ON DVD & BLU-RAY
Rushmore (1998) Blu Ray (The Criterion Collection)
An eccentric love triangle
Jason Schwartzman plays Max Fischer, a 15-year-old hairdresser’s son who attends the prestigious Rushmore Academy. While he is highly creative and excels at an incredible array of extracurricular activities - including running several clubs ranging from theatre to beekeeping - he doesn’t do too well academically. Indeed, the school’s principal, Dr. Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) warns him that flunking another subject will result in him being kicked out.
One day, he borrows a picture book called “Diving for Sunken Treasure” from the library, only to find that someone has handwritten a Jacques Cousteau quote on one of the pages. When he discovers that it was written by a young, pretty teacher at the academy named Rosemary Cross (played by Olivia Williams), he quickly becomes infatuated with her. Her main passion in life is the collection of fish which she keeps in her classroom. While they click on many levels, the fact that he is too young to be dating a fully-grown adult (understandably) proves to be a fatal obstacle in her eyes.
Nonetheless, he perseveres by begging his wealthy industrialist friend Herman Blume (Bill Murray) to give him enough money in order to gain her affections by building a huge aquarium on the school’s baseball pitch. When he attempts to do this without getting Guggenheim’s permission, he is expelled and has to attend a nearby state school. Not one to quit, he asks Blume to help him to get back in touch with Rosemary despite the fact that her lack of interest is becoming increasingly obvious. However, this has unintended consequences as Blume starts to fall for her himself.
Watch a trailer:
Charming but not quite Anderson’s best
While Rushmore wasn’t idiosyncratic director Wes Anderson’s debut (that would be Bottle Rocket, released in 1996), it was the first to cement his distinctive stylistic traits with a wide audience. All of the characteristics which would mark his work are present and correct: a long series of quirky but emotionally sincere character performances, exquisitely framed and colour-coordinated shots, charming visual easter eggs, stylish montages, old pop songs on the soundtrack to match the emotional mood of a given scene. While his films are widely enjoyed by critics and the majority of audience members, there’s also a vocal minority of detractors who shout out that his work overly emphasises his cute, unashamedly self-conscious style above everything else.
Personally, I really enjoy his films. However, while many fans cite Rushmore as being amongst his best, I have to say that I disagree. The main problem is that the story’s talented central protagonist, Max Fischer, is such an arrogant and over-entitled little squirt. Much of his behaviour through the course of the film constitutes blatant stalking and harassment, either against Rosemary (despite the fact that any romantic prospects with her are clearly a non-starter) or against Blume as he gets back at him for falling for her himself. Now, there’s nothing wrong with portraying seriously flawed central characters on film as such. In the case of Fischer, however, the narrative makes it clear that we’re supposed to be rooting for him despite him committing selfish, mean-spirited and frankly criminal acts such as cutting Blume’s brake cables. While he does redeem himself somewhat in the third act, the film’s characters seem far too forgiving of him.
Nonetheless, even lesser Anderson films offer a treasure trove of delights surrounding the core narrative, and this is no exception. There are plenty of zany character-driven laughs courtesy of a near-perfect cast. While the ensemble aspect marking most of Anderson’s later films isn’t as prevalent in this case (the focus leans heavily on the central love triangle and especially Fischer), there is still a clutch of fine performances to enjoy here. Jason Schwartzman’s character here may not be the most likeable in the world but his dryly cocky delivery is hilarious throughout. Surprisingly, Bill Murray plays it more straight and restrained than usual here but is heartfelt as a jaded middle-aged man who seems to be inspired by the presence of those younger than himself - be it Fischer’s high-flying exuberance and creativity, or Rosemary’s unassuming English rose charms. Speaking of the latter character, Olivia Williams portrays her in a believably sweet and British-polite manner, albeit not without a tangible streak of assertiveness which surfaces when called for. Seymour Cassel is also notable as Max Fischer’s big-hearted best buddy of a father, while Stephen McCole is amusing as a coarse Scottish-accented school bully.
The undoubted highlights for me, however, are the various stage plays which Fischer concocts. These include an adaptation of the film Serpico and a Vietnam war drama complete, with explosions and flamethrowers, which the audience is made to watch through safety goggles. In these scenes, you can see traces of the homegrown-style visual effects which would become more prevalent in the likes of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Isle of Dogs.
In the end, despite my own reservations about the central protagonist, Rushmore emerges as an impeccably-designed and detail-rich film, positively soaked in quirky charm.
Runtime: 93 mins
Dir: Wes Anderson
Script: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Connie Nielsen, Stephen McCole
Blu Ray Audio Visual
True to form, Criterion’s visual and audio aspects here are close to flawless. The 5.1 surround sound really comes into its own during the more multi-instrumental musical moments. Everything’s spot on in terms of sharpness and colour grading - just ideal for picking out those all-important background easter eggs.
Along with the Blu Ray, we get a pullout map of Rushmore in a childlike hand-drawn style as well as a leaflet with an essay by film critic Dave Behr, who compares Rushmore’s storyline to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and also comments on its semi-autobiographical nature.
On the disc itself are the following:
Audio Commentary with Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman
Anderson and Wilson reveal that a number of aspects in the film’s script were based on their real-life high school experiences. Much like the Max Fischer character, Owen Wilson was expelled from a school (St. Mark’s in Dallas), and Anderson attempted to get a number of ambitious stage productions off the ground during his adolescence, including one of Star Wars. The school scenes were shot in St. John’s School in Houston which Anderson himself attended. Nearly all of the film was shot on location, the exception being Blume’s office which was a set built on stilts inside a real factory.
The Serpico play-within-a-film scene was one of the first scenes to be scripted. Anderson and Wilson had originally wanted it to come up with an original crime drama called “Shakedown in Alphabet City” but they changed their minds and decided to reference Sidney Lumet’s 1970s classic instead. The Vietnam play at the finale, meanwhile, was shot in the school gymnasium and features appearances by just about everyone involved in the film.
As the title suggests, we get some audition video footage featuring Jason Schwartzman, Stephen McCole, Ronnie & Keith McCawley, Sara Tanaka and Mason Gamble.
1999 MTV Movie Awards Shorts
A trio of brief stage adaptations of the movies The Truman Show, Armageddon and Out of Sight directed by Wes Anderson, performed by the Max Fischer players and introduced by Fischer himself (Jason Schwartzman). They’re rather charming and amusing - a real find from the vaults.
The Making of Rushmore
This light but entertaining behind-the-scenes documentary was directed by Wes’s brother Eric Chase Anderson, who was on set for the entire shoot capturing the necessary footage. He talks us through the various cast and crew members as well as showing us how they created some of the visual effects, health and safety standards on-set and a bit of Jason Schwartzman entertaining everyone by playing piano between takes.
Film to Storyboard Comparison
We see storyboard drawings in parallel with footage from the geometry test dream sequence early on in the film.
We get storyboards for five key scenes here: the geometry dream, the yearbook montage, the Blume country club scene, the “you are forgiven” montage and the Vietnam play.
The Charlie Rose Show, featuring Wes Anderson and Bill Murray
This 54-minute archive episode features Murray talking about Hollywood agencies, dealing with the huge success of Ghostbusters (he moved to France for six months in order to get away from it all) and, of course, Rushmore. He loved the script and agreed to waive his usual salary in order to make it. Anderson talks about the casting of Max Fischer as well as the apprehension he initially felt about meeting Bill Murray after hearing stories about him throwing someone in a lake (a quick Google search reveals that he did this to producer Laura Ziskin on the set of What About Bob?). He also discusses his friendship and creative relationship with Owen Wilson as well as the extent to which their film has stolen from other movies (notably The Graduate).
A theatrical trailer and image gallery round out the extras.
While Rushmore isn’t my favourite Wes Anderson film, it’s still a minor classic. The Criterion Collection’s package is neat and stylish, making it a must for fans of the director.