Home Doll house Wes Anderson’s new film has surprising inspiration from Houston

Wes Anderson’s new film has surprising inspiration from Houston


When it comes to naming Texas directors, Wes Anderson might not be the first person that comes to mind. He may not be the fifth. After all, the Oscar-winning actor’s last eight films have been set in faraway destinations spanning the Northeastern United States, India, Japan, the ocean, and most of Europe.

But Anderson’s cinematic roots have always been firmly rooted in Houston, having honed his cinematic style with “Rushmore,” his second film which was shot in Houston for 50 days in 1997 and 98. With it, the director captured the town with scenes in Montrose and River Oaks, where he used his alma mater St. John’s College as a replacement for the titular Rushmore Academy, and the halls of Lamar High across the road after protagonist Max Fischer is expelled from the private school campus. Decades later Houston is littered with stories local extras, failed auditions and other cinematic magic.

Bill Murray, left, and Jason Schwartzman in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore”.

Touchstone Images / Touchstone Images

Anderson is a dominant figure in Hollywood, best known as an eccentric auteur filmmaker with a distinct visual elegance now synonymous with his name: it’s a dreamy, saturated ‘dollhouse’ aesthetic reminiscent of Art Nouveau, with a penchant for extreme details. Anderson’s style has been studied extensively since his beginnings by creating “Rushmore” in Houston, spawning everything from travel guides and popular Instagram accounts style advice and fashion aesthetics from designers like FE Castleberry.

A scene by Wes Anderson "Kingdom of moonrise."

A scene from Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom”.

Focus Features

Anderson’s latest film, “The French Dispatch”, was break the records of the pandemic era at the box office ahead of its release in Houston on Friday. Anthology, nicknamed “a love letter to journalists, revolves around the French foreign affairs office of the fictitious newspaper Liberty Kansas Evening Sun in a tribute to the New Yorker. Rolling Stone calls work the “most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson movie of all time”.

With Anderson now decades away from training his camera in Houston, he’s long spoken of how his birthplace and years in Texas influenced his career.

“Owen Wilson and I, when we were at the University of Texas, saw a movie shot on the street behind a restaurant we were going to, Mad Dog And Beans.” Anderson remembers. “It was Richard Linklater’s ‘Slacker’. We didn’t know anything about it, but we wanted to make movies, so we were prowling around, watching. Then we saw ‘Slacker’ at the Dolby Theater on the outskirts of campus and we were captivated by it. It was a film that had been made here. We could see the scene as we watched them film. It brought everything closer to home.

One place that notably informed Anderson’s creativity is the Menil Collection, which houses over 17,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs and rare books. Dominique de Menil founded the Montrose Museum in 1987 based on her and her late husband John’s vision of art as a spiritual necessity, according to the Ménil site.

“The whole notion of this place was something that inspired me a lot,” says Anderson, who says his imagination was sparked by surreal, abstract, expressionist and pop art exhibits, which he knew nothing about at the time. . “This thing that they built, it made me discover so many different kinds of art, so many different ways of thinking and being visual and inventing things and all that. Even the architecture of the place. .

John and Dominique de Ménil were born in Paris before immigrating to the United States during World War II. Anderson sees comparisons between their journey and mission and those of the characters in his latest film. “It was their interests and their collection and it represented their lives and the people they engaged with,” Anderson said. “[‘The French Dispatch’] It’s basically a European voice brought to America by someone who wanted to do this.

Anderson also found inspiration during his formative years at the Rothko Chapel in Houston. Named after the Russian-born abstract painter Mark Rothko and re-founded by John and Dominique de Ménil, the space serves as a non-denominational cathedral as well as a work of modern art. Anderson recalls being particularly fascinated about 30 years ago by an exhibit that spanned Rothko’s entire career.

“It wasn’t until seeing all of his work that I kind of understood,” Anderson says. “I saw something take shape in his mind that was so interesting to me and that never left my mind.” In order to create the perfect setting for this meditative space, Davie Leslie, Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel, explains that Rothko and architect Philip Johnson viewed the entire space as one work – so much so that each installation had to be an exact number of inches off the ground and in a specific location. “There is an accuracy,” Leslie said. “It all makes the work of art. Nothing is due to chance.

The same can be said of the way Anderson frames his films. “Bottle Rocket,” his 1996 feature debut shot in Dallas, Fort Worth and Hillsboro, immediately established his detailed and idiosyncratic visual style.

A scene from "Rocket in bottle."

A scene from “Bottle Rocket”.

“He definitely cares about the visuals,” says David Wasco, the production designer on “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Anderson’s first three films. “It was really a chance to connect with a director who cared so deeply about what the movie was like.”

Sandy Wasco, the director alongside her husband on this trio of Anderson films, says the director asked to watch “The Samourai” by Jean-Pierre Melvile and examine the work of photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, before to begin work on “Rushmore. Anderson especially wanted Sandy to interrogate the ‘young’ images of Lartigue where he started from a very low angle, she says. race.”

"The Royal Tenenbaums" (2001) examines a family whose original promise collapsed under the weight of seemingly endless betrayals.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) looks at a family whose original promise has collapsed under the weight of seemingly endless betrayals.

Touchstone photos

Anderson’s interest in speed has spread to real life as well. Between “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore”, Anderson had “fallen in love with Manhattan”, says David. But because Anderson didn’t really feel like flying, he drove his Honda Accord back and forth between New York and Texas. Sometimes he made the 1,650 mile trip in two days.

“I remember going with him to Houston, and he was driving about 160 km / h on the streets of the suburbs,” says David. “He had an obsession with driving fast and driving dangerously fast. “

Anderson needed to be in Houston frequently during this time because, after searching across North America for a prep school or Gothic college that matched his aesthetic, he finally decided to shoot “Rushmore” at his old school.

Actor Jason Schwartzman and director Wes Anderson stand in front of their promotional bus for the film "Rushmore".  (Photo by George Rizer / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Actor Jason Schwartzman and director Wes Anderson stand in front of their promotional tour bus for the movie “Rushmore”. (Photo by George Rizer / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston Globe / Boston Globe via Getty Images

“He wanted to be back on his own land where he has family,” says David. Anderson was treated like the “hometown boy who came home,” he adds, which opened the doors to production. “We had a lot of opportunities to enter and use places that would not normally be available to an out-of-state filmmaker.”

Anderson and the Wascos hired a number of Houston creatives for projects on the film. Mark Van Stone did all of the calligraphy in the film – important, since Max Fischer is president of the Rushmore Calligraphy Club and uses his skills to create posters for the various extracurriculars he also runs – the templates were provided by the collector of local Harry Bean trains, while the Eiffel Tower sculpture spotted in the class opening scene was also made by a local artist.

From left to right, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky and Jeffrey Wright in the film "The French Dispatch."

From left to right, Bill Murray, Wally Wolodarsky and Jeffrey Wright in the movie “The French Dispatch”.

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures, HO / TNS

Today, 23 years after the release of “Rushmore,” Houstonians are still waiting for Anderson to take another turn behind the camera in his hometown. No local shoot is on the horizon and Anderson’s next film, “Asteroid City”, due next year, is said to have been shot in Madrid. But Anderson’s love for the city of Bayou remains intact.

“When I go there to see my family, I go to the same places I have always been. I go to the same restaurants. At the Goode Company restaurants. I return to the Ménil. We usually show our films at the Art Gallery at some point, ”says Anderson. “I’m going to visit the places where I lived, where I went to school, where I walked. But what I miss the most are the people.


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