Wes Anderson looked to his home state of Texas when casting the critical location for his first feature film Bottle Rocket, written with friend Owen Wilson. They needed a house which not only reeked of privilege and good breeding but could also cater for the numerous internal and external shots which were scripted to occur at the house. Enter the Gillin Residence, the last house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed before his death and also his largest in the Usonian style.
Owen and Luke Wilson both star in this cute film about a group of friends, each with various issues preventing them from being functioning members of society. Owen Wilsons character, Dignan, is an enthusiastic man-child with dreams of becoming a crack thief. He enlists his friend Anthony, a recently released mental health patient, to be his accomplice and together they set up camp at their mutual friends house to talk strategy. Their friend Bob, is another non event – he is funded by absent parents and is tormented by his older brother who also still lives at home. Maturity is not thick on the ground here people.
The Gillin Residence was cast as the house shared by the brothers and it is here that the three celebrate their marginal success at pulling off a heist (a ludicrous event at a bookshop which is laugh-out-loud funny). They go on to plan the next robbery while sitting around the Wright-designed furniture using hard copy plans, stop watches and scale rules - all in the Rat Pack tradition, with the exception of a juvenile argument about who gets to hold the handgun. Wrights presence is everywhere - the textured bricks, the detailed soffits and the copper finishes - and all evoke imagery of 1960's cool, befitting Dignan's vision of himself as Dean Martin in the original Oceans 11.
An entrepreneur who made his fortune in the early years of the lucrative oil industry, John Gillin began to invest in art in the 1950’s. So when it came to commissioning his largest piece, he turned to the profession's leading light. Gillin was a commanding fellow by all accounts and testament to this Wright, famously conceited and protective of his work, allowed him to be heavily involved in the process and even design some elements himself.
In the end the house is the only element of the scenario which keeps it's cool. The team's big score is executed with all the precision of a march-pass of puppies and the absurdity that we have come to associate with the Anderson/Wilson brand of humour. The house does not escape from the fallout of the group’s ridiculous escapades but even when gutted of furnishings it still retains its dignity. It stoically waits for more sensible occupants to return.
Thank you to Doug Newby from Architecturally Significant Homes for permission to use images.