with Fire’
The Kinks are sort of the standard bearers when it comes to The Darjeeling Limited, but the film’s most bravura moment of cinema comes along late, during a sequence set to the Rolling Stones’ sinister classic, “Play with Fire.” The Stones have no less than five entries on this list; the use of their music is one of Anderson’s trademarks, and he never fails to let it shape amazing moments in his movies. As the Whitmans attempt to communicate without speaking, the rest of the world goes by on a train (literally) and Mick Jagger reminds us that hearts aren’t to be played with lightly.
Anderson dug up this nugget from British garage rockers the Creation to emphasize Max Fischer’s penchant for “making time” for everything but his studies. Clips of Max in action doing his favorite after-school activities — from bee-keeping to fencing to helming the famed Max Fischer Players — tick by and the jagged electricity of “Making Time” matches the teenager’s unyielding enthusiasm for anything but school.
The third selection on the list was the first time Anderson matched his quirky film universe with the Rolling Stones. He used “2000 Man” (from the underappreciated Their Satanic Majesties Request) to underscore the world finally crashing down on Owen Wilson‘s Dignan. Wes uses the tune’s shifting tempo in the same manner that Martin Scorsese used a bunch of different songs to match Henry Hill’s final frantic hours as a free man in Goodfellas. Dignan is just as scattered and it ends about as badly for him, getting a solid dose of police brutality to the sound of the Rolling Stones.
‘I am Waiting’
We roll on to Anderson’s second film, and his second use of the Stones: the lesser-known gem, “I am Waiting.” This is the winter of Max’s discontent. He forsakes his myriad passions for the life of a barber, shuns his friends and generally looks completely miserable. Meanwhile, on the soundtrack, Mick Jagger taunts him: “You can’t hold out, you can’t hold out.” We know that Max can’t fool himself forever, but his mushy middle period couldn’t have found a better kindred spirit than the dulcimer-spiked “I am Waiting.”
Anderson ends his most frustratingly uneven movie with incredible back-to-back sequences showcasing masterful music placement. On the heels of a deep sea emotional climax set to Sigur Ros’s “Staralfur,” we see Zissou’s triumphant/defiant exit from the cinema, the newly deputized Werner propped on his shoulders and David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” blaring over the slo-mo grandeur. And then it gets even better, as we see Team Zissou regrouping for their next adventure in Anderson’s big sloppy kiss to the credits sequence for The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension. Lucky Jeff Goldblum got to be in both sequences.
‘She Smiled Sweetly’
After “I am Waiting,” Anderson again squeezed the maximum melancholy from a Stones song with his use of this Between the Buttons ballad in The Royal Tenenbaums. The (adopted) sister and brother enter a sort of confessional in Richie’s tent, to the tune of the hymn-like “She Smiled Sweetly.” Margot admits her philandering ways, they finally divulge their love for one another and then Richie reveals that he attempted to kill himself because of Margot, “but it’s not your fault.” As the song ends, her heart breaks and in some sort of cruel joke, the Rolling Stones’ loveliest song, “Ruby Tuesday,” begins to play. It’s not the next track on any version of that album, except the LP that the Tenenbaums own.
‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’
What better song for taking it out and chopping it up than Paul Simon’s gleeful ode to youthful criminality? Royal runs wild with his grandsons in a montage of activities that begins with doing cannonballs in a pool and devolves into petty theft, inciting traffic accidents. Never has adolescent tomfoolery looked, and sounded, like so much fun. If Royal Tenenbaum was your grandfather, who wouldn’t want to hitch a garbage truck with him?
‘A Quick One While He’s Away’
The zenith of the Top 15 Classic Rock Moments in Wes Anderson Movies finds the director using the Who’s epic “mini-opera” in his second film. Anderson had this scene so mapped out that he gave actor Jason Schwartzman (Max) an exact time to hit as he came out of the elevator, so that the sequence would match the “cello, cello, cello” portion of the song perfectly when played in slow-motion. Under a raging Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, Max and Herman Blume battle back and forth for the love of a woman, until the kid is finally led out of school in handcuffs. Revenge is a dish best served cold, along with a heaping helping of the Who.