Graded on a Curve:
The French Dispatch Original Soundtrack

The Oscars were telecast on March 27th. Hans Zimmer won best original score for Dune, “No Time To Die” by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell won best original song. Although Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch surprisingly received zero nominations, the film’s original soundtrack album should not be overlooked.

One of the delights of the films of Wes Anderson is the music. It’s no secret that Anderson is a huge fan of the key British bands of the mid-’60s, particularly the mod pop bands of the Swinging London period. This may be partially why many of his soundtracks are released through ABKCO Records, the label that owns the London Records/Decca years catalog of the music of The Rolling Stones that covers all of the group’s 1960s recordings.

There are other sounds Anderson clearly loves, including the kind of sophisticated continental European film soundtrack and pop music sound that wouldn’t be out of place in movies from France or Italy that were made in the ’50s or early ’60s.

These tracks are all wonderful musical touchstones and add greatly to Anderson’s films by either placing appropriate period music in a certain scene, or serve as a counterpoint to contemporary action that adds a gauzy romantic verisimilitude to the film. If all that wasn’t enough, Anderson has employed on five soundtracks the music of French film composer Alexandre Desplat since Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009. Desplat won one of his two Oscars for best-original score for the soundtrack music he provided for Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, both animated Anderson features, garnered Oscar nominations for him.

While Desplat is an award-winning composer of film music for many directors and many genres of music, his musical approach almost seems custom-made for the films of Wes Anderson. Though the latest Wes Anderson soundtrack album, The French Dispatch, dispatches with the mod sounds of swinging London, it features plenty of other idiosyncratic tracks and lots of the music of Alexandre Desplat.

The soundtrack is available as a two-record, gatefold vinyl set. It is dominated by Desplat’s music, which makes up for 14 of the 25 tracks and is his complete movie score. This is Desplat’s most challenging Anderson score, as the story’s anthology format makes for a disparate amalgam of musical motifs and moods. Desplat continues to make music that has a very contemporary, almost mechanical rhythmic feel, while also exuding a lush and faded European dark glamour. The music is often unsettling, but also playfully innocent and simple in spots.

Interestingly enough, there are also tracks from some of the icons of film music here, including music from Ennio Morricone and Georges Delerue. A Charles Aznavour track checks the romantic French box and the baroque vocal jazz group the Swingle Singers makes an appearance which contributes perfectly to Anderson’s timeless, ’60s cool, continental musical vibe. A Grace Jones track somehow makes its way incongruously into the film’s soundtrack, but actually works, as does the closing track and signature song of the movie, “Aline” by Jarvis Cocker. The latter is as close to British pop of the ’60s as we get here on this glorious, sprawling soundtrack, that in a better world would have received another Oscar nomination for Desplat. Ce la vie.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B

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