“Sometimes the music comes first” – Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom Original Soundtrack Liner Notes)
When watching a Wes Anderson film, you are forced to step into his idiosyncratic world of painful nostalgia, obscure familial relationships, dry-wit humour, perfect symmetry, and striking colour compositions. One where abrupt jump cuts – often only after Bill Murray has said something apathetic – transport you from one picturesque frame and emotional state of mind to another. Never has a director been so skilled at capturing the vague feelings of melancholy in order to tell such charming stories about identity, relationships, and things lost.
An important aspect to consider when discussing the brilliance of any Anderson picture is the careful attention he puts into the choice and use of music in his films. Certified hipster and evident music geek, Anderson has a clear aptitude for digging through the crates and matching the perfect song to a specific scene. His movies display a meticulously crafted and interconnected relationship between song, image, and dialogue. He often builds entire sequences around certain tracks and uses music to fill emotional voids that can’t be remedied by speech or visuals.
Here are some examples of times Anderson picked the perfect song for a scene:
Clearly, music is as equally important in Anderson’s telling of a story as narrative structure, character dialogue, and shot composition. You couldn’t have The Life Aquatic without David Bowie (or Seu Jorge, whose acoustic Portuguese covers of many Bowie classics are performed throughout the film); or The Royal Tennebaums without its famous soundtrack backed montages; or Darjleeing Limited without its musical inspiration taken from Indian composer Satyajit Ray.
And now, you couldn't have his latest film Isle of Dogs without its reoccurring psych-folk anthem called “I Won’t Hurt You” by West Coast Pop Art Experiemental Band; a generally forgotten relic of avant-gardist 1960s psychedelic rock.
The song was released in 1966 on the band’s debut album “Volume One”, produced by small independent label FiFo Records. The album consists of mostly covers, barely had any commercial success, and was largely forgotten within the following decades. That being said, I am sure we can expect a revival of their music thanks to this film.
When picking “I Won’t Hurt You” to be the anthem for Isle of Dogs (a stop-animation film about a group of exiled dogs in futuristic Japan) it conjures the image of Anderson sifting through crates of worn-out LP’s at his local thrift store, trusting his music-nerd intuition, and spending all of $5 dollars on this relatively unknown album.
The result: finding one of the most definitively Wes Anderson songs to date. Its almost as if it perfectly encapsulates Anderson’s sensibilities and quirks, mirroring the moods and atmosphere that span across all of his films. The sound of a hearbeat replaces a bassline, while eerie old-Western guitar chords are strummed and hushed drowsy vocals sing lyrics like “I’ve lost all of my pride/ I’ve been to paradise and out the other side”.
Just like his films, “I Wont Hurt You” is strangely moving in the same ‘can’t put your finger on it’ kind of way. Its subdued but passionate, melancholy yet full of life, sad but hopeful.