Film and TV

Bottle Rocket Screens Thursday, Hosted by Observer Alumn Matt Zoller Seitz

Before Wes Anderson became the director of quirky, mannered films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and last year's Moonrise Kingdom, he was a University of Texas graduate sharing an apartment with brothers Luke and Owen Wilson.

Before Matt Zoller Seitz became TV critic for New York magazine and, plus editor in chief of, he was a 25-year-old staff writer for the Dallas Observer.

Then came Bottle Rocket, first as a short film, followed by a feature-length version. Both the short and the feature return to Dallas this Thursday for a special screening at The Texas Theatre, accompanied by Seitz. It's organized and presented by the USA Film Festival, who premiered the Bottle Rocket short to Texas audiences 20 years ago. During the event, Seitz will be signing copies of his new book, The Wes Anderson Collection, and will participate in a special Q&A and a salute to Kumar Pallana, a frequent Anderson collaborator who died last month at the age of 94.

As reported last month, The Wes Anderson Collection is the result of a friendship between Seitz and Anderson that began in 1994, when Seitz wrote about both versions of Bottle Rocket for the Observer.

For those who haven't seen either the short or the feature, Anderson's off-beat comedy centers on a small band of bumbling criminals, headed by friends Dignan (Owen Wilson) and Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson). They have an accomplice in the equally awkward Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave). The man they report to, known as Mr. Henry, is played by James Caan, of The Godfather and Misery fame. Caan is absent from the short film, but the Wilsons and Musgrave star in both.

The short film first premiered at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, before appearing at Dallas' own USA Film Festival. It made such an impression on Seitz, that he wrote a capsule review of it as part of his coverage, plus a standalone article on Anderson and the Wilsons, culminating in a cover story on the making of the Bottle Rocket feature.

"Something may have usurped it, but at the time it was the longest cover story ever published in the Dallas Observer," Seitz says by phone from New York.

Looking back at the film, he sees it as unique among the many movies that have filmed in Dallas.

"Bottle Rocket is maybe the only movie I can think of that uses Dallas as Dallas," he says. "The original Robocop was filled in Dallas but it was standing in for Detroit....Logan's Run was shot in Dallas, but I don't think they ever say it's set in Dallas. This was a different deal. Wes used Dallas the way that Woody Allen used New York."

During production, Seitz was frequently on set, getting a firsthand look at how the young Anderson worked. But where it would be difficult to just show up on an Anderson set today, in 1994, gaining access to the up-and-coming acting-directing team was much easier.

"It was very casual," Seitz says. "It was just another little movie that happened to be shooting in Dallas. I could literally call Wes or Owen and say, 'Hey, where are you guys shooting today?"

The cover story on Bottle Rocket was the last piece Seitz wrote for the Observer before joining The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, as a pop culture columnist.

Anderson left Dallas shortly after, too. He filmed Rushmore, his follow-up feature, in his birthplace of Houston, while 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums was filmed in New York. Since then, his films have taken him further from Texas, with The Life Aquatic shooting largely in Italy and The Darjeeling Limited in India.

Seitz and Anderson have kept in touch over the years, but the connection he feels to the director's movies goes beyond Seitz's own articles and a personal relationship with the director. When Seitz's wife died unexpectedly in 2006 from a heart attack, he found immense comfort and meaning in The Life Aquatic, often considered Anderson's least appreciated work.

"It really, really hit home for me, because I was a very angry person during those years," he says.

The Life Aquatic stars Bill Murray as Steve Zissou, a Captain Ahab figure who, with his oddball crew, goes in search of the Jaguar shark who killed his friend and mentor.

"At the end of it, [Zissou] suffers another death," Seitz says. "It has absolutely nothing to do with the Jaguar shark. And I think he realizes at that point that there's nothing he could have done and there's nothing that he can do. That sometimes these things just happen."

Seitz expressed his feelings about the movie to Anderson when he began work on a series of video essays that prefaced The Wes Anderson Collection. "Thank you for making The Life Aquatic," he said. "That movie meant everything to me."

That's ability to make work that touches others do deeply is part of what distinguishes Anderson from other contemporary directors.

"All over the world there are people who have seen his movies--whether it's The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore-- and it touches them emotionally," Seitz says. "And he's never met these people. Like, that's the ultimate compliment you could pay an artist. To come up to him and say, 'You know what? You don't know me, you've never met me, but you get me.' That's what it's all about."

Thursday night's special Bottle Rocket screening, book signing, and Kumar Pallana tribute begins at 7:00 pm at The Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff.

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Andrew Welch
Contact: Andrew Welch