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Like Max Fischer, Rushmore Chooses Tunes Wise Beyond its Years

written by: on June 7, 2012

There’s always a certain je-ne-sais-quoi factor when watching Wes Anderson films. It’s the casting, the script, the attention to detail, the music. One of Anderson’s first major films, Rushmore, sets a graceful benchmark that all his proceeding movies would pursue. The soundtrack, as well as other production aspects relentlessly perfected by Anderson, is what make his movies exceptional.

Rushmore follows the precocious Max Fischer, a 15-year-old student at esteemed private school Rushmore Academy. Though Max is steadfastly involved in a number of peculiar extracurricular activities (including the Rushmore Beekeepers, the Bombardment Society and the Stamp & Coin Club), academically and socially Fischer’s efforts pale in comparison. Within a couple minutes of the movie’s opening, it’s obvious Fischer lacks normal social skills. Instead of mingling with students his own age, Fischer turns to a significantly younger student, Dirk Calloway, for companionship. And he eventually befriends Ms. Rosemary Cross, an elementary teacher at Rushmore, and the middle-aged, wealthy company owner Herman Blume, whose children are enrolled at the school. A love triangle develops as Max becomes infatuated with Rosemary, and Herman and Rosemary have an affair. A continual cat-and-mouse game is played between Max and Herman throughout the film, both of them trying to win over Rosemary.

While dark humor and a cast of quirky characters are standard for Anderson, another diagnostic feature of his films is the soundtrack.

In Rushmore, Anderson relies on the soundtrack composing talents of Mark Mothersbaugh (who was not only a founding member of Devo, but he also worked of several other movies with Anderson, such as Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Along with Mothersbaugh, Anderson utilizes songs from several 1960s-’70s British Invasion bands to support the film, including The Kinks, The Creation, John Lennon and The Who. Because Max’s character is so eccentric, wise beyond his years and cultural, the movie’s music parallels him. Anderson also finds a way to make many of the song selections completely biographical and in synch with what’s on screen. For example, during the opening scenes, “Making Time” (The Creation) plays during a montage of Max’s extracurriculars. Later in the movie, Anderson slam-dunks with The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” which plays alongside the all-out war between Max and Herman where they attempt to demise the other.

Although the soundtrack is a thick sampling of British Invasion groups, Anderson manages to sprinkle in several original scores from Mothersbaugh. Just as the movie is divided into monthly sections, there is always a new season and a new sound from Mothersbaugh. His compositions are clean, refreshing and seasonally appropriate (whether they’re depicting the holidays or the groundbreaking ceremony Max hosts for his new aquarium).

After watching Rushmore, Anderson truly earns his applause. Because it takes a director/writer like Anderson to emphasize and epitomize the importance of an all-encompassing and holistic film production. It’s more than just the casting, directing and script that make a good movie; the background things, like props, costumes and especially soundtracks, matter too. With each of his films, Anderson reminds viewers that, although seemingly subtle, the quality and tenor of a soundtrack should never be underestimated.