Nominees of the 1999 MTV Movie Awards included Adam Sandler, Liv Tyler, Chris Tucker, and Jennifer Love Hewitt to mention just a few of the names in a veritable who’s-who of turn-of-the-millennium American pop culture. But for the teenage cinephiles watching that night, the highlight of the broadcast was surely a set of brief skits performed by “the Max Fischer Players.” Directed by Wes Anderson, who had been named Best New Filmmaker during the ceremony of three years before, they present low-budget but high-spirited interpretations of three of the motion pictures up for honors: Out of Sight, The Truman Show, and Armageddon.
Having been a teenage cinephile myself at the time, I can tell you that none of those movies made as much an impact on me as Anderson’s own Rushmore, which introduced the hyper-ambitious young slacker Max Fischer to the world. In it, Max and his players adapt Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, and later put on an elaborate (and explosive) pastiche of various Vietnam War pictures.
Twenty-five years ago, few of us had identified in the painstakingly ramshackle look and feel of these productions the seed of what would grow into Anderson’s signature aesthetic. But it was clear that, if the Max Fischer Players method were applied to the Hollywood blockbusters of the day, amusing incongruity would result.
These skits prominently feature Mason Gamble and Sara Tanaka, both of whom retired from acting a few years after giving their memorable performances in Rushmore. But Jason Schwartzman, who will no doubt forever be identified with Max Fischer, has remained an active member of Anderson’s own group of players, and even plays a starring role once again in Anderson’s new film Asteroid City, which comes out this summer. The Max Fisher Players’ parodies were included on the DVD of Rushmore released by the Criterion Collection — an honor still denied, one might add, to the recipient of the 1999 MTV Movie Award for Best Movie, There’s Something About Mary. (But not to Armageddon, which just goes to show how unpredictable the favor of cinephilia can be.)
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.