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RUSHMORE (1998/1999 Criterion DVD)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Whether they know it or not, everybody has their first Wes Anderson movie. Mine was Rushmore, an easy entry point, and I had never seen anything like it before. It has a genuine quality, an old-fashioned look, and a killer soundtrack — all Wes Anderson trademarks.
The Criterion Collection (“a continuing series of important classics and contemporary films”) deliver some of the best colour transfers, and that is necessary for any Wes Anderson film. Soaked in dark but rich colours, Anderson fills his work with vibrancy. His visual trademarks are apparent right from the first scene, a hilarious fantasy sequence introducing our main protagonist Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). Max is more than a dreamer though. He is a doer. He dreams things and makes things happen. As such he is the founding (and sometimes sole) member of multiple clubs at Rushmore Academy. He writes, produces and directs lavish school plays with no thought given to compromise, or safety. Unfortunately, Max doesn’t dream much of his own schoolwork, and never seems to get it done. He is on notice. Fail one more class, and he’s expelled from the school he loves so much. Brian Cox (Super Troopers) is excellent as Dr. Guggenheim, the school principal.
Max soon meets steel magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), to the tune of “Making Time” by The Creation (1967). The retro music and formal dress at Rushmore Academy gives the movie a timeless feel. Could it be the 90’s? The 80’s? The 70’s? Sure, why not. Instead of working at getting his grades up, Max continues to dream. He dreams of saving the Latin program in school (for no real reason other than just to do it), and of new teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams). He’s a charmer, but often with ulterior motives. He and Blume manage to find a bond together. That is, before Blume himself falls for Miss Cross.
This leads to a strange rivalry between Max and Blume, with each jockeying for position in the Miss Cross stakes, with little thought given to how she feels about the whole thing. It also sets up some pretty amusing situations, such as Max trying to build a school aquarium for Miss Cross. He almost succeeds, too. Max is a hard character to read, as he often wants to make certain impressions. Blume, on the other hand, is clearly depressed, living in a sham of a marriage with two barbarian sons he doesn’t even seem to like. As their rivalry grows in intensity, so does the music, culminating in The Who’s epic live version of a “A Quick One While He’s Away” from the deluxe version of Live at Leeds. Wes Anderson has a knack for a musical montage too, and Cat Stevens’ “Here Comes My Baby” is host to one such montage. (Stevens also appears later on with “The Wind” in another song-appropriate scene.) The Stones’ “I Am Waiting” is more great music for marking the passage of time.
Max might not have been the best student, but genius does not always get good grades. His plays have an epic scope, and his aquarium does too: $35,000 cost, just for the initial plans. (Some of the aquatic movie footage that Max views may foreshadow a future Anderson film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray). He’s also a perfectionist. When it comes to his plays, every line matters. “Don’t fuck with my play!” he screams to the star of his version of Serpico, right before getting punched right in the nose. Finally young Max possesses a razor sharp wit, which he uses at will especially when it comes to those he considers love rivals, like Peter Flynn (Luke Wilson).
Rushmore is an ode to the creative mind. After some humbling experiences, Max learns to use his inventiveness to bring people together. His final triumph, to the strains of “Ooh La La” (The Small Faces), is to bring all the film’s characters (even the bully student Magnus) together in solidarity. It’s all done with plenty of laughs, smiles and a few tears.
Wes Anderson utilizes a cast of talents he would work with repeatedly, with Bill Murray being the most obvious. Kumar Pallana as Mr. Litteljeans, the groundskeeper, was an Anderson regular. Brian Cox, who also participated in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, brings a sour delight to Dr. Guggenheim. Secret weapon in this movie however is Mason Gamble as Max’s ally Dirk Calloway. Another Anderson trademark is that each frame possesses astonishing detail and visual information. Like beautifully painted and impossibly detailed storyboards, his scenes have a life and tell a million stories in the background. Much like one of Max’s plays, actually.
Without a doubt, one of the best special DVD features is a selection of play adaptations by the Max Fischer Players, from the 1999 MTV Movie Awards. The players do their own on-stage takes of: Armageddon, The Truman Show, and Out of Sight. MTV were producing some very funny bits for their movie award shows at the time, and these are some of the best. Utilizing the original cast and familiar music from the film, these feel like a fairly natural extension of Rushmore.
Other valuable trinkets include an on-screen program for Max’s Vietnam drama Heaven & Hell, and his adaptation of Serpico. Of course there must be an audio commentary and that is by Wes Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and star Jason Schwartzman. There are also the requisite making-of featurettes and supplements. The biggest selling feature of this Criterion edition for those who value physical products is the giant fold-out map. From here you can follow the events of the movie on a delightful full colour sketch by movie artist (and director’s brother) E.C. Anderson. In fact all the packaging for this DVD was designed by Anderson.