My introduction to Wes Anderson’s ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ began when a friend passed me the film, newly-released on DVD. “You are going to love this,” he said, excitedly. “It’s not like anything else!”
Those may not have been his exact words, but it was certainly something equally hyperbolic, delivered wide-eyed and loud. His recommendation, though, was uttered with an enthusiasm I had heard before; like the time he tried to convince me that the best way to watch Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’ was on a Monday afternoon and under the influence of mind-altering drugs (he was right) or that ‘Alien 3’ is actually the best of the franchise (he was wrong).
So when I settled down to watch the film, I had no idea what to expect or if I would even like it at all. I needn’t have worried, the effect it had on me was immediate; Anderson had created a world that was weighted by its own unique gravity, directed by a peculiar and individual logic and peopled by odd, but strangely familiar eccentrics. However, the thing that hit me the hardest – and has drawn me back more often than the film itself – is the soundtrack.
Combining a heady mixture of Portuguese Bowie, aquatic library music and stirring baroque interludes, these sounds are the beating heart that pump blood through the veins of Anderson’s characters.
If, after watching the film, you can listen to ‘Search And Destroy’ by The Stooges and not think of Bill Murray’s Zissou taking a stand against a bunch of machine gun toting pirates, then you are a better man than I.
Where Bowie’s original ‘Starman’ and ‘Life On Mars’ (the latter also appearing on the record) tell tales of cosmic visitors and stoic space heroes, Seu Jorge’s versions refract those futuristic sentiments through a salty diving goggle lens – instead of Major Tom and dystopian futures, this is Jacques Cousteau and dolphins fitted with underwater cameras.
But most effective of the lot are the creations of Mark Mothersbaugh. Placed alongside the evocative Sven Libaek selections, ‘Open Sea Theme’ and ‘Shark Attack Theme’, his pieces elevate the soundtrack into something more than just a memento of the film.
‘We Call Them Pirates Out Here’ posits the spaghetti western on to the high seas, six shooters exchanged for harpoons and flare guns.
Having subsequently fallen in love with many of Wes Anderson’s films, it’s always a delight to discover that Mothersbaugh had contributed to their soundtracks. But ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ is the only one where the soundtrack is able to transcend the drama of the director’s narrative, carving out its own space in the imagination and keeping me coming back again and again.