Wes Anderson never saw the beauty of elevated surfaces until now.
While we all see the grimy, loud and humid basement of a fraternity palace, Wes sees poetry in motion. Crystal Palace flows into a line of Dixie cups like a fresh water fountain in Rome. Hawaiian shirts and basketball jerseys float past a large, Insta-famous American flag with the grace and elegance of a bull in a china shop that’s drunk off Natty Lite and fragile masculinity. The sweat and heat of the dance floor knock you into a state of reverie.
But if I’m being honest, “Closer” for the 87th time and early 2000s throwbacks do not fit into Wes Anderson’s filmmaking checklist.
Swap out the current fraternity DJ rotation with matching outfits from the ’70s, pastel lighting and tunes from every decade except the one we’re in now — that’s the recipe.
I’ve sat at home and in many theaters watching Wes’s quirky, symmetrical set designs and smooth camera work for years now, but the music he lays underneath his scenes is the punctuation mark of his films. It guides the emotion and often exposes hidden truths. So who can stop Wes from turning the hallmark of the University of Michigan’s Welcome Week into a carefully orchestrated Anderson classic through a killer soundtrack? No one, that’s who.
Enter: Matt, 19, slim build (more lanky than slim, but this is my column so I can afford to boost my ego a little).
As I walk past three Greek letters and into the mansion, pushing past huge, bouncers the color of traffic cones, a jacked fella in a Knicks jersey sits in the living room. He looks me dead in the eyes as he strums his first, out-of-tune chord.
A Frat Brother Covering a Top 40 Hit on His Acoustic Guitar
If Wes can get away with recording a Seu Jorge cover of David Bowie in Portuguese for “The Life Aquatic,” why can’t Newest Pledge Ben or Chad or Whatever perform Post Malone’s “Congratulations” for a crowd of two or three people in line for the bathroom? He’s clearly the most talented in the room. He can even do Quavo’s part, so you know he’s cultured.
Anyway, Wes would want an authentic sound for the opening of his pièce de résistance. Even though the original is a little too recent for his tastes, the cover is in such a poor key and the brother’s vocal range is almost nonexistent. Thus, a new breed of soundtrack is born.
Well done, Wes. You always one-up yourself.
My eyes slowly readjust to the dim basement. My shoes stick to the floor as if it were still-wet cement. The camera pans to show a sea of bobbing heads, some higher than others on platforms forming waves. Love is in the air — battery-acid-flavored vodka-induced love for sure, but love nonetheless.
“Let’s Spend the Night Together” — The Rolling Stones or David Bowie, take your pick.
If you want a British Invasion rocking and rolling undertone or if you’re going for a glam rock vibe, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” goes perfectly with the back-and-forth cycle of modern collegiate romance. A passionate, love-infused bond that rivals the sanctity of marriage, dancing at a frat party is the pinnacle display of affection we have here. Wes’s lens glides over the multitude of couples in slow motion with Bowie or Mick’s heavy-handed vocals moving us along with him. His attention to detail focuses on one couple and how invested the dude is in this modern waltz and how completely uninterested his female counterpart is in the whole ordeal, her eyes darting back and forth, looking for a way out.
“Now I need you more than ever….”
The elegantly concerned woman breaks away, rejecting the sleeveless-T-clad bro’s poignant offer to “get out of here.” Loneliness ensues.
“Whiskey River” — Willie Nelson
Poor dude. He just wanted to treat this woman to a lovely burrito buffet and have some harmless fun. Who is she to reject him like that?
As he wanders toward the bar, ready to drown his sorrows, Willie Nelson’s country twang fades in. A honky-tonk instrumental marks this man’s lowest point, a truly inspiring soundtracking choice by Wes. A scene chock-full of resentment and male pride, Willie’s plea to not “let her memory torture me” really hits home for the movie patron. A real tear-jerker, if you ask me.
The heartbroken bro grabs a handle of Kamchatka for himself. If you had looked at him, you would have guessed the bottle was filled with water. He lies on the ground, perfectly lit in front of the aforementioned American flag, symbolizing his true conservative roots (nice touch, Wes). Tunnel vision starts to grip him as a subtle vignette effect fades onscreen. Blacking out is inevitable at this point.
“Death’s Black Train Is Coming” — Rev. J. M. Gates
“I want to sing a song and while I sing, I want every sinner in the house to come to the angel’s seat and bow…”
A minor callback to his work on “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Wes selects an a cappella gospel tune to signal the collective mission of the people left at this party: blacking out. He masterfully turns a Lord’s song about preparing for the Devil to catch sinners into a completely new song about preparing for off-brand cranberry juice mixed with vodka to catch sinners. Beautiful, as always. Gates’ preaching fails to reach the mob as students crowd the bar. A flustered new pledge attempts to quench these intoxicated requests for vodka shots and chaser. As the inebriated run around him, the camera locks him into place, directly in the center of the frame. Another breathtaking shot for the books.
Just then, the reverend’s sermon is interrupted by the two words no one wants to hear coming from behind the bar. The last two words you hear before you dive into mass hysteria. Two words worse than “the horror” coming from Conrad’s pen:
“Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60, B. 112, III. Scherzo: Presto” — Antonín Dvořák
Boom. A massive orchestra hits the crowd as couples break and everyone in the room makes a mad dash for alcohol. Wes’s montage speeds up the inebriated while keeping the guardians of the elixir stationary and stoic. As the camera moves behind the bar, looking out on the horde, we see clean-cut guys trying to barter with the bartenders for their “secret stash” of Kamchatka. Their failed attempts sync with the dark violin crescendos. The night can’t be over. It’s only 2 a.m. If you thought you could get through a Wes Anderson film without an orchestral selection, you’d better think otherwise. Dvořák’s drama marks the climax of our Greek cinematic experience.
The lights turn on. The DJ leaves his heavily-coveted post. Somehow, the room looks even worse when well-lit as opposed to brooding and dark. As the frat troopers file out one by one, a crackly acoustic guitar fades in.
“Fare thee well, oh honey, fare thee well…”
A sentimental departure to say the least. There will never be a party like this again until next week’s “Beach Bums Blackout Banger.” Van Ronk supplies the music for the final shot of the humble frat abode exterior and for the following credits. ’Tis bittersweet but we shall all meet again at the huge rager in the sky or awkwardly in Angell for Tuesday lecture.