Fri & Sat at 7; Sun at 5
$9; students & seniors $7
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St.
When German director Bastian Günther first visited Houston around four years ago to scout locations for his next movie, he quickly became disoriented and dismayed. In his native Berlin he could walk to the corner grocery store or take a bike to one of the four or five art house cinemas in his neighborhood. If he needed to go further afield, there was always the subway. But in Houston, as he quickly discovered, he needed a car to do something as simple as get his morning joe. “I was a little bit depressed for the first few days,” Günther remembers. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is so wide and spread out and huge, and you can’t even get a coffee without driving there.”
As it turned out, that sense of disorientation was exactly what Günther was looking for. He had written a script about a corporate headhunter who travels to America to recruit a top energy executive to run a German car company. Finding it maddeningly difficult to contact the executive, the headhunter sinks deeper into alcoholism and depression, his ennui exacerbated by the unfamiliar city. When it came to choosing filming locations, Günther knew what he wanted.
“I was looking for a city where there were a lot of oil companies,” Günther says. “I wanted to have a place that is very far away from Germany and that is very hot and humid in the summer. My wife said I should check out Houston or maybe Atlanta. When I went to Houston for the first time I thought it was visually a very strong place.”
Günther ended up filming most of the movie—fittingly titled Houston—in the Bayou City, including locations in El Campo, at the Ship Channel, and at the Hyatt Regency downtown. He fell in love with the Hyatt on his very first visit. “The hotel is very important for the film—it was definitely a reason to film in Houston,” Günther says. “When I saw it four years ago, I was immediately crazy about it. The main character is very often just alone, so I needed locations that could kind of express his emotions. The Hyatt looks like a labyrinth, so it was a great location to show him as lost.”
Of course, choosing Houston as a visual metaphor for alienation and anomie is the very definition of a backhanded compliment. Nevertheless, the filmmaker insists that he overcame his initial distaste for the city. “After a while I really liked the city, because it has this crazy, wild art going on,” Günther says. “But you have to stay for a while before you appreciate the city.”
We know, Günther, we know.