Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Tournament of Everything, Elite 8: 5 Rushmore vs. 10 Prague
A lot of people have their own private Rushmore. Mine was the University of Michigan, and one of Rushmore's many, many gifts is its portrayal of healthy obsession. Max is obsessed with the delightful Rosemary Cross, and he's obsessed with building her an aquarium, and he's obsessed with perfecting epic plays.
[Lengthy digression of moderate relevance: When I was in high school I wasn't preoccupied with a theatrical adaptation of Serpico, but my parents happened to have a video camera. Group projects were a big theme in our classes. Friends and I convinced gullible teachers to let us shoot films instead of performing homemade skits or stupid presentations. As a result, somewhere at my parents' house there is a VHS tape of a 30-minute movie made by seventeen-year-olds about the Iran-Contra scandal. It was adapted from the book Landslide by Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus: Mindy played Nancy Reagan, Bob played the President, Jack played Bud McFarlane (his failed suicide attempt was heartbreaking), I played William Casey, Josh played Antonio Somoza; I'm pretty sure that we had a Don Regan, an Admiral Poindexter, and a sequence set in Iran that was shot in a gravel pit. The Iran-Contra story was preceded by a separate 30-minute movie adapted from Gore Vidal's Burr, and there was a whole incident with a fake commercial for a fake telephone service called 1-800-GET-HEAD. It was collective Max Fisherism. Digression over.]
Max's individual obsessions are components of his greatest obsession: Rushmore itself. There aren't many movies that portray a person's obsession with a single place, which is part of Rushmore's magic. Max romanticized the school and everything that he wanted it to represent, and the doom romance with an ideal that you'll inevitably have to abandon (see also Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks in the equally great Broadcast News and the Howard Dean campaign) is one of life's ongoing challenges.
Another movie that gets this right in a very different way is Noah Baumbach's 1995 movie Kicking and Screaming, which is more earnest than Rushmore, and therefore occasionally cringeworthy.
Prague plays a role in Kicking and Screaming. Jane leaves Grover for Prague. For her it was liberation, but for Grover it was the end of all the good things and college and the start of a confused young adulthood.
By all accounts, Prague is a great city, and I look forward to seeing it someday. Prague might be Kafka's (or Jane's) Rushmore, but it's not mine. For this reason, and all of those described in Rushmore's earlier wins, Prague is just a little outmatched. Rushmore 74, Prague 71.