The Life Melodic

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, 2001

THE PLOT An eccentric family (Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson) rally to care for their dying dad (Gene Hackman). THE SONGS For the opening sequence, Anderson wanted the Beatles' ''Hey Jude.'' ''The timing was bad,'' he says. ''George Harrison was dying and we just couldn't get the stuff cleared.'' He then tapped Elliott Smith to record a cover of ''Jude,'' but the troubled singer backed out. ''He was in a bad state and just wasn't able to,'' says Anderson. (Smith died, an apparent suicide, in 2003.) Ultimately, Anderson went with Mothersbaugh's tinkly instrumental version (credited to the Mutato Muzika Orchestra). Smith did end up on the soundtrack, though, with ''Needle in the Hay,'' an acoustic dirge underscoring Luke Wilson's wrist-slashing scene. But it was another tragic artist who provided the inspiration for Tenenbaums: Nico. '''These Days' was the first thing I had, before I had a sense what the movie was about,'' Anderson says. ''I just knew I was going to play that song and somebody was going to be walking. I didn't know who, but that song gave me an extraordinary visual.''

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, 2004

THE PLOT A washed-up oceanographer (Murray) bonds with his possible illegitimate son (Owen Wilson) and a reporter (Cate Blanchett) while hunting a killer shark. THE SONGS Anderson is clearly a big Bowie fan — the Thin White Duke's music is all over Aquatic's soundtrack — but even he doesn't know how to say ''Your face is a mess'' in Portuguese. Which explains why the director shot half the movie before realizing that Brazilian actor Seu Jorge (City of God), who functions as the movie's onboard Greek-chorus-of-one and sings bossa nova reinterpretations of Bowie songs throughout the film, was ditching Bowie's lyrics in favor of his own off-the-cuff musings. ''I guess the idea wasn't effectively communicated to him that he was to sing translated lyrics of Bowie songs,'' laughs Anderson, who also tossed some Stooges, Devo, and Joan Baez into the soundtrack's mix. ''My original plan was to make it all electronic and like a Radiohead feeling. That would have been a lot more simple.'' He sighs. ''But this movie...it isn't simple.''

TRACK STARS

Wes Anderson chooses some of his favorite movie-music moments:

1 Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese (1973) ''There's this 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' scene [Robert De Niro struts into a bar] where you really see how music and film get locked together.''

2 Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby (1971) ''The beginning—[before] Harold hangs himself—could feel comic, but it doesn't. It feels deeper because of the music [Cat Stevens' 'Don't Be Shy'].'' Homage alert: Bud Cort (Harold), now 56, has a supporting role in Aquatic.

3 The Graduate, Mike Nichols (1967) ''I can't pick one scene, but the [Simon & Garfunkel] music is part of the reason it has a Catcher in the Rye effect, rather than it just being funny.''

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