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With only a singular exception (The Darjeeling Limited), all of Wes Anderson‘s films have been works of art that are equal parts entertainment and emotion. Everyone will have their own favorite, but for me the top spot is a rotating position alternately occupied by Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Both films are pure perfection, but while the latter satisfies my darker moods, the exploits of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) and friends are perfect whenever. It’s beautiful, funny, smart, and loaded with heart courtesy of Bill Murray.

The Criterion Collection added Rushmore to their Blu-ray roster in 2011, and among the numerous extras is a commentary track featuring Anderson, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman. Unfortunately, the trio appear to have recorded separately, but they still have a collective wealth of information to share on a movie they still hold dear.

Rushmore (1998)

Commentators: Wes Anderson (director, co-writer), Owen Wilson (actor, co-writer), Jason Schwartzman (actor)

1. The painting of Herman Blume’s (Bill Murray) family seen during the opening credits is currently hanging in Anderson’s home.

2. The parting curtains that show the changing months was accomplished on set with a rack opened on cue by set dressers. Anderson greatly prefers in camera tricks because doing optical effects requires duplicating your original negative. That process dilutes the sharpness of the image, and he wanted the movie to be “clean and sharp.”

3. They filmed at St. Johns school in Houston which is where Anderson actually went as a student. The room where Max Fischer (Schwartzman) meets with Dr. Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) is actually the school’s Senior Tea Room where they would go after class for little sandwiches and such. So that explains a lot.

4. The teacher in the opening scene is played by Dipak Pallana who is the son of Anderson regular, Kumar Pallana.

5. They originally had a specialist come in to train Schwartzman on how to write numbers and calligraphy, but it became too complicated so they just used editing to hide Schwartzman’s shortcomings as a mathematician.

6. Herman’s first appearance giving a speech to the class was inspired by Wilson’s father.

7. Anderson’s father “loaned” him a Super 8 camera when he was ten years old, and he used it to film shorts and plays similar in vein to Max’s.

8. Anderson is a Manhunter fan. “He [Brian Cox] was a great Hannibal Lecter.”

9. They spent over a year trying to cast the role of Max and originally had someone like Noah Taylor in mind for it. “A young Mick Jagger, that slightly uncooked look,” is how Wilson describes it. Can you imagine that? Schwartzman was the opposite of what they pictured, both physically and in regard to his famous Hollywood family, but Anderson and Wilson thought he was perfect after spending just a short time with him.

10. Olivia Williams helped Schwartzman with an essay he was writing about Hamlet. She’s British, so it’s pretty much cheating.

11. Anderson sent Murray the Rushmore script, and the actor called him back shortly after to discuss it. Anderson asked if he had seen Bottle Rocket, and Murray said he’d been sent a tape of it, lost it, and had been sent a second one. The director offered to send another eventually leading to Murray owning multiple copies. “I finally figured out that he really didn’t want to see it,” says Anderson. “He just wanted to do this one. Which, I kind of like that. He read this script, he liked this script, and he just wanted to stay with this one.”

12. It was suggested to Schwartzman that he should wax his chest because Max should be hairless. He did so and was not pleased that the results are only barely glimpsed in the wrestling scene.

13. At one point Anderson considered doing the entire soundtrack with music from The Kinks.

14. Max’s stage production of “Serpico” was originally called “Shakedown in Alphabet City.”

15. Luke Wilson suggested the “Oh are they?” line for his character’s exchange with Max.

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16. They showed the film to Schwartzman’s uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, and his biggest reaction was that the case of wine glimpsed in an early dinner scene was from one of his own winery’s biggest competitors in the Napa Valley. This may or may not be a joke on Anderson’s part.

17. Max’s expulsion mirrored Wilson’s own. “A sad day,” he says. “Parents were very embarrassed, my mother had to come pick me up, my poor father was on the Board of Trustees, and his son gets expelled from the school.” While Max is forced to attend Grover Cleveland public high school Wilson actually went to Thomas Jefferson.

18. Sara Tanaka was attending Brown University when she was cast as Margaret Yang. “Those were her glasses.” She took them off during the audition, and her eyes immediately went cross-eyed. Per Anderson, that pretty much earned her the role.

19. Wilson mentions that he was expelled in part because after being caught for some infraction he refused to name the other conspirators. Schwartzman comments immediately after stating that Wilson often leaves out the fact that he did end up naming names before getting the boot.

20. Anderson says the fact that Mason Gamble played Dennis the Menace made him very prejudiced against the kid at first. Gamble proved Anderson’s fears wrong in his audition and on-set performance.

21. The beekeeper brought drones and worker bees for the scene where Max pours bees into Herman’s hotel room, but while the drones don’t sting, they also wouldn’t fly around so they had to use the workers. Everyone wore protective gear except for Murray who was unafraid, and only the script supervisor was stung.

22. The scene where Max tries to forcibly kiss Rosemary makes Wilson uncomfortable in its realness. “It feels very real in a movie that in a lot of places feels sort of dreamy, but I feel it’s appropriate because it has to finally puncture Max’s little make-believe world that he’s in.”

23. An earlier draft of the script saw Max attempting to become headmaster of Rushmore and entering into a war with Dr. Guggenheim.

24. The binocular POV is accomplished with a 6-foot matte build-out. I always assumed that effect was done via optical effects, but then again I also don’t understand why it’s used at all seeing as it doesn’t actually look like that when you view something through binoculars.

25. Photos of Wilson are used as photos of the deceased Edward Applebee character.

26. The script originally featured Max making out with Rosemary after he crawls through her window, but Anderson cut it because they couldn’t figure out how to write it properly. “But when I told Jason… he really latched onto it for a variety of reasons, and he was the one who insisted we shoot it, and kept talking about it for the whole shoot.” Anderson let Schwartzman try it as an alternate take, apparently without Williams’ knowledge, and that’s the take they kept.

27. Anderson credits Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger films, particularly The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, as inspiring how this film looks. “The way that I know about those Powell and Pressburger movies is the Criterion versions with [Martin] Scorsese talking about them.”

28. Anderson found composer Mark Mothersbaugh “eccentric.” I will now be referring to them as Pot and Kettle, respectively.

29. Wilson recalls test audiences complaining about the nudie pinups in the scene following Max’s Vietnam play. “Those posters are there I believe,” says Anderson, “because Max is uncompromising in his depiction of the war, and he believes that is the truth of what it was like inside the barracks so even for the party decorations he’s going to make it absolutely honest and will not alter it to make it more palatable to people with more conservative tastes. And also we just thought it would be funny if little kids were looking at the centerfolds.”

30. The end credits are Futura font.

Best in Commentary

  • Wilson: “You were always aware of a couple kids at school who had really hot mothers.”
  • Anderson: “This [Serpico] set is completely out of proportion with anything that you would normally see at a high school production I think, but it’s part of Max’s ability to generate funding for these projects.”
  • Anderson: “This thing where Bill runs away at the end of the scene [where Harold delivers Max's note to Rosemary]… I asked him how he would feel about maybe sprinting away at the end of the scene, and he thought about it for a second and said ‘you mean to have an excuse for my heart beating so fast, yeah I could do that.’”
  • Anderson: “When Bill falls off of that fence it was improvised, but that’s because he fell.”
  • Wilson: “I tried to start a rowing team at TJ [Thomas Jefferson]. Nah I’m just kidding.”
  • Schwartzman: “The way that Bill eats a carrot in this scene? I’ve never seen anyone eat a carrot so well, and I told Bill ‘You ate the carrot like a manimal!’”

Final Thoughts

Even missing most of the film’s fantastic dialogue due to listening to the commentary track, Rushmore is one gorgeous movie. Anderson and Wilson have created a very intentional world here, and both men speak very clearly and passionately about their collaboration, the process, and the various talents involved in the production.

As informative and enlightening as the commentary is, though, it lacks the spark that having all three speakers in the same room would have created. Still, beyond the commentary, the other extras, and even the Criterion name, Rushmore is a fantastic film that belongs on your shelf.

Check out more commentary commentary in the Commentary Commentary archives


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