Although not the debut film of director Wes Anderson, and certainly not of star Bill Murray, Rushmore introduced the world to the both of them. Anderson’s first feature Bottle Rocket (an expansion of the short film previously featured here on Open Culture) hadn’t found a particularly large audience upon its theatrical release in 1996. But quite a few of the viewers who had seen and appreciated it seemed to run in Murray’s circles, and in a 1999 Charlie Rose interview the actor told of being sent copy after unwatched copy by friends and professional contacts alive.
But Murray only needed to read a few pages of Anderson’s new script to understand that the young director knew what he was doing, and his abilities became even more evident on set. “I said, ‘What’s this shot we got?’ He goes, ‘Oh, it’s one I saw in Barry Lyndon.'” But in Rushmore it depicts “the intermission of the school play,” a full-fledged Kubrickian shot “coming past a lot of, you know, mothers and fathers going — jabbering, and all the way out past people buying Cokes and drinks.” Yes, “the good ones copy, the great ones steal,” but to Murray’s mind that saying “sort of sends a misdirection.”
Not to Anderson, however, whose rare combination of cinephilia and directorial skill have inspired him to make films both rich in cinematic homage and possessed of their own distinctive sensibility — a sensibility that let Murray break out of the standard goofball roles that had threatened to imprison him. In the video essay “Steal Like Wes Anderson,” Thomas Fight examines the now no-longer-young filmmaker’s more recent repurposing of the work of auteurs who came before. In 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, for example, Anderson nearly remakes an entire scene from Torn Curtain, Alfred Hitchcock’s Cold-War thriller with Paul Newman and Julie Andrews that also happens to involve an eastern European hotel.
Anderson doesn’t simply lift Hitchcock’s shots but recomposes them to “fit within his more planometric and symmetrical style,” using the cinematic reference “to add to the experience of the story” and play with audience expectations. If you’ve seen Torn Curtain, you know how Newman’s character shakes the man tailing him; if you’ve seen The Grand Budapest Hotel, you know it doesn’t work out quite so well for Jeff Goldblum’s character. But only if you’ve seen both films can you appreciate Anderson’s sequence — and indeed, Hitchcock’s original — to the fullest. Even now, those of us excitedly anticipating the October release of Anderson’s latest feature The French Dispatch are speculating about not only which classic films inspired it, but also which classic films it will compel us to revisit and enjoy afresh.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.