By Amy Nicholson
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All he could bring into the Ransom Center was a piece of notebook paper and a pencil, but once he was inside, a world populated by artists, writers and filmmakers was his to explore. Some of us spent the better part of our college years pouring beers over our heads. Anderson spent hours researching F. Scott Fitzgerald, François Truffaut and others who would become his cultural heroes.
"I was interested in those people, and just as interested in their lives as I was in their work," Anderson says.
The driver drifts off, and Amarillo is too far away for the passenger to pursue him. Conversations need rest stops, too. Inside the rented Ford Explorer, it’s basically inert. The miles roll by unheralded except by the digital miles-to-empty reading on the truck’s display panel. Finally, the shrill ring of the car phone interrupts the sound of wheels turning. It’s Anderson’s brother Eric in D.C., petitioning Wes to come home for Christmas or New Year’s or something like that. When the phone is handed to the passenger, Eric picks up where the conversation about college left off, telling of going through old stuff at their father’s house and stumbling upon a box of about 20 post cards Wes sent Eric from college. He says the post cards were bursting with enthusiasm for films and books and the lives Wes was discovering.
"They were the most vibrant things," Eric says. "They just got me excited about anything to do with movies and writing. That was my artistic education."
It wasn’t long before Anderson’s exploratory steps became more determined. He began using the local cable-access station’s equipment to make and air what he calls "little, short, stupid little movies." This enabled him to develop basic skills and to hone his eye for the endearing idiosyncrasies of the people in his world. Starting with his landlord.
"That was the main thing," Anderson says, "this landlord documentary."
It all began when he and Wilson, who were roommates by now, started to battle their landlord over his refusal to fix their window cranks. To illustrate the gravity of the issue, Anderson and Wilson staged a break-in of their own apartment. They took some stuff out, messed the place up a little and called the police, blaming it on the broken window cranks. When the police and the landlord arrived, the landlord said it looked like an inside job. The police didn’t take it too seriously, either. Things then escalated to where the guys stopped paying rent and the landlord tried taking some of their stuff as collateral.
"We ended up moving in the middle of the night, and he hunted us down with a private investigator," Anderson recalls fondly. "I went to meet him, and I proposed doing this project."
Amazingly, the landlord agreed to fund the documentary, which would run on the access channel, ostensibly to promote Carl Hindler Properties.
"He believed in, like, death penalties for drunk driving, burglary, and he had this pet snake that died and that he had given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which didn’t work. I said, ‘Well, what was the snake’s name?’ And he said, ‘Ah, we didn’t really give it a name, we just called it baby, or snake.’ And I said, ‘Uh, well, what did you do with the snake after it died?’ And he said, ‘I have it in the freezer in the back. I’d like to take it to a taxidermist.’"
Anderson continues with his head slightly nodding and a smile escaping. It’s as animated as he’s been since In-N-Out. "I asked him, ‘Have you ever used a lawsuit as a method of doing business, as a way of pressuring people to get what you want?’ And he said, ‘All the time. We use it all the time. And we’re always winning, always winning major settlements.’ He had this sailboat in his driveway. He liked to just go out and sit on the boat, but he never got the boat in the water. The boat was not seaworthy."
Welcome to Wes Anderson’s movie milieu, where friends apply nasal breathing strips or dress in yellow jump suits to do armed robberies, as in Bottle Rocket. Or where a sophomore preppie who looks like a discombobulated teen version of Superman-era Christopher Reeve tries to build an aquarium on school grounds to express his love for an older woman, as in Rushmore. Or where, as with the landlord, peculiar individuality is exploited for humor but never derision.
"I didn’t do the documentary in a way that was meant to look bad," Anderson explains soberly. "I just thought he was a funny character and I would just try to make it a truthful portrait."
Given all that hashappened, the passenger is curious about what the hell the driver thought was goingto happen when he and his friends started cooking up those 14-minute installments of their pet project, Bottle Rocket.
"You know, we were hoping we were going to become huge and all that stuff," he says matter-of-factly. "I mean, our ultimate hope was that people are going to see the movie and everybody’s going to love it. That kind of thing."
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