By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
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By Sherrie Li
After Anderson briefs him on the situation, Murray seems eager to talk. It’s clear he likes the idea of a couple of guys driving into the night with a fairly absurd destination in mind. Amarillo? Why Amarillo? Because that’s where Anderson made his first stop the last time he drove to New York, and it worked. Weirdly enough, as Murray warms up to the car phone, the passenger gets the idea the actor wouldn’t mind riding shotgun on this trip.
"Is what you see with Wes what you get?" the passenger asks, looking over at the driver, who has resumed looking straight ahead.
"No, no. I don’t think what you see is what you get with Wes. You get much more," answers Murray. In the background is the excited pitch of the family pool tournament we’ve taken Murray away from. "He looks like R. Crumb’s old drawings of himself. He looks like he’s going to be outraged, like he finally sees what’s really wrong with you, and then the horror backs off and the beauty comes through."
Murray goes on to say that what made the Rushmore shoot work for him, besides the quality of the material, was Anderson’s ability to stress the positive. "Wes could find the good content in whatever you were working with. That made it easy. It freed you up to work."
His wife’s sharp cue having hastened an early departure from the action, Murray peppers the conversation with droll commentary on the tournament’s progress. It isn’t hard to place him there as Blume, off to the side in a tux, cigarette dangling from his lips, a spectator in a tournament of his own making, tossing peanuts to the family retriever in a small act of resignation and rebellion.
It is suggested to Murray that his characterization of Blume has an elegant, spiritually wasted quality that suits the actor.
"I was feeling the elegance of my own spiritual wastedness. I was feeling how all the touchstones of wealth and privilege are slippery," he says. "Those emotions are not far from anyone’s home if you’ve lived a little. Some days I came home and I felt a little sore. I felt like I’d been cooked a little."
What about Anderson? Has Murray seen something in him that might not be apparent to the casual observer, or even the 14-hour one?
"He’s very good at what he does, but don’t be afraid to ask him if he needs a Band-Aid or some change, things you generally ask of people who look like they’re in worse shape than him," Murray says in a way that makes you unsure how serious he is. "A Band-Aid, yeah, I think a Band-Aid. There’s some cuts there."
"The first night we were on the shoot, he gave me three pairs of socks," recalls Anderson, after Murray hangs up. "Two are still in my bag."
Darkness wraps around the rented Ford Explorer like a blanket as we drive into the plains of eastern New Mexico. We made it from the kiln-baked landscape of the low desert to the higher elevations of pine trees and snow on the ground and moonlight reflecting off mountain silhouettes. And back down again. The driver was right, Arizona and New Mexico are big, but at last Amarillo seems within reach. It’s not that far from Tucumcari, and Tucumcari is not that far from here. The driver is ready for the home stretch. Ever since he stopped flying two years ago, he’s used to putting these miles on a day.
"Wes won’t characterize it as a fear of flying, but more as a love of the open road," explains Owen Wilson, calling from Los Angeles. "Once my mom asked why he won’t fly, and Wes replied, ‘Nobody knows.’ That’s become the standard answer."
It’s the third or fourth time in a matter of minutes that Wilson has called. He and Anderson are in- ä volved in a minor squabble regarding some advice Anderson is giving Wilson that Wilson probably agrees with but doesn’t necessarily want to hear.
"That was the smooth-things-out conversation," Anderson says of Wilson’s latest and most conciliatory call, "which then becomes the general criticisms, the ‘Okay, I agree, but here’s your big problem.’"
Anderson is chuckling. "We’re like an old married couple. Never go to bed angry."
Outside the Explorer, the Rushmore hoopla is steamrolling. In fact, the car phone has been ringing off the hook all afternoon and into the evening with reports from the openings in Los Angeles and New York. The larger journey seems to be catching up with us.
"We had two guys who were either on hallucinogens or laughing gas," buzzes Randy Poster, the film’s music supervisor, from New York.Übermanager Geyer Kosinski had a stool pigeon at the L.A. opener who phoned in a report. Kosinski phoned Owen with a report of that report, and then Owen called Wes with a report of the report of the report. The report? Only front-row seats for latecomers. Spontaneous applause when the credits rolled. And this from a typically blasé L.A. matinee crowd. Word on the reviews is overwhelmingly positive, too. The New York Daily News says it’s "the best and most beautiful movie of 1998." The New Yorker can’t keep the smile off its face. In The New York Times, Janet Maslin says . . . well, who the hell ever knows what Janet Maslin is saying, but it seems really good. The passenger wants to know how this makes the driver feel. "You’re the next big thing. Does that rattle you?" "Do you think that’s right? I don’t know if that’s right." "Film critics are building altars to you in their offices." "Yeah, but did you read Kenneth Turan’s? Turan’s wasn’t that great." "How do you know? I want to talk to someone who knows this." "Barry Mendel [Rushmore’s producer]. He can read it to you. Okay, I mean Turan’s review is not the greatest review ever. It’s not terrible, but he says, like, he says something like . . . he didn’t like Max." "He didn’t like Max?" "He didn’t like the character. Not the performance, but the character." "All right, but you’re being hailed. You’re being praised. You’re being compared to Buster Keaton. Are you skeptical?" "No, I’m not skeptical. I mean, I like it. It doesn’t feel that great, but it feels good." "Why doesn’t it feel that great?" "Well, I don’t know." "Are you like Max in that you think, ‘Hey, I should be making what’s being called the best American movie of the year’?" "No, I wouldn’t say that. I’m actually in good spirits. But the reviews, bad reviews, I think, make you feel horrible. And, like, Turan’s review does not make me feel very good." "It doesn’t sound that bad." "It’s not that bad, but it just has a tendency to, like, draw everything into that. You sort of look for the worst and sink to that level." "Well, I could be sitting in the car with the Woody Allen of the next generation. How do you think I’m supposed to feel?" "Well, you gotta know that it’s hundreds of miles to go tonight, so I don’t care who you’re sitting in the car with, you’re not going to feel that good." "Yeah, I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel, either." "I actually feel pretty good. I wish we had some more daylight, but aside from that, I think we’re doing pretty well." "That’s what I mean, you’re keeping your eye on the project at hand, but I’m trying to talk about, not your place on this road to Amarillo, but your place on this road of life." "Right. The road to, uh, the road to Mulholland. The road to Fifth Avenue. Well, in terms of that, I can’t say that I feel ecstatically happy about it. The thing is, we really don’t have any sense of what level of attention the movie is going to have when it really comes out, you know?" Anderson should be forgiven if he’s a little wary of the warm embrace being extended to him and Rushmore. He heard it from the movie people before with Bottle Rocket, although not on this scale. Then, when Bottle Rocket, which refers to low-impact fireworks, lived up to its name at the box office, the experience left him thinking there were "lots of people hating that movie that we don’t know about." Rushmore, however, is different in important ways. Even though it clearly shares the same tender heart and skewed sensibility, the film is the product of an examined life — mostly Anderson’s — whereas Bottle Rocket was a snapshot of a particular moment. It’s a short distance between Max Fischer, the hurting adolescent who is trying to find the right balance of insecurity and bravado, and Wes Anderson as a boy. "It definitely couldn’t be more personal. Bottle Rocket was about our behavior at the time. This is about our lives and backgrounds and all that family stuff," Anderson admits. "When I talk about the story, I talk about it as something we did together, but there’s a tremendous amount of personal connection with me." Indeed, when Anderson speaks of the paradoxes of Max Fischer’s tenure at Rushmore Academy, it sounds as if he’s talking about himself in Hollywood. "Max wants to lead everybody, but he wants to do it in a way that uses this whole establishment, kind of," he says, obviously getting a charge out of divining his and Max’s character. "But he has his own ideas about things. He’s just not a conformist, but he hasn’t, like, reconciled himself with the image he wants to have, you know?" Of course. For men and for artists, that’s something that happens a ways down the road, on the larger journey. And that’s if you’re lucky. Meanwhile, even as his much-hoped-for film opens on both coasts, the driver is moving further into the anonymous middle of America, where for a few days, anyway, he won’t have to reconcile anything. The passenger suggests it’s kind of symbolic. "Now that you mention it," says the driver, "it sounds a little psychological. Like something’s happening and I don’t even know what I’m doing." Rushmore opens nationally on February 5.
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