Film Reviews

Unusual suspects

"I'll tell you something," Bob Musgrave whispers while standing in Goff's Hamburgers, a curiously highbrow dive off the Tollway. "Back in the '70s, the owner, Harvey Goff, used to keep this side door to the restaurant open, and every once in a while, he'd shoot a .38 slug into a bag of charcoal on the patio. No kidding! That's how he'd keep people in line." Musgrave swears that the front window to the eatery is bulletproof.

Harvey Goff stands as a menacing presence behind the counter, barking at customers to give him an order as if taking Army roll call.

It's hardly astonishing that Musgrave and his four collaborators--brothers Owen, Luke, and Andrew Wilson, and pal Wes Anderson--would choose this particular spot for an interview. Goff's possesses characteristics oddly similar to their Dallas-filmed indie comedy, Bottle Rocket: an elusive but undeniable charm and a product difficult to categorize despite an outward appearance that would seem to convey everything you need to know about it. Like Goff's isn't just a burger joint, Bottle Rocket isn't just a Gen X comedy.

"Wes and I met and started out doing a gritty, GoodFellas-type movie," says Owen Wilson, star and co-screenwriter of the film. "It just became clear that we didn't have the background--the street credentials--to pull it off properly, so we went into a direction that came much more easily, and that is comedy."

Bottle Rocket started out as a short film--a black-and-white 16-mm venture that caught the eye of Dallas-based screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson. A film festival or two later, the creators of the short found themselves in a development deal with James L. Brooks' Gracie Films, and soon thereafter shooting began on Bottle Rocket, the first feature film for all of the principals. (The Dallas Observer chronicled the making of Bottle Rocket in the September 7, 1995, cover story, "Slouching toward Hollywood.")

The current release is "very similar to the short," Owen says. "I think the tone and humor is the same in the short. Everybody [was in it], but Andrew's character 'Futureman' wasn't added yet."

Futureman is an interesting enough name, but what mischievous spirit came up with the idea of calling one of the characters "Bob Mapplethorpe," like the controversial gay photographer? "We already had the name Bob for the character," Owen explains, "and at one point we needed a last name. Mapplethorpe popped up. We thought it was really fun. Not many people catch it." The choice of name is never commented on in the movie. "I mean, there wasn't a scene that was cut out with Bob pissing in my mouth or something."

Like the characters portrayed in the movie, the filmmakers have a sense of humor about themselves. Although they all have moved to Los Angeles, they haven't gotten immersed in the Hollywood culture--or the indie-prod' culture either. Wes confesses he'd "like to meet more independent filmmakers. The two tops guys I'd like to meet are Steven Soderbergh, because I loved The Underneath and King of the Hill, and I also really liked [Richard Linklater's] Before Sunrise." So far, though, no luck.

If Bottle Rocket is a success, Wes might get his wish, though he comes off as even more independent that other independents just by the name of the newly formed production company. "Lots of independents like outlaw names for their company, like 'Band of Outsiders,'" Anderson explains. "We decided we wanted to name ourself something huge--monolithic. We talked about Venture Global Productions--American Imperial was one. I think we ended up with U.S. Pictures--kinda like U.S. Steel."

"This counts as a board meeting," Luke quips.
If, as Jean-Paul Sartre said, hell is spending eternity locked in a room with your friends, three brothers and their two best pals making movies together should tax relationships. Halfway through a 20-city tour, for example, tempers can run short. "We're getting kinda tired of the other guys' stories," Andrew says. "Getting tired of some of the other guys, period," adds Musgrave. But so far, the partnership has survived. They're even working on another script, and "would like to keep the same people," Owen says. "Yeah," Wes agrees. "I like having this whole team.

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Arnold Wayne Jones