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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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From the archives: the first profile of Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson

Join me for a trip into the way-back machine, won't you?

The image at the top of this page is a scanned article from Dallas Observer, where I worked as a film critic in the early '90s. As some of you may know, I later wrote a book about Wes Anderson and his movies: The Wes Anderson Collection, which comes out October 8. 

I wrote this article for a roundup of short films programmed in the 1994 USA Film Festival, then Dallas' only major festival. I wrote a bit about many of the shorts that played that year, but for a variety of reasons (including Anderson's unusual stylistic assurance, and the fact that the movie made Woody Allen-esque use of actual Dallas locations) "Bottle Rocket" jumped out at me. I had a feeling we hadn't heard the last of these guys. 

"Bottle Rocket" was later expanded into a feature. It was Anderson's first credit as a director, the first screenwriting credit for him and his friend and collaborator Wilson (who would be nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums"), and the first professional acting credit for a lot of the film's cast members, including Owen's brothers Luke and Andrew and Anderson bit player Kumar Pallana, then the proprietor of the popular Dallas hangout spot Cosmic Cup (now Cosmic Cafe). 

The USA Film Festival dug this clip out of their archives today and emailed it to me. What a blast from the past: I had tried and tried to get a physical copy of the piece for the book while putting it together, but it was only available as microfiche at the public library (poor visual quality), and I was informed that the newspaper didn't have ready access to back issues, so in the text of The Wes Anderson Collection it is described rather than seen. Anderson says it the first profile of either him or Owen Wilson, as well as the first bit of positive criticism he received as a professional filmmaker from a professional news outlet. Of course in this case the word "professional" is relative. Anderson was only a few years out of the University of Texas, where he and Wilson met and became friends in the late '80s, and the film, while handsomely made, was a couple of budgetary steps up from a student production. And I'd only been a paid journalist for three years.

Re-reading it, I'm mortified by a few things (including my inadvertent substitution of the last name of one of the short film's stars, Bob Musgrave, for the last name of one of the producers, Cynthia Hargrave), but I'm relieved that it describes the movie more or less accurately, and amused by how innocent everyone in it seems, including the storyteller. 

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