by Greg Carlson
It’s random and unpredictable how the legacy of a movie plays out. Prior to its December 2004 release, many arts/entertainment editors and studio heads predicted that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou would further Bill Murray’s career as a dry-humored dramatic actor, following his Oscar-nominated performance in Lost in Translation. Once the film hit the theaters, it garnered mixed reviews from film critics and even some Wes Anderson fans alike, and was not the holiday counter-programming/Oscar contender that the Disney-owned studio had hoped for.
In the years since The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was released, its stature and reputation has grown the same way as other initially-misunderstood masterpieces, from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to Observe and Report. Fans started dressing up as Team Zissou members for Halloween, joining partygoers in their Max Fischer and Margot Tenenbaum costumes. Wes Anderson continues to put out challenging and offbeat films, gaining critical and commercial success with Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. His filmography and style have been parodied in Mad magazine and Saturday Night Live, two still-surviving pop cultural barometers.
If that’s not enough evidence that Wes Anderson films aren’t consigned to the indie theaters anymore, Brazilian musician/actor Seu Jorge, who played the David-Bowie-in-Portuguese-singing safety expert Pele dos Santos in The Life Aquatic, is headlining a North American tour, playing his unique renditions as a tribute to Bowie.
Another sign of the film’s legacy: the show was moved from Seattle’s Showbox theater to Benaroya Hall due to a huge demand for tickets. In a way, Benaroya Hall is a perfect space for this type of performance, as when the lights were adjusted to the appropriate red tints, the interior resembled the Italian theater from the opening/closing scenes of the film. I’m sure Wes would have approved of the venue’s pipe organ built into the back of the stage.
After the recognizable sounds of Mark Mothersbaugh’s overture played over the speakers, Seu Jorge walked casually on stage in that familiar guitar-slung-over-his-shoulder pose. Two acoustic guitars, a couple of water bottles, a ship’s steering wheel placed front and center, and a microphone was all he needed, as his powerful voice and intense strumming boomed through the spacious hall, reaching the fans in the upper-level seats.
The show featured all of the Bowie songs used in the film (“Rock and Roll Suicide,” “Five Years”), as well as songs exclusively from The Life Aquatic Sessions album (“Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Suffragette City”), and songs that were in the movie but not on the soundtrack, such as his version of “Space Oddity,” used brilliantly in the film right before Team Zissou is attacked by the Filipino pirates. This last tune brought increased applause from the crowd, who joined in on the handclaps at the appropriate moments.
Jorge (as he referred to himself throughout the show) told stories between songs about getting the phone call from Wes Anderson, and hearing his unusual pitch of him covering another artist’s songs in his native language for his latest film. Highlights of these stories include the admission that he initially got David Bowie mixed up with Billy Idol, not being impressed by the choice of boat used for the Belafonte, and having to learn “Rebel Rebel” in fifteen minutes, without the aid of a computer or mobile device.
One particularly poignant moment came about when Jorge remembered how an actually-pregnant-in-real-life Cate Blanchett was shooting a scene while the boat’s exhaust was seeping through the cabin. After the anecdote, he dedicated “Lady Stardust” to her.
For the encores, a video screen was lowered, and Jorge revisited “Rebel Rebel” and “Oh! You Pretty Things” while a montage of film clips and silhouetted sea creatures, edited Yellow Submarine-style, played. Like a band saving their best-known song for their very last number, Jorge broke into “Queen Bitch,” calling back to the very end of the film where he belts out the song during the below-the-line credits. The crowd reaction was ecstatic, with the majority of honorary Team Zissou members remembering that moment when they saw the film for the first time, and watched it until the very end.
As the crowd piled out of the concert hall, many of them decked out in the Team Zissou uniform of red cap and blue shirt, you could tell that the concertgoers were happy to have celebrated a tribute to David Bowie via a film that has meant so much to a sizeable group of people. We can only hope that Rushmore gets the Broadway musical treatment in the near future, and the same fans and their children will come together for another night out at the theater, complete with second-hand prep school blazers.
About Greg Carlson: I’m a huge movie fan who frequents Scarecrow Video on a regular basis. My top three films are (in random order): “Time Bandits”, “Repo Man”, and “Taxi Driver.” In my spare time, I like to hunt for vinyl records and kitschy items old-school-style, via thrift stores and estate sales – eBay and Craigslist are not part of the strategery.