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Rushing Around

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 15, 1999:  Touring the States on a rock-star style bus - he doesn't like to fly and now, on the Disney dime, doesn't have to - writer-director Wes Anderson (right) seems, in conversation, anxious to tamp down the wave of accolades his "Rushmore" received after its Academy Award-qualifying run in Los Angeles in December. Looking like a domesticated, preppy version of R. Crumb and telling stories in witty, deadpan tones, Anderson seems pleased just to be talking about his storytelling ambitions. His first feature, "Bottle Rocket," while championed by powerhouse producer James L. Brooks, fizzled with many critics and most audiences upon its modest release. "Rushmore" is unlikely to suffer the same fate, partially because of a beautiful, modest performance by Bill Murray as a middle-aged little boy, but largely because of the range of humor Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson (left) and star Jason Schwartzman are able to extract from its story of an overachieving prep school underachiever.

While impatient young Max Fischer resembles characters ranging from "The Graduate"'s Benjamin Braddock to that unflappable no-talent Rupert Pupkin, Anderson's stylized world seems to present a view of the world instead of a view of movies. One of the overt references is to the deliciously garish production design of "The Red Shoes"' directors, Powell and Pressburger, but there are hints of literary influence as well (J. D. Salinger's untalented pseudo-ambitious kids), along with riffs on personal icons (Max's father is a barber, a la Charlie Brown's), and of autobiography (shot on the campus of his own prep days). "Ultimately, there's one way I could sort of draw on my favorites, all the people who have made me the most excited about movies, but I haven't done that," the tall, lean, 29-year-old says. "The people I've kind of borrowed from, it's just been when it applies. Powell and Pressburger, I love their movies, but they're not necessarily my central guys. But I did feel they were the ones who tied in most to this story. I'm not looking to kind of allude to anyone's movies. The people who I feel the most debt to are not necessarily the ones I feel most impressive." In a few sentences, we cover much ground, including, "Polanski, I want to borrow a lot from. Polanski is like the best guy for what does it sound like in an apartment building? There's always some room down the hall where someone's making strange noises. There's some off-screen activity."

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