'Bottle Rocket' - The Playlist's Definitive Criterion Commentary Notes

The long-awaited Criterion Collection DVD edition of Wes Anderson’s debut feature “Bottle Rocket” which came out last Tuesday (November 25).

We watched it last weekend and took massive and stupidly long notes, which we’ve already covered in five other pieces. Be forewarned, this post is painfully long.

To be quick, it’s really nice to see the film in real widescreen and not in the original pan and scan of the one-disc Sony version. It really is a revelation to see this “new” version. It looks and sounds immaculately confirming that the old version was like watching crud.

Like all Criterion Collection discs, this one is tastefully and lovingly curated with lots of bit for the Wes Anderson or Bottle Rocket obsessive (it’s his second best film after “Rushmore,” don’t try to argue that point). It’s also nice to see the colors pop in such a nice way and this new transfer and especially the deleted scenes make you realize that Anderson’s style was much more developed than some might have initially thought. Also note: the Marty Scorsese liner notes? Their not new, just the reprinted ones from the original Esquire article he wrote back in the day, but producer James L. Brooks’ liner notes are long and extensive.

Deleted Scenes
– We already wrote two pieces on two deleted scenes from the DVD, however…
– “There was this whole scene that we filmed about being chase through the yard by the cops and several scenes that followed that ended up being cut from the film,” notes cinematographer Robert Yeomen.
– Let’s note there’s still other deleted scenes that didn’t make it into this Criterion Collection edition. Judd Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann said she was originally in “Bottle Rocket” and she’s nowhere to be seen on this disc. Also, in the commentary track, Owen and Wes discuss a a scene that involved Dignan attempting to become romantic with one of the other Spanish housekeepers that was cut.
– Another deleted scene not in the Criterion disc, but briefly viewed in the making-of-documentary – Kumar entertaining guests at Mr. Henry’s party by spinning multiple plates at once on a table; an old parlor trick.

-The opening scene of Anthony’s release from the mental institute in Arizona up to their bus ride home was shot after principal photography ended. It was a reshoot at the behest of the film’s producers. “Additional photography we called it,” Owen joked.
– “Bob Mapplethorpe: potential getaway driver, go!” was also another reshoot scene. Owen explains, “You [Wes] were depressed and a little bit in a funk where it was hard to get you to focus on directing and writing the rewrites.” Wilson was working and came upstairs to find a down Anderson with his, “Head down like in study hall” and Wilson asked if he had come up with anything. Wes didn’t answer and instead just pushed a piece of paper towards him that said, “Bob Mapplethorpe, potential getaway driver, go.”

Opening Scene And Opening Notes
– The film was shot in 1994 and was in post-production for two years and came out in 1996.
– Antonia Bogdanovich is one of the girls on the lawn that Anthony says goodbye to him in Arizona. Polly Plat, the producer of “Bottle Rocket” was Peter Bogdanovich’s wife who worked on many of his films as a set designer (she was famously dumped for Cybil Shepard during the making of Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show.”
– Owen Wilson didn’t want to act in the feature initially, he thought it wouldn’t seem like a “real” movie and would be unprofessional if he and his brother actually starred in it.
– On the bus back from the “nuthouse,” Wes Anderson is sitting right behind Owen and Luke Wilson watching the monitor; you can see his hair and glasses.
– Before Brooks insisted on the mental house scene the film opened up with Anthony and Dignan in the alley walking and talking about fitness on the way to their first robbery.
– Dr. Nichols, Anthony’s doctor at the mental health institute in Arizona was played by Ned Dowd, former first assistant director turned producer. He was also a former hockey player, and his sister wrote the Paul Newman hockey comedy, “Slapshot” based on his experiences (the film’s main villain was based on him).

Anamorphic Test
– There were anamorphic tests shot for the film, but they ultimately decided to shoot in another aspect ratio (the anamorphic format is generally how Anderson has shot the rest of his films).
— Owen talks about the Dignan haircut that he sported for years and thought it was cool at the time. And then he grew his hair long (which can be seen in the anamorphic tests) in Los Angeles and James L.Brooks maybe thought it might be good, but Wes was adamant that he go back to the original haircut.
The Now-Legendary and Disastrous Test Screening
The film was one of the most poorly tested films in the history of Sony and this is mentioned over and over again, both in the making-of-documentary and the commentary track. By all accounts this scarred the group, depressed them and took the wind out of their sails. It also was part of the reason, the film was in reshoots and in post-production for so long.
“It was a horrendous preview, it was really depressing.” – James L. Brooks, executive producer.
“It was in the lore that we had the worst scores ever.” – Polly Play, producer
– “A shocking number of people walked out.”- Luke Wilson, Anthony Adams.
– Composer Mark Mothersbaugh was present at the screening and was one of the few people who really enthusiastic about the film. Subsequently, he was brought on to write the film’s score.
Their confidence on the film totally fell apart. “We got such whipsawed emotionally about how we felt about the movie, or at least i did,” Owen said. “We felt great when we were doing it and then it test screened and it went so badly and it went through such a long post-production process and then you thought ,’Would it get [even] released?’ ” Their thoughts about the film totally crumbled, at one point asking themselves, ‘What were we thinking? How did we think people would enjoy this or think it was funny?” And then their feelings changed. “Then it finally came out and then some people really embraced it.”
– “You’d like to not be affected by what other people think, but it’s really difficult, maybe it was cause I never acted before. It almost feels like a personal rejection,” Wilson said.
– “I couldn’t stay in the room. I’d never been so humiliated before,” Wes said of the screening. Apparently there were 85 walkouts. “People were walking out one after another, and everything was just collapsing right there. It was everything for us.”

The Film Was Turned Down At Sundance, Despite the Short Being Accepted/The Retweak Period
“Wes was devastated and pissed off” – Richard Sakai, executive producer
“It was an uncomfortable time” – Luke Wilson.
“It was so painful trying to cut that down to a good running time and it was like we were tearing Wes’ guts out.” – Polly Platt.
– “By the reshoot it was a more nervous thing. We were in California and the movie’s in trouble and we all felt a different pressure,” Luke Wilson said in the making-of doc.

The Last Test Screening After All The Reshoots and Tweaks
– Even though the scores didn’t really go up, it played much better.
– Wes notes that Cameron Crowe was there and “really liked it.” Dinner afterwards: and we were all celebrating and it got a 24 (out of 100). Owen: “I remember thinking during the screenings for ‘Rushmore’ that the film “really killed” but then the scores were about the same as they were for “Bottle Rocket.”
– One feedback card out of 500 people was dear to them and they kept it. It described, “How much she loved the movie.” Wes later met the girl and she approached him. “I was at that terrible screening years ago in Santa Monica” and Wes immediately said, “I know who you are, I know your card.” Owen: “You knew her comments because we had mesmerized them. Wes, “I remember saying, This is our audience.” they laugh. “One in 500,” Wes said, dying laughing.
The Original Bottle Rocket Script Was Semi-Serious Crime Film
– Robert Musgrave really helped shape that character of Bob Mapplethorpe. The original script was a little “gritty” and there was a character of Hanson and it was like a James Dean type character. There was a scene where one of them was shot and dies and “one of them is saying, “NOOOOOOOO!!!,” which doesn’t really fit the tone of where we landed later,” Wes recalled. “So that was good about Bob when he became that character,” Owen said about Musgrave, “Because then we knew we were writing for Bob.”
– The context: “There was a lot of crime movies at the time,” Wes said. “I don’t think we quite had it in us to deliver the goods on the shootouts and stuff.”
– One scene in the original script had the guys getting into a car accident and then getting into a fist fight with random guys who never come back in the script.
– When they first see Deepak Pallana onscreen, Wes says, “Once we knew writing for our friends it became much easier.” “It helped us to know what the movie would be,” Owen remarked, “That’s when it became obviously wasn’t going to be like ‘Resevoir Dogs’… it was going to be a comedy.” The cast had to become people that fit with Owen and Luke better – “It became more personal.”
– “When they first started writing ‘Bottle Rocket,’ I don’t think we even knew what kind of characters we were drawn to,” Wes recalled. “We knew what kind of movies we loved and we had written lots of short stories and we had a sense of those characters and the mood of those, but I think its only over the course of writing the script that we figured out even what kind of movie we wanted to do. I had more of a sense of what it would be like visually then what the feeling of the story was going to be like, because it was originally, vaguely serious and not consistently, so we had to choose the material that was more ours. Originally it was extremely derivative and the crime aspect of it, which had no connection to our personal lives or personal experiences… was what it was about. And ultimately it was about us and our friends and situations we imagined ourselves and our friends in.”

The Original Script Reading
– The original script was 225 pages long (about 100 pages longer than usual).The first reading with James L. Brooks was terrible. Brooks came over and notes that even though they were all living together they had never read the script aloud to one another.
– “Night came, day broke, seasons changed – it was the longest reading ever,” Brooks said.
– A different crucial table-reading with execs in L.A.: “We did a good job on that one. You were reading the stage directions and you were really spitting out the words and there was an excitement that you couldn’t even keep out of your voice,” Owen laughed.
Lines That James L. Brooks Inspired/Wrote
“Why you do it, man?” the line that Dignan says to Anthony about the “inexcusable” and excessive tip to the housekeepers sparks a conversation and recollection that the line came from James L.Brooks, something he said when he was upset at Anderson for not getting basic coverage during one scene and how he would get frustrated at needless, Scorsese-like close-ups: at one scene in the deleted sequence that follows in 3 Anderson-esque tight close shots Bob buying a cup of coffee from a coffee machine, Brooks remarked in frustration, “There better be poison in that cup,” for the narrative reason they would bother shooting it like that.
– But the “Why’d you do it, man?” line came exactly from a reshoot in a diner where there was a cowboy-looking guy in the foreground and Luke in Owen in the background which sparked Brooks to say, “Why’d you do it, man?” “For Jim to see this master shot with this guy counting money the whole time seemed… insulting,” Wes laughed. “I think I was sometimes so confidence in what I thought was the thing to do, I would sometimes miss a chance to hear what James had to offer, but there’s so much that he brought to it that are in [the picture].”
– “Don’t treat me like the jealous friend” – sounds like a James L. Brook line/sense of humor says Owen.

James Caan/Mr.Henry
His appearance legitimized the film for the Wilson and Anderson. “We were very lucky to get him. We had the same agent,” Wes noted. They ate lunch with him in his trailer, “it was very exciting for us.” He had a proper trailer and said to the boy, “This represents your career – they give you one of these.”
– The character of Rowboat was James Caan’s real-life karate sensei. Anderson had the idea of putting them in their briefs in a training session and Caan wondered how respectful that was to a man who was kind of a karate holy man. Anderson said, “But Jimmy, I think it would be really funny” and Caan responded, ‘What you’re going to start now?” they laughed.
– “Jimmy had no problem with this scene,” Wes says of the scene where Mr. Henry embarrasses Futureman (Andrew Wilson) for trying to humiliate Bob in front of the crew at the tennis country club. The karate hold he puts Andrew Wilson in is real and Wilson notes in the making of the of film doc that it was “very painful.”
– Wes and Owen note that Caan is actually very tough, “Jimmy is a hard person,” says Wes. “He was a rodeo rider.” “It’s not an act, he’s tough,” Wilson adds.”If Jimmy and Andrew got into a fight, you’d probably have to bet on Jimmy. He played football at Michigan state.” Wes notes his old-fashioned and amazing football throwing style during some downtime.
– Before James Caan arrived it was just Anderson comfortably directing friends and then at his arrival, Owen notes that Wes became a little nervous. But Wilson stuck to his guns and about a scene where Caan goes jogging in Chuck Taylor converse and Caan responded, “You think this guy would wear shoes with no fucking support?” Owen: “That became a enduring theme with you, of putting people in wardrobe that they might not neccesarily pick for the character themselves. Didn’t Ben Stiller say that? When you’re working on a Wes film, put your vanity in a drawer?” Wes, laughing, “Check your ego at the door.”
– In the scene where Caan plays the piano at Bob’s house and entertains the gang, Anderson originally wanted him to play John Lennon’s “Imagine.” but they couldn’t get the rights to it. “God, that woulda been perfect.” Wilson laments.
– “Now Wes is a big time director. He hasn’t called me either that sonofabitch, you know what I mean? – James Caan.
– James Caan’s theory on the title: Wes recounts what Caan told him, “They’re this type of firework, they don’t go very high and they don’t make much of an explosion and there’s not really to show there, but that’s all they’re really meant to be and you appreciate them for what they are: these sort of gentler, little fireworks. And he felt the theme of the movie had to do with aiming low, but getting there.”
– On his overall experience: “C’mon, it was three days it was like being the left hand corner in Hollywood Squares,” he says on the documentary.

Robert Musgrave
– Bob auditioned for the part in a film that’s not in the film, in the deleted scenes, where he was washing his car. Wes,:”He did a bad job and then when of our other friends Tony Miller, he then auditioned, he read the scene and Bob watched it happen, and maybe thought in that moment [i’ve got to nail it] and then Bob did the scene again and he was basically the character in the movie.”
Miami Vice, “Bottle Rocket” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”
– “It ain’t no trip to Cleveland,” is a line from Miami Vice. “It’s what Crocket says when they have to go on a big adventure,” they note.
– “In Fantastic Mr. Fox I have got a thing for ‘Miami Vice’: do you remember the one with Eban?” Wes asks. “There’s a shot at the end and Crockett is holding Eban there friend who has gone to both sides of the law, and he’s shot and Crockett is holding him from a low angle and then Tubbs steps into the frame high above and there’s a freeze frame. Anyhow, we’re going to try and recreate that with our foxes.”

Technical, AV Elements, The DVD Transfer, Etc.
– “This movie has looping… we spent weeks on the ADR [Additional Dialogue Recording] stage,” Wes notes. Evidently there’s a lot of looping/adr in the scene where the trio drive in the car towards the motel (the one where Dignan gets the mack truck to honk its horn and Anthony is in the back (playing a video game its revealed in the deleted scenes, though not present in the final version). “In the first round [of editing] we let [the ADR] breathe too much” Wes laughed.
– The underwater pool scene “I’ve always struggled with underwater stuff,” when they turn on the heat it turns cloudy.
– Bob Yeomen – the cinematographer who has worked on all of Wes’ films – and Anderson did the DVD transfer. The sign “motel” at the motel was instated in the new transfer that Wes and Yeomen did for the Criterion edition, Wes says, but this is untrue and you can see it in the original DVD. He must be mistaken.
– Owen is even marveled by the new transfer. “The movie looks really great, I’m looking at these colors… ,” he says of the scene where Anthony first sees Inez, “It’s shot in the magic hour? Its a really golden light.”
– Bob Yeoman and Anderson were location scouting and found the little scooter motorbike that Dignan rides. They offered the guy the money right there ($218 written on it in magic marker).
– Owen asks him where he puts Bottle Rocket in the pantheon of Wes’ own work which leads him to thoughts on his cinematographer. “Well, I think Bob’s work has just gotten better and better. You and I loved ‘Drugstore Cowboy’ so much [and this is why they wanted him]. Bob is so more sophisticated after each movie.” “When we were doing [Bottle Rocket] I barely knew how to collaborate with him when it came to lighting and I had a sense of framing and lenses (they used one lens on ‘Rocket’), but…[I didn’t know know anything else].”

Nervousness/Confidence/Eventual Kudos
– Owen asks Wes if he was nervous directing the film: “I was never less nervous and directing a movie or showing it or anything than [on ‘Bottle Rocket], until we finally got in front of an audience and it was not working.” Wes said adamantly. “It didn’t play.” Owen laughed. Wes: “I was so confident about it, just wait, just wait, let the people decide.”
– – They visited director Paul Schrader and he had nice things to say about the movie and he said he hadn’t really seen this Dignan character before.He said it was a “unique” character.
– “Nobody went to see it, but it got some really great reviews and some people really loved it. And then i started to feel like, ‘Maybe it is pretty good,” said Anderson.
– The L.A. Times loved it and ripped into Sundance for not accepting the film.
– “Even Siskel and Ebert didn’t recommend it,” Wilson says, adding wryly, “But they would later recommend my next movie, ‘Anaconda’ and Ebert had Scorsese on for a special show and he gave his top 10 for the decade and he had ‘Bottle Rocket’ in there.”

Production Designer David Waso And The Tarantino Connection
– Set designer David Wasco, Owen: “I’m not crazy about the word passionate, but that’s how he seems.”
– They went to visit the “Pulp Fiction” set and “We met Quentin Tarantino, and we had really enjoyed ‘Resevoir Dogs’, and David Wasco had seen our short and [Wasco] came and introduced himself and basically got involved with the movie right then. And that was basically a year before we shot the movie and he expressed such enthusiasm for it.” – Owen, “You really remember the people who give you [confidence]. You need sustenance to keep you going.”

– Owen was uncomfortable in the white Dignan outfit, but Wes said he was “Suddenly transformed. I remember suddenly the character was there. The way you walk, it was similar to something you would do in real life… somehow you really had locked in on it.” Wilson: “It’s kind of a uniform, i think it helped that it felt like a uniform. I wonder if I was nervous, and it’s like when you’re playing a sport and you try extra hard.”
– The beige shirt that Luke wears in the motel sequences with Inez: “I wish that was his look in the whole movie,” Wes said.
– The Mr. Henry party: “It’s good that I’m wearing a blazer, says Wilson. “It looks collegiate.” Anderson notes that there’s a picture of Jacques Cousteau on the wall and says the strange ponytail that Mr. Henry wears for the party was Cann’s idea.
– The Hinckley Cold Storage job: they note how funny it is to do a robbery in canary yellow jumpsuits. “It’s not exactly camouflage,” Wes chuckles. He also self-mocks their writing of the robbery. “We’re building up the intensity,” he says as they ride the elevator into the building. “There’s no real obstacles to doing the job, but nevertheless the suspense is building.” They began to use the steadicam for the first time in these sequences. “It’s not like Riffifi or one of the great heist scenes, but maybe its character driven?” Wes asks.

Wes Anderson Tries His Best William Friedkin Impression; Pisses Off Owen Wilson
– When Anthony calls Inez from the party, Wes notes that Dignan had a romantic scene with one of the Hispanic housekeepers at the motel, but that it was cut from the film (and not present in the deleted scene). “Oh yeah, she threw a drink in my face,” Wilson recalled. Wes notes how she was instructed to do so onset without Owen’s knowledge, thinking it would be a cool, “William Friedkin thing” to do and capture the reaction, but instead Wilson was shocked and upset. “It did not inspire you to come up with a great spontaneous comic reaction,” Wes said. “You got a reaction, just not from Dignan, but Owen Wilson,” Wilson laughed. Anderson then asked Bob Yeomen if that was a mean thing to do and Yeomen replied, “Oh Billy [Friedkin] would do much worse than that. That’s nothing compared to Billy.”

The “Bottle Rocket” Short
– The short was never intended as a short, it was “We wrote it as a the beginning of a feature, and by the time we wrote the short we had the script for our whole feature that we developed and changed significantly over the years, but we had the basic story,” Wes said.
– The inspiration for Bob’s gun going off prematurely in the final robbery: during the filming of the black and white short, Bob Musgrave accidentally shot off his gun during the sequence where they buy and test out guns and almost shot his toe off.
– James L. Brooks really responded to Luke and he thought he was like Montgomery Clift, he was blown away with the short.
– “Let gets lucky,” Is a line of dialogue that came from Barry Braverman, the cinematographer of the short. He would say that before rolling on every shot.

Futureman/Andrew Wilson
– The tennis club luncheon where Futureman tries to humiliate Bob in front of the entire team: Wes notes that in the deleted scenes they explain where the name Futureman came from, “He’s called that because he looks like he came from the Future, like he was designed by scientists for desert warfare. Kind of a Dolph Lundgren/Terminator look that Dignan and Bob find particularly intimidating, and also a look they probably wish they had themselves.”
– Wes and Owen laugh hard over how genuine Andrew Wilson and Brian Tenebaum’s laughter is during the making fun of Dignan’s banana yellow jumpsuit scene.
– Owen, “I remember Brian thinking, some people shouldn’t be onscreen, and he looks great and really natural, but it’s like hearing your voice on an answering machine.”

Random, Extra
– “They’ll never catch me cause I’m fucking innocent” line: Owen says the line is in a Guns N’ Roses song called, “Out To Get Me,” but it’s “used in a different way.”
– Owen tries to get Wes to talk about the Futura bold font, but you can tell he’s loathe and reluctant to do so and mumble something about he always seems to use it. (It’s one of those pagentry things that Wes gets criticized for that makes him uncomfortable to talk about).
– Kit Carson, a family friend who got the script in the right hands says Luke reminded him of a young Robert Mitchum, “Luke has always inspired people to follow him.” Owen said. “In fifth grade he thought that other people didn’t like him and then he was then elected class president. Wes: “He’s not really aware of the hero worship that he was inspiring of some people.”
– The shot with Dignan sulking and lighting off firecrackers and Anthony and Inez, coming up to his, post-coital, holding hands – “This is probably my favorite shot in the movie, for some reason.” Wes says.