With Bottle Rocket kicking off a Wes Anderson season at FACT, DW Mault reassesses his debut feature…
Authorial canons are the rocks we rest our beliefs on. With this in mind, Wes Anderson”s debut film: Bottle Rocket (everytime I type Bottle Rocket is seems to say Bootle Rocket, but that’s a whole other film) is a strange but beautiful work. Unusual in that it stands out as quite confrontational in its outright rejection of cynicism. On the surface, his films appear similar, featuring youthful hi-jinx from men who, age dictates, should know better. Bottle Rocket follows three of them, in Dignan (Owen Wilson), Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Bob (Robert Musgrave), who plan to execute some elaborate heists in order to gain entry into a gang headed up by Mr. Henry, played by James Caan.
I should qualify that most people (at least those I’ve talked films with) would expect me to to hate Wes Anderson. However, that is most definitely not the case, his unoriginal copyists on the other hand – Richard Ayoade I’m talking to you – are another matter. In fact Anderson’s strength, and the joy it produces in audiences, is his unique lack of cynicism; in a world where hipness and nothingness coalesce, the most difficult position to proclaim is one of engagement and empathy.
It’s both tempting and easy to strip Anderson to his elements. His anglophilia, urbanity, melancholy, dry wit, impeccable ear for music and subtle poetry. But there remains something elusive and inexplicable about his work, and of all this oeuvre, Bottle Rocket is the one that sings its song to a place where he hadn’t become ‘Wes Anderson’ yet. Remember that a text doesn’t exist until it is read, and in exactly the same way, a film doesn’t exist until it is seen.
Bottle Rocket doesn’t feel quite like any other Anderson film (which of any other of his films would feature James Caan?). It’s looser, more ramshackle, and comparable to the work that Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater were producing at the time. But the filmmaker who Anderson would become is just under the surface, breaking through. You can detect it in Wilson’s stop-start romance with a hotel maid, and the sequences set to The Proclaimers “Over And Done With” and The Rolling Stones “2000 Man”.
Wes Anderson has pulled off the hardest trick of all in contemporary American film: he has won the freedom to use cinema as a form of self-expression. Frequently, writers and directors hold to a career course of “one for us and one for them,” – literally doing a studio-friendly film in return for one they actually want to make – meaning alternately suffocating one’s own tastes to do the system’s bidding in the preposterous belief that said system, in return, will allow the search for artistic fulfillment on alternate jobs. In this respect (along with a few others), Wes Anderson has to be considered pretty much unique in Hollywood today.