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Better late than never: Sundance apologizes for missing ‘Bottle Rocket’

February 17th, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Swain

PARK CITY, Utah–This was the 30th anniversary of Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. As part of its celebration of three decades of success, the indie movie-fest also apologized for one of its mistakes—to a cast, crew and director passed up almost 20 years ago.

bottle_rocket_ostIn 1996, aspiring director Wes Anderson brought to Sundance a film titled “Bottle Rocket.” Sundance passed on it, and Anderson had to take his film elsewhere. “Bottle Rocket” wasn’t just Anderson’s first film; it was also where brothers Owen, Luke and Andrew Wilson got their acting start.

“We wanted a kind of wanted a crazy way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this festival,” said John Cooper, the Sundance programming director. “So we looked at ourselves, seeing where we’d failed. And we thought, ‘Do we have the nerve to take the one film out of the past that we’re most embarrassed for not showing?’ And this is it. So we’re here to right that wrong. We fucked up. That’s another word for failing, just so you know.”

Anderson was in Germany screening his new film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” at the Berlin Film Festival, and so unfortunately was unable to make the belated premiere of his first film. But Luke Wilson, who was already in Sundance for the premiere of “The Skeleton Twins,” addressed the audience on behalf of Anderson and the rest of the “Bottle Rocket” team. “No bad blood,” he said.

“We made the movie and had so much fun, but it was competitive,” Wilson said. “Of course, we didn’t get in. That’s OK though. I’m just glad to be here tonight.”

“Bottle Rocket” first came to the festival as a short in 1993. It was accepted and screened that year, so Anderson decided to make it a feature after attending the Sundance Filmmakers Lab that summer.

“I was doing shorts then, so at least I played the short,” Cooper said.  “But then when I was doing features that’s when we messed it up. And to tell you the truth, I don’t know why. I think back on it, and I watched the film again, and I still can’t figure out what went wrong with us. That’s part of the game, though.”

Cooper said he had talked to Anderson about the screening and they were both excited to have the 20-year-old film back at Sundance. “It felt right,” he said.

“Bottle Rocket” starts with Dignon (Owen Wilson) carrying out an elaborate “rescue” mission for his friend Anthony (Luke Wilson) from a voluntary psychiatric unit. Ever the supportive friend, Anthony (and the psychiatric staff) allows Dignon to believe they’re busting out. Once free, Dignon outlines to Anthony his 75-year plan for their lives as thieves together. After recruiting another friend, Bob Mapplethorpe, (whose qualifications begin and end with the fact that he owns a car) as their getaway driver, the aspiring criminals rob a bookstore and then excitedly go on the lam with their loot.

The story continues with the earnest antics of the amateur thieves as they try to catch the attention of the legendary thief, Mr. Henry (James Caan). Funny, fresh and quirky, a lot of the film’s humor comes from the fact that none of the characters are at all the criminal type. They rob houses as if it were a glorified game for a group of overgrown boys. Kind-hearted and rather goofy, they bumble through jobs motivated by various reasons: loyalty for Anthony, friendship and camaraderie for Bob, and the coolness of being a mastermind and a thief for Dignon.

At the premiere, Wilson didn’t have much to say other than, “Thank you,” but for a few minutes he reminisced about working with his brother on their first film—earnest, excited, but inexperienced, not unlike the characters they portrayed.

“When I think back on the movie, I just remember how crazy the crew was and just how much they helped us along,” Wilson said. “Because we did love movies, but we didn’t really know how to make them, and they were super kind.

“I can remember about three or four days into making the movie, I said to Owen, ‘You see that guy that just sits by the camera and just stares at us? Not the guy looking through the lens, Bob, but the guy that just sits there?’ And Owen said, ‘That guy hates us!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah tell me about it!’ He was the guy pulling in the focus on the camera. We weren’t even familiar with that job.”


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