Friday, June 8, 2012

Playing Records in Movies: Moonrise Kingdom

You know you're watching a great movie when there's an important scene involving a character playing a record. Before you dismiss it with a snort, think about it. Great directors know the cinematic appeal of the humble turntable and a black slab of vinyl, including Barry Levinson, Albert Brooks, Quentin Tarantino, and Sergei Eisenstein (okay, maybe old Sergei wasn't hip to records or audio technology in general; otherwise his films would've had sound). One director who sees the magic in records is Wes Anderson.

In Moonrise Kingdom, one of the protagonists runs away from home and one of the things she brings with her is a portable record player. The album she brings to play on it is Francoise Hardy's The "Yeh-Yeh" Girl from Paris*. If there was any doubt this was a great movie, it flew out the window after these details were revealed. But the critical scene occurs later when she and her fellow-truant/love reach their destination, an isolated cove on the island they inhabit. Here these two outsiders, self-knowing problem children, experience a moment of freedom and connection. She plays Francoise Hardy's "Le Temps de l'Amour" and they dance. The scene ends and the next scene begins with the two inside a tent pitched on the shore.

A couple, a record player, and a tent. The scene in Moonrise Kingdom is like a re-staging of the scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, in which Richie and Margo find themselves inside a tent in the living room of the Tenenbaum house, listening to the Rolling Stones' Between the Buttons on a record player. The similarities and contrasts between these two scenes sum up the profound difference between the two movies. The Royal Tenenbaums are about people who are already broken and the possibilities of putting them back together again. What kind of adult pitches a tent in a living room and sleeps in it? The act reveals a fucked-up longing to return to a childhood sense of security. In Moonrise Kingdom, the tent is pitched on a lovely island cove by children. It doesn't represent the sense of a beautiful, protected realm for the two. It is that realm, at least for a moment, between scenes where family members and acquaintances and indifferent social forces are in the process of turning them into the broken adult characters of Anderson's past and future films. In other words, Moonrise Kingdom captures the main characters in a moment of hope. The film seems more expansive, because of it.

* I couldn't tell from the passing shot of the album cover whether it was the mono or stereo version of the album. rocky recommends the mono recording.


  1. Is there a good typewriter scene as well, or do I have to see On The Road?

  2. Sorry, only letter-writing scenes. Instead of seeing On The Road, I suggest renting The Shining if you need to watch a good typewriter scene.