Curating Mood: Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998)

This one’s coming off a recommendation from Coast Modern’s Luke Atlas (have you listened to their album yet?). In Luke’s words, Wes Anderson’s soundtracks are like “mixtapes” in their specificity. Rushmore, for him, stands out because of its great use of British Invasion.

I know you know this poster.

Oh yes, we’re talking Rushmore this week. You know that artsy English major on your dorm floor who maintains a respectable aloof quality? They have a Rushmore poster on their wall.

Seen a person in stylishly cropped pants that fit oh-so snuggly recently? Rushmore poster. Max Fischer is the poster-child for hipster-dom in the 21st century. All of us intellectual, artsy outsiders are Max Fischer. Max Fischer is all of us.

Now, I have character sketches from The Royal Tenenbaums in my dorm, but Rushmore remains remarkable nonetheless. Anderson’s second full-length, following the oft-forgotten Bottle Rocket, is a fresh coming-of-age story, which basically lays out the tropes that will populate the rest of Anderson’s career.

We have: Bill Murray, an older man coming of their older age (bonus points if that man is Bill Murray), carefully selected color palettes (bonus points if the tonic is green), ornamental details as characterization, a string-centric score, Jason Schwartzman, one of the Wilson brothers (bonus points if one is a co-writer), casual racism (bonus points if it goes unaddressed), and last but not least, uncannily casual displays of violence.

Take a shot each time you spot one, and two for the bonus.

Thank you, Movie Dump.

I’d place Anderson’s soundtrack among his ornamental details. He utilizes music for characterization as though it’s personal attire or set dressing.

A Wes Anderson cut makes full benefit of the context a song holds to imbue characters with backstory without a bunch of exposition—he’s probably the best example of a director who characterizes through curation, to be honest.

Rushmore is the first we get to see this tactic displayed in full-force. Bottle Rocket uses its music in much more conventional ways, as it’s overall a much more conventionally made film. It’s not until The Royal Tenenbaums, though, that Anderson starts to display a mastery of song selection as a storytelling tool.

A character juxtaposed against a song we know makes them feel real and carry history, which connects us to the world the characters exist in. (This is a large part of why Guardians of the Galaxy is so accessible for wide audiences despite the sheer weirdness of its world).

A song allows us to cling to aspects of artificiality that Anderson can then dramatize and characterize. This also plays out in the way Anderson pays so much attention to surface details—like the Rushmore jacket Max insists on wearing.

We also have Mark Mothersbaugh’s score to organize the way each soundtrack cut comes across in the story. It sits at an odd place between baroque, romantic, and jazz—highlighting Max’s unclear footing.

But Max is more fairly represented by British New Wave, which captures his complicated interconnectedness and outsider-ness to the prestigious academy.

The new wave tracks are sonically linked to the score in their stringiness. (Mothersbaugh’s reliance on harpsichord feels perfect in this sense as it is more overtly stringy than the piano and is linked to the baroque feeling of Rushmore as a whole. (Also: Vampire Weekend probably had a Rushmore poster in their dorm, now that I think about it).

It’s Luke Wilson!

I could go on about the ways Anderson deftly weaves between genres of music, both scored and curated for the film, as he explores the characters in this film, and how that feeds into what makes him such a distinct cinematic voice. But I think it better to focus on Rushmore’s most iconic moment: that final scene set to The Faces’ “Ooh La La,” curtain and all.

I’ll be frank, Rushmore doesn’t completely work for me, but unlike Bottle Rocket, which is a much more solid movie throughout, Rushmore sticks its landing—and that’s a large part of why I prefer it to Bottle Rocket.

The Faces’ song that ends Rushmore is Anderson’s second-most iconic cut; the Margot scene above will always be my favorite. But, just as “These Days” reaches into a well of shared experience to flesh out the two lovers, “Ohh La La” couldn’t be a better song for the coming-of-age stories Rushmore tells.

It works as a catch all for the process of maturation, distilling our constant nostalgia for yesterday as we daydream for tomorrow into a few lines.

We fail to recognize it when we’re young, and many of us forget it when we’re older, but there’s something that rapid development does to teens that make them such fascinating characters.

Especially as modern society demands ever-increasing development from the youth (look at the constant critique younger millennials and generation-z-ers are under these days), the ways we are expected to grow and mature seem faster and faster as we move into the 21st century.

We have to posture, we have to scoff at our youthful misconceptions, we have to know it all, because if we don’t we’ll realize we’re just kids, and we’ll always be kids in comparison to the person walking in our shoes tomorrow. So, the choice of a new age rock band’s final hit about our attitudes towards our regrets is more than apt.

Poor old grandson, there’s nothing I can say. You’ll have to learn just like me. And that’s the hardest way.

Check back every Friday for a new segment of Curating Mood.

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