Jessica Lee McMillan
Rushmore: A soundtrack for mods, misfits and crate diggers
The soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s 1998 cult favourite Rushmore is an unexpected mix of hidden classics that has now become a formula for the curatorially obsessed. Just as Anderson mindfully crafts sets and characters with classic signifiers of the auteur himself, his soundtrack mourns the lost enthusiasm for creation, for navigating the world in a jaunty blazer, for using clipboards to take notes, for listening to a record on repeat, for doing things the way we used to do.
Music creates a nostalgic tone in the film and each song is seamlessly integrated into each scene. The soundtrack and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh’s score that one critic called surreal just will not make sense until you see the film.
The songs in Rushmore are woven into every aspect of its storytelling and charm. The songs are the great movers and the lyrics the great arcs of things we wished we knew when we were younger. Rushmore brings us the British Invasion in The Faces, The Kinks, Cat Stevens, Donovan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, John Lennon, and rounds it off with Paul Desmond, Django Reinhardt, and Yves Montand.
Anderson has vision that begins with the music. Although he has broadened his scope in other films, he is unafraid to dig up forgotten gems, songs that may seem overly sentimental, and pair them with scenes that invest viewers deeper into his offbeat universe. And with that, he curated a world of music for younger listeners, which becomes their coming of age.
It is entirely possible to be a retroactive tastemaker. Anderson’s and music supervisor Randy Poster’s selections were responsible for bringing some gems back into the mainstream such as Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” and The Rolling Stones’ “I am Waiting”. I can attest to RS fatigue, but Anderson tends to pick out Stones’ tunes that give you a bit of a shiver (as in The Darjeeling Limited) and make you remember why they were so bloody good.
Anderson immediately hooks the viewer in the opening sequence to Rushmore with The Creation’s punchy “Making Time”, which rightly asserts the pace of the movie. Much of the song plays out in rapid sequences with the lead character, Max Fischer, looking like a mod overachiever heading various school clubs at Rushmore Academy. But we quickly find out he is just an enthusiastic kid trying to find a place and that all the other characters at the prestigious institution are just as flawed.
The characters in Rushmore are incorrigible misfits and the anachronistic soundtrack heightens their sense of being out of place or time. This makes them more identifiable because it speaks to the part of us who felt this way in growing pains as a child (Schwartzman) and as an adult (Murray). The music tells the story of yearning. As someone who feels a little before their time, a little bit of a misfit, I find so much appeal with the film and its incredible playlist.
Many fans of the film may know Anderson chose the soundtrack before the film Rushmore was even made. The liner notes indicate he initially wanted to choose all Kinks songs to complement Max’s personality but brought in the British Invasion. Precisely why his idiosyncratic selections work so seamlessly within the scenes and build on the nostalgic atmosphere of my favourite film.
Rushmore was released in 1998, and, when parodist Kentucker Audley edited in ’90s music, he proved the point that Rushmore is a special coming-of-age-tale not to be conflated with the teen sex comedies of the time. Anderson’s organic pairing of timeless tunes with each scene creates a tone that is essential to the very character of the film.
The deliberateness in song selection makes each scene a choreography, as in this “payback scene” played to The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away.” You will feel vicariously cool watching it.
The aesthetic appeal of eras bygone is a tool of artifice that Anderson knows how to execute successfully because he pairs music with characters and the emotion in a scene that makes the music easily accessible and timeless. He would even play the songs for the actors, and the liner notes explain Bill Murray bought a Bose stereo they had to lug and wire properly every time they moved the set.
The Kinks’ bassy, downtempo “ Nothin’ in the World Can Stop Me Worryin’ ‘Bout That Girl” is used so well in an exposition of Bill Murray’s character entering crisis mode in the vein of The Graduate.
The movie would not be the same without the soundtrack. It would miss a layer of storytelling. And don’t we love film because of the atmosphere it brings, so often in music?
Rushmore lets music tell the story. When Max reaches a turning point in the film, he ponders while flying a kite (Anderson classic) over Cat Stevens’ “The Wind.” He realizes his Rushmore can be whatever he makes it. His Rushmore is his centre. As music is the centre of the film, and, as music is to us.
I let my music take me where My heart wants to go
Jessica Lee McMillan © 2021