Tag Archives: Wes Anderson

Music Videos as Tributes to Films: Wes Anderson Edition

(Fig. 1) The Decemberists – “16 Military Wives”

(Fig. 2) Vampire Weekend – “Oxford Comma”

(Fig. 3) Jose Vanders – “Mother Theresa Can’t Dive”

I recently stumbled across the song “Mother Theresa Can’t Dive” by Jose Vanders. It’s a cute little indie-pop song with a cute little indie-pop video, which happens to be a very obvious ripoff of Wes Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. There is some truth to the clichéd relationship between Anderson’s work and the independent music community–his style has undeniably influenced other prominent music videos of the past few years, albeit in different ways.

With its private school setting, the Decemberists’ “16 Military Wives” is visibly informed by Rushmore. (Colin Meloy’s plastic-framed glasses don’t hurt either, shared with Max Fischer’s distinctive look.) However, the crested blazers and Model U.N. are merely used as a jumping-off point for an original story about international relations, and the strict Anderson aesthetic is not thoroughly adhered to. In the subtitles used to describe the action, Anderson’s standard font Futura is noticeably absent, although it is a crucial component in his trademark look.

While Futura titles are used to distinguish “chapters” in Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” video, it is a technique that Anderson would be expected to use, rather than something he actually has done. (Rushmore is divided into acts of a play; The Royal Tenenbaums literally shows chapters of a book; time is denoted in The Life Aquatic with documentary footage.) However, the combination of the recognizable font with the literary influence still serves as an effective visual link. There are other subtle references to his style, such as the uniformed background characters and the lack of modern technology, but “Oxford Comma” shares more with Wes Anderson’s American Express commercial than any of his films, with its use of a single tracking shot.

“16 Military Wives” and “Oxford Comma” were clearly realized with Wes Anderson in mind, but that aesthetic was used as a starting point to flesh out original content. “Mother Theresa Can’t Dive” takes directly from the Anderson playbook, following The Life Aquatic‘s blue/yellow/red color palette with a pedantry almost worthy of the source of its inspiration. Red knit caps abound, and the video is an intern’s Glock away from being a perfect match. Sure, I love The Life Aquatic, but if I wanted to watch The Life Aquatic, I’d watch The Life Aquatic. Granted, Anderson’s own style is largely an amalgam of influences drawn from 60s directors, but he also clearly has a unique vision, rather than purely borrowing. While we are the product of that which we consume, it seems a bit lazy to regurgitate something whole like this.


In Reference and Reverence to Joe Strummer

Born in Ankara, Turkey and the son of a diplomat, Strummer, whose real name was Mellor, was middle class and public school educated but became a hugely admired figure as the musical voice of rebellion.

1. In the original draft of Wes Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums, “there was a part that Jason Schwartzman was going to play, a kid living across the street from their house, the son of a diplomat who had escaped from a school in Switzerland and was living in an attic and had like a cable connected to their house, and they were sliding things across it.” The character didn’t make the cut, but a shadow remains–two songs by the Clash feature prominently in the film. These tracks are used as a sort of motif for the character of Eli Cash, the sole noted neighbor of the Tenenbaum family in the final version of the script. Conversely to the Tenenbaums, the unnamed Schwartzman character, and, indeed, Joe Strummer himself, Eli is shown as having a distinctly working class upbringing. He spends his childhood observing the Tenenbaums’ privilege from across the street. When he comes into his own success as a western novelist, he–like the Tenenbaum children–cannot withstand the pressures of fame. Eli turns to drugs as a coping mechanism, and the Clash songs underscore this. The collision-themed “Police and Thieves” accompanies one of his pickups, and “Rock The Casbah” plays as Richie Tenenbaum attempts to stage an intervention. While this connection is not as obvious as the actual presence of a rebellious diplomat’s son, the use of the Clash’s music adds further depth to the way Wes Anderson examines class differences.

2. The Vampire Weekend song “Diplomat’s Son” obviously immediately references Joe Strummer in its title. Originating in a short story written by frontman Ezra Koenig, the track eventually developed into “a six-minute dancehall song about a gay relationship” with the help of guitarist/keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij. It features the repeated line “He was a diplomat’s son, it was ’81.” I’m not sure what I’m supposed to get out of the image of the story’s protagonist hooking up with the titular character/Joe Strummer after a party, but in 1981, the Clash had just released their album Sandinista!, named for Nicaraguan revolutionaries. “Diplomat’s Son” appears on Vampire Weekend’s second album Contra; while the band did not intend it as a specific reference, they acknowledge the name’s additional connotations regarding the counterrevolutionaries who were in opposition of the Sandinistas. The references to the Clash culminate in “Diplomat’s Son” with the use of a sample from “Hussel” by M.I.A., who famously sampled the Clash’s “Straight To Hell” in her hit “Paper Planes.” This gets meta by not only making explicit allusions to Joe Strummer and the Clash, but by borrowing from the borrower.

As for both Wes Anderson films and Vampire Weekend being viewed by popular culture as the property of the privileged versus the Clash championing the working class, that’s a whole other blog post. Does it really matter, anyway?