There are many things to treasure in Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel." The usual pleasures of his films are there to be found, including the meticulous set design, carefully crafted dialogue and precision comedic pacing. But one element that has been a bit undersung is Alexandre Desplat's score and the soundtrack to the film. It marks a departure of sorts for the filmmaker, who forgoes his usual mixtape of choice cuts, for a mostly score driven piece, with 'Budapest' almost functioning as a musical, with a variety of themes and melodies carrying the film through its variety of screwball adventures. This week, Fox Searclight released "The Grand Budapest Hotel" on DVD and Blu-ray and we thought it would be a good time to look back on the music of the movie, share some exclusive photos from the recording sessions and talk to Anderson's longtime music supervisor Randall Poster about working on the project.
But firstly, while Poster is known for his collaborations with Anderson, his resumé is extensive and varied, counting both television and film, with directors like Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Harmony Korine, Sam Mendes and more all utilizing his talents. However, Poster and Anderson's work together is special, with the former even keeping a running reserve of tunes just for the director to use in the future, but it was the mostly score driven nature of "The Grand Budapest Hotel" that provided a change in their usual process.
"By virtue of the fact of the film being set in the periods that they're set, I think it certainly didn't lend itself to contemporary pop music," Poster explained. "That wasn't [Wes Anderson's] instinct. I think that we were not quite as clear as we have been in the past about what the musical element was going to be and so we embarked on a bit of a musical expedition, in terms of trying to gather all of the different music that might come to bear. Then Wes really zeroed in on certain Middle European folk music sounds. Primarily in the film there's a very big balalaika element that they knew we wanted to have. Wes had a very broad sense of where this music might come from and as the film evolved we narrowed our musical focus."
The balalaika — a sort of triangular mandolin like instrument — provided an opportunity for both Poster and Anderson to dig into a style of music they weren't familiar with. "I think that Wes and I are not purely anchored in the world of classical music, or in various regional folk music, so for the six months before we started or so, we tried to keep ourselves in it and you know consulted with various people who were experts to make sure that we weren't overlooking anything," Poster elaborated. "Then as things became clearer, it got filtered through Wes' sensibility and a clearer path emerged [for the score]."
And that path led to composer Alexandre Desplat, returning for this third film with Anderson and Poster following "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Moonrise Kingdom." And again, the focus on the balalaika presented some interesting challenges as Poster and Anderson's musical ideas filtered through the musical lens of Desplat. "We put together an orchestra of balalaika players and we brought a balalaika group from Moscow and merged them with a new group of French players," Poster said. "We had about 45 to 50 balalaika players and really wanted to give it a lot of scope and volume. It was really fun and really interesting. We had two different translators on the podium up there. But it was a very special musical element."
And you can can hear the results of that work on the official soundtrack which is now available on ABKCO Records. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is now available on home video as well. Recording session images below.