The Rushmore Academy sign…
…based on the many similar signs at the real Rushmore, St. John’s School.
Rushmore is one of my favorite films from writer-director Wes Anderson. It was released in 1998, but I probably didn’t see it until about 2004, when I was living in the Houston Heights neighborhood. I had stopped in at a local, old-fashioned barbershop for a haircut, and the barber struck up a conversation with me. He asked me if I had been there before, and when I indicated that I hadn’t, he told me a bit about the place, including how it had been used as a filming location for Rushmore. After I paid for my haircut (cash only, even more than ten years later) I headed straight down the street to the local Blockbuster Video (RIP) to rent the movie.
I had previously seen Anderson’s Bottle Rocket, though I don’t know that I even made the connection at the time. So Rushmore was my gateway into Anderson fandom, and now I consider The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou probably my favorite film period, and I love all his films, though I am a contrarian to popular opinion in that I feel The Royal Tenenbaums to be his least successful work. It wasn’t only the quaint barbershop that was used for filming, though. Rushmore was shot on location in many places throughout Houston. I decided this week to revisit three of them that I have become personally familiar with since seeing the film.
The Music Room, which dominates the fate of its master, looms large over his figure in this striking composition.
The great Indian Bengali filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, released one of his most renowned masterworks, The Music Room, in 1958, just prior to the third film in his Apu trilogy. This film, based on a short story by Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay, is in a completely different mode of storytelling than the epic and realistic style of the Apu films. Though it contains no elements of magic or mysticism, The Music Room is essentially a fable, packed with symbolism but nevertheless remaining grounded and humanistic. Mirrors, a chandelier, insects, a cane, all play a role as powerful visual symbols in Ray’s story. But the role of sound and music is most important of all, with some of the most absorbing musical performances I know of in the movies.
For a synopsis of the plot, I invite you to read Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” review. For myself, in watching this film though I was very aware of the cultural gaps between myself and the world portrayed in the story, I still was moved by the essence of the human drama and the universal themes that Ray explored. In his essay for the Criterion release, Philip Kemp writes, “Ray himself, believing it too culturally specific to attract non-Indian audiences, ‘didn’t think it would export at all.'” Ray was mistaken, of course, since this has come to be a film beloved around the world. But still, there is some truth that there would undoubtedly be more depth of feeling if I could understand the art of the film from the inside, rather than as a foreigner.
The world’s most symmetrical building: The Old Blanco County Courthouse
This summer, I was on vacation with my family in the Texas hill country, when I stumbled accidentally into a site of interest for this blog. Cinephiles everywhere can spot the many uses of Monument Valley in John Ford’s westerns, or the LA’s iconic Bradbury Building in everything from sci-fi classic Blade Runner to the silent film tribute The Artist. But it is a real joy to find a hidden gem of a film site, right here in my home state. In the first of what I hope to be a series of posts about lesser known film locations in Texas, I would like to share my discovery of the Old Blanco County Courthouse in Blanco, Texas. You can read about the history of the building, which is now a visitor’s center and event venue, at their website.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s terrific 2010 version of True Grit features a memorable introduction of Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn as a witness in a courtroom scene. This scene and the following one on the staircase are shot in the interior of the Old Blanco County Courthouse.