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  • Writer's pictureCreg

The Royal Tenenbaums: Moving Thru Music

Updated: Aug 27, 2022

Wes Anderson's 2001 The Royal Tenenbaums is a staple in the collection of his work. Using inspiration from his own life, JD Salinger, Orson Welles, and more things I probs cannot reference. A story about a dysfunctional family who peaked too early and is stuck in the past, with a father attempting to make amends when maybe he should not be given the chance to. I noticed with his films he has a master's craft in terms of characters and set pieces. You enter his world. You do not want to leave it. It does not feel real perse but defies reality by creating a wonderful fictional place that feels straight out of a novel. When I watch his movies, I feel like I am reading some of the great Russian literature I have been exposed to. It feels off-beat, and people just accept things and roll with them. Zany characters react to things with zippy lines, but there is always something more important going on underneath. Might not carry the same weight, but again it is that world-building that is profound. Wes is intentional with the set, wardrobe, and colors in his film. I heard someone make a dope explanation of him before: "He is a hybrid of an architect and a novelist" What a compliment.

That is not what we are talking about today. The music, man, the soundtrack that has played in my head before I have even viewed the film. This might be the OP soundtrack. Wes Anderson elevates every scene he chooses to a play song from the 60 or 70's, which adds to the theme of the characters being stuck in the past. Music in film can be a copout, emotional manipulation when your script is begging to be something more than it is. I don't feel that way about this film. The music seems almost as intentional as the dialogue. All elements of this movie work together to create a genuine response. I have never seen it executed so beautifully with multiple scenes. Here is my ranking and breakdown of the music and scenes. The list is in chronological order, the number beside it is where it ranks. Thoughts into the ranks were - song choice - scene disregarding the tune - and how they intercepted. This is not in order of favorite to least favorite songs by any means. Shooting from the hip could be persuaded to move some of these around.

Hey Jude - The Mutato Muzika Orchestra

Opening Monogoue

#12 Ranked Music Scene

This cover of Hey Jude written by the Beatles establishes a couple of things at once. One, this movie is going to have a banger for a soundtrack, but some others might feel that it will be generic - only playing to the hits. (nope) The song works perfectly with the introduction to each character. Each scene within the monologue is explaining the children and the negative impact their father had on them. There is talk about how Paul Mccartney wrote the song to comfort John Lennon's kid. A song and monologue about perhaps failing parents? brilliant. I like the choice of using this cover, it fits the tone of the movie. (Cheerful upbeat, but actually dark).

Look at Me - John Lennon

Chas putting his kids to sleep.

#13 Ranked Music Scene

I like the choice of playing Lennon almost directly after the Beatles. Just as Chas has split from his family, so has Lennon to the one he created. (Turning over the picture of his brother) This one is quiet. It could slip right past you. Chas has lost his wife and is doing anything to protect his kids.

What am I supposed to do?

Here I am

What can I do for you?

What can I do for you?

Here I am

Oh my love oh my love

His sole purpose now is his kids. He turns off the lights, within a second, decides to sleep on the floor next to them. As the song fades out, his son as fast his dad came back in the room, slides down from the bunk bed, and lays next to him. It is touching and real. Fathers and sons man, who knew?

Nico - These Days

Margot and Richie first encounter in years.

#2 Ranked Music Scene

Margot based off Nico what a way to give a nod to her best song. Wow, just holy fuck. The layers to this are insane.

First. you could take this as classic Hollywood romance. The Girl, the boy has been in love with, pans to her, the slow-motion walk with a beautiful song. It is so effective.

Second - This song is about not feeling anything these days and the mistakes that led you on that path. Lacking motivation and passion - a zombie walking through life, brother because there is no reason to do anything beyond it.

Third - The combination of all of it. They both are feeling this way because of their internal conflict of yearning for each other. It is revitalizing something within them, but it is also causing it at the same time. Both actors do a delicate job in seeming joyful and in pain at the same time. Trying to say everything with their eyes and subtle quips but cannot outwardly say it.

The Clash - Police and Thieves

Eli tells Margot that Richie is in love with her

#17 Ranked Music Scene

I honestly do not have much for you on this one. A dope reggae/punk song by the.Clash. A fun tone for a dynamite character in Clive. Perhaps thieves representing Clive "taking" Margot from Richie and his betrayal in it.

Bob Dylan - Wigwam

Etheline tells Henry it's been 17 years since she went to the boneyard.

#10 Ranked Music Scene

You all already know about my love for the best songwriter of all time, Bob Dylan. I love the choice of using a song with no lyrics. Her words are the lyrics. Henry fumbles around prior to the song showing the gentleness, kind and goofy partner she needs in her life. She steps up to the plate, says her truth and they kiss. It rolls into Royal trying to convince his grandkids to convince their dad they should spend time together. All of it feels like a cathartic release and a feeling of moving on, such a pretty melody.

Emmitt Rhoades - Lullaby

Royal reading in bed - Chas turns the lights off on him.

#14 Ranked Music Scene

Tears that angels cry And they darken all the sky When the one you love says good-bye Tears that angels cry

Sing a lullaby Sing it soft and only sigh When the one you love says good-bye Sing a lullaby

When your love still is strong When the one you love is gone

Changing of roles - Chas is putting his father to sleep, but not affectionately. This song represents the singing of a lullaby before it's too late too. It hit harder with the foreshadowing of the events from the ending of the film. Chas is there to give him a sincere farewell, but during this moment it is full of disdain on one end and regrets on the other.

Paul Simon - Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.

Royal taking his grandsons to chop it up.

#3 Ranked Music Scene

A song about a bandit breaking the law in a lighthearted tone. This is one of those "seize the day" movie montages that can break a pessimist temporarily. Grabbing hold of them until the song fades. Royal takes his grandsons out for some wild, and some illegal adventures. Nothing deep to it, just good movie-making.

Bob Dylan Billy (Main Title)

The jig is up for Royal

#15 Ranked Music Scene

Another lyricless song from Bob Dylan. I like the narrative of going from Julio Down by the Schoolyard to this. This song is from Bob Dylan's scoring of Pat Garrett and Bily the Kid. The film that Dylan created Knockin' on Heavens Door for. Seems like an appropriate song to play. That film ends with Garrett skipping down after killing Billy. Kids from town throw rocks at Garrett. It is essentially what is happening here. He has once again been exiled from his family. One of my favorite lines from the film is spoken here as well.

Royal - The last six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life"

Narrator - Immediately after making this statement, Royal realized it was true.

Fucking genius. It boils the movie down perfectly. His instinct is to con, A man who deserves to be abandoned, BUT somehow we found him redeemable after finding out the lie he told was the truth. As my boy brewer would say in a British voice "that's just good writing".

The Ramones - Judy is Punk

The P.I informing Richie and Raleigh St Claire about Margot's history.

#11 Ranked Music Scene

Perfect song choice talking to show Margot's rebellion and sexual entanglements over the years. The Ramones are a shot of booze and pure adrenaline right to the head. It carries a mood of celebration over judgment which I find appealing. The song cuts instantly with Billy Murray giving the perfect line with a smirk. and a tinge of disbelief.

"She smokes."

Elliot Smith - Needle in the Hay

Richie's Suicide Attempt

#1 Ranked Music Scene

Best scene in the film. Perhaps one of the best scenes I have ever watched. Quick cuts and the undressing of the character literally and figuratively. The movie so far has used warmer tan, brown and red lights. An immediate shift occurs with the dark cool blue lighting representing his isolation and depression. Richie looks at himself in the mirror and attempts to shed layers of the past with his physical form. "He's wearing your clothes/

Head down to toes a reaction to you " He then speaks calmly. "I am going to kill myself tomorrow" Quickly realizing nothings going to change anyway he feels cutting back to how he sees himself stuck in his former shell. The final straw with the quick cutbacks to Margot and his childhood, before he slashes his wrist. Elliot Smith's song is based on heroin addiction and feeling lost. His addiction to Margot with him feeling like there is no resolve. Smith sings with a bite and the intense guitar with lyrical breaks adds to the emotional weight. Do you wonder how Wes Anderson can salvage the tone of the movie? With a simple question and answer in the hospital

Margot - Dudely, where is he?

Dudley - He pauses, scans the room - Who?

Top marks.

Nick Drake - Fly

Richie and Royal both leaving the hospital.

#9 Ranked Music Scene

A couple of quiet moments of two men reflecting on their decisions. Royal not being close enough to his son for a moment of comfort.

Please give me a second grace

Please give me a second face

I've fallen far down

The first time around

Now I just sit on the ground in your way

Richie still desires Margot who he loves no matter "the various people" they decide to be.

Please tell me your second name

Please play me your second game

I've fallen so far

For the people you are

I just need your star for a day

A scene that relies heavily upon the song that elevates it.

The Rolling Stones - She Smiled Sweetly

Richie is more transparent than Margot about their feelings for each other.

#5 Ranked Music Scene

Why do my thoughts loom so large on me?

They seem to stay, for day after day

And won't disappear, I've tried every way

It is a tender moment where they are both honest with each other. "There is no use trying/ You're here begging again. These two step-siblings finally kiss. lol. It is kind of wild that we have been waiting for this scene. Continuing to talk about how the suicide attempt was about her, but not her fault. This could be interpreted as a dark humor line or just an honest one - it plays both ways. This song keeps the flow going the whole time doing what it needs to. It seems romantic then just quiet like.

The Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday

Margot leaves the tent

#6 Ranked Music Scene

One of the goat Rolling Stones songs executed perfectly is about a girl who you cannot fully understand, can never fully get ahold of, but you are mesmerized by her anyway. Margot put that record on, did she plan that goosebumps walk away? "I think we're just going to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Richie" *cuts to the chorus.

Velvet Underground - Stephanie Says

Mordecai returns to Richie

#8 Ranked Music Scene

Richie just admitted his love for his stepsister to his father - (he handles it surprisingly well.) Out of nowhere, his bird returns - cue one of the most chill Velvet Underground songs. It is a charming shot of the bird soaring through the air as Lou Reed calmy breaks down someone's regrets. The bird could represent the indestructibility of family or the idea of you can never really let go. Richie has spent a lot of his life with regrets, this seems to acknowledge that and help him change course.

Mark Mothersbaugh - Sparkplug Minuet

Royal gives Chas Sparkplug

#7 Ranked Music Scene

This is not a song, song, but part of the movie score. It reminds me of Little Miss Sunshine's "The Winner is.." There is this upward beat of joy as the camera slowly moves to the right showing all of the characters that have entered our lives in the past hour and change. It caps off with Royal giving Chas a new dog for the boys. Ben Stiller nails this line perfectly, his voice cracking, not making eye contact - "I've had a rough year, dad." It does everything with so little. One of my favorite moments in the film.

Nico - Fairest of the Seasons

Unfolding of the characters lives

#4 Ranked Music Scene

Classic cinema fashion, we get a decently neat wrap-up of our characters' lives with the help of our girl, Nico. Beautiful sound and lyrics about letting go and moving on. All of the characters do that in one form or another. Royal smiling as he passes away cutting to the cemetery

And it is finally I decide

That I'll be leaving

In the fairest of the seasons.

The timing is flawless and song choice is flawless

Van Morrison - Everyone

The remaining Tenenbaums depart from the funeral.

#16 Ranked Music Scene

Just one of those feel-good songs that when the lights come in the movie theater, you turn to your comrades and say "that movie was pretty.pretty... pretty good." A song about how everyone will get through it. Love starting the song with the gravestone shot.

In Order of Ranking

  1. Elliot Smith - Needle in the Hay

  2. Nico - These Days

  3. Paul Simon - Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.

  4. Nico - Fairest of the Seasons

  5. The Rolling Stones - She Smiled Sweetly

  6. The Rolling Stones - Ruby Tuesday

  7. Mark Mothersbaugh - Sparkplug Minuet

  8. Velvet Underground - Stephanie Says

  9. Nick Drake - Fly

  10. Bob Dylan - Wigwam

  11. The Ramones - Judy is Punk

  12. Hey Jude - The Mutato Muzika Orchestra

  13. Look at Me - John Lennon

  14. Emmitt Rhoades - Lullaby

  15. Bob Dylan Billy (Main Title)

  16. Van Morrison - Everyone

  17. The Clash - Police and Thieves

Honestly, loved all of these scenes so hard to rank. One of my new personal favorite movies.

- Creg

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