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Monday, February 6, 2023

I've only just discovered this 2016 Little White Lies article by Nick Chen, headlined, "How Brian De Palma influenced the films of Noah Baumbach." In light of the more recent, more overt influence of De Palma on Baumbach's White Noise, it's very interesting to see how Chen had delved into De Palma's possible influence within Baumbach's earlier work. "Although Baumbach grew up watching the likes of Dressed to Kill and Body Double, any lasting effect isn’t immediately obvious," Chen writes. "Greenberg isn’t shot with split-screen sequences, and Frances Halliday isn’t a voyeur with a telescope. Yet there is actually plenty of overlap in the films of Baumbach and De Palma, it simply requires us to zoom in a little closer."

With that, Chen breaks things up into five sections, including: Insert yourself into the story (As seen in: The Squid and the Whale (2005)); and Use the geography of the room (As seen in: Mistress America (2015)). In the latter, Chen writes:

For the Criterion release of Dressed to Kill, Baumbach cross-examined De Palma on the gripping 10-minute sequence in which Angie Dickinson is pursued across a vast museum. “It’s very important when you go to a space, to walk around it,” De Palma explains to a nodding Baumbach. “Take photographs. See what’s unique about the space… have them look in various ways so the audience gets acclimated to the geography of the location.”

This patient build-up is a De Palma staple, from the first shootout of Carlito’s Way to the pre-bloodbath prom scenes of Carrie. Similarly, in Baumbach’s Mistress America, a house tour sets up the elaborate second act’s double-crossing, eavesdropping and squabbling over a chess set. Gerwig and her gang are led through the ground floor and, as with Dressed to Kill, they scrutinise the decor (“this place is amazing,” “it’s really fucking nice,” “are those my cats?”). And then everyone splits up for intersecting subplots. As De Palma tells Baumbach: “The chess game can begin, but you’ve got to know the board.”

In a section called "Look to your peers (and elders) for inspiration," Chen quotes De Palma from the Baumbach/Jake Paltrow documentary, as well as from an onstage discussion at Lincoln Center:
“This was the Warner Bros youth group,” De Palma says about himself, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader in the ’70s. “We were all incredibly supportive of each other, passing scripts back and forth, looking at each other’s movies.” Nowadays, De Palma’s cinephile BFFs are Baumbach, Paltrow and Wes Anderson. Their filmmaking philosophies may seem contradictory, but that means common ground must be taken seriously. For instance, when Baumbach mentioned the possibility of casting Gerwig in Greenberg, De Palma did his homework: “I said, ‘Who’s Greta’?’ And I looked at every mumblecore movie and said, ‘My god, she’s really good!’”

Posted by Geoff at 8:29 PM CST
Updated: Monday, February 6, 2023 8:30 PM CST
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Sunday, January 1, 2023

In the "Books" section of the Los Angeles Times Friday, Bonnie Johnson examines White Noise from page to screen:
Late in Don DeLillo’s classic novel “White Noise,” a scholarly friend discussing cinematic car crashes tells the story’s protagonist, “Look past the violence, Jack. There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun.” In the book, it’s one of many absurd platitudes the characters use to make sense of a nonsensical world. In Noah Baumbach’s adaptation, it’s part of the opening scene: The scholar (Murray Siskind, played by Don Cheadle) screens a reel of stunt crashes for his students, and his comments set the tone for the film.

The violence of the novel is there — man-made disaster, attempted murder, Nazism — but for perhaps the first time in a Baumbach film, so is a pervasive spirit of innocence and fun, along with an eye-popping visual flair he’s kept concealed for far too long. Whereas the book built up a kind of fatalistic resignation, Baumbach’s version of “White Noise” is genuinely exuberant. Case in point: In a closing supermarket scene, DeLillo described shoppers as “aimless and haunted.” In the film, the same moment ends in an eight-minute dance number incorporating the expansive cast.

Yet framing this as a dichotomy glosses over the complexity of the source material. At the heart of the novel was always a bubbling domestic comedy, and not of the bitter, dysfunctional kind we’ve seen in previous Baumbach films. Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) and his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), truly care for each other; the marriage glows with tenderness. Baumbach runs with their children’s antic energy and lets it suffuse other parts of his film, animating even the story’s more difficult third part with humor and affection that reflect the book’s tone. Rather than betraying the novel’s savage critique of modern life, Baumbach’s approach illuminates DeLillo’s humanism in the director’s least cynical film since “Kicking and Screaming” — and easily the most daring he’s made.

Like the novel, “White Noise” the film contains three distinct parts. “Waves and Radiation” introduces us to the Gladney family and Jack’s academic work in his first-of-its-kind Hitler studies department. “The Airborne Toxic Event” tracks an industrial chemical leakage that throws the family’s life into crisis. “Dylarama,” taking up the second half of both book and film, documents Babette’s clandestine participation in an unsanctioned medical trial.

Remarkably, the intellectual satire, environmental disaster tale and noir coalesce more smoothly in Baumbach’s movie than they did in the novel. A shadowy rogue pharmaceutical figure who dominates the story’s third part now drifts like an apparition through its first and second, rather than disorienting with a late entrance. More significantly, Baumbach makes a bold and divergent choice to bring Babette into the climactic confrontation and its fallout. Her presence adds a valuable grace note, contributing to the film’s surprising optimism.

It was Brian De Palma, not a purveyor of innocent fun, who suggested Baumbach consider an adaptation to try things Baumbach’s own scripts wouldn’t allow. The latter filmmaker co-directed a documentary about De Palma in 2016, and at the time, they seemed an unlikely duo: the elder an auteur of the lurid and gruesome (originals such as “Blow Out,” adaptations including “Carrie”), the younger firmly planted in the confines of grown-up mumblecore (“Greenberg,” “Frances Ha”).

Watching “White Noise,” though, the pairing begins to make sense. Who knew Baumbach had it in him to choreograph intricate crowd scenes, crane-shoot crashing and combusting trains or stage a payback shooting at a sleazy motel bathed in neon-lit De Palma shades? Certainly no one familiar with Baumbach’s filmography, in which the most striking image to date was of two silent people in an empty subway car.

Despite its long-assumed unadaptability, DeLillo’s story contains a number of memorable visual moments, and Baumbach takes advantage. A first-act set piece takes place in a classroom so impossibly twee it seems like a tribute to past collaborator Wes Anderson. But what starts off as a composition of colorblock and Fair Isle takes on sudden urgency in Baumbach’s hands. He splices in not only relevant found footage but also the toxic event’s precipitating accident, about which the book barely speculates. In the process he draws a line from mass hysteria to human carelessness, the results of which can be similarly catastrophic. And isn’t that the theme of these last few years?

The emergency response to the Airborne Toxic Event is the centerpiece of both book and film, and Baumbach brings it to life with flourishes of his own: Seussian air-purifier trucks; hazmat suits a little more fabulous than they need to be (credit to Ann Roth, who costumed De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill”). DeLillo wrote that “The toxic event had released a spirit of imagination,” and we tour the evacuee camp to behold mythmaking and conspiracy-theorizing in progress. Rather than despair over obvious present-day parallels, however, Baumbach limits fake news to folk songs and puppet shows. During the madcap flight from the camp, he sends Jack on an off-tackle run for a lost toy.

While the third act still plunges us into more chilling waters, Baumbach guides us with familiar signifiers. A chemistry lab looks like it belongs to Bunsen and Beaker. A visit to the A&P packs in maximal advertising language. And in an impressive coup, German legend Barbara Sukowa presides at the German hospital where Jack lands near the story’s end (now with Babette in tow). As Sister Hermann Marie, Sukowa brings to bear the weight of past roles when lecturing on grief and magical thinking: philosopher Hannah Arendt, mystic Hildegard von Bingen, prostitutes and militants. Attending nuns push not gurneys but shopping carts, leavening the tragic with the mundane. By the closing dance sequence, Jack and Babette have faced their worst fears and emerged unified. For its trouble, the town earns its evident joy.

Posted by Geoff at 12:01 AM CST
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Thursday, December 29, 2022

Despite all their self-mythologisation, filmmakers are still ultimately mortal," states The Independent's Clarisse Loughrey at the beginning of her review of White Noise. "So it’d be entirely forgivable if they’d spent the past few years preoccupied with death. Why else would Noah Baumbach have been so drawn to make White Noise? This is, after all, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s supposedly “unfilmable” novel that positions fear of the grave as the driving force behind every American ideal, from station wagons to Elvis Presley.

"DeLillo’s language is severe and enchantingly precise; every individual in his world is a philosopher lecturing to no one but themselves. His book is set in the Eighties and concerns a miniaturised apocalypse triggered by a cloud of chemicals – not an obvious fit, then, for Baumbach, whose films (Marriage Story; The Meyerowitz Stories) largely concern the most intricate neuroses of modern-day, self-branded intellectuals. But there is nothing more self-centred, perhaps, than a fear of death. And even the director’s most likeable characters, such as Greta Gerwig’s freewheeling protagonist of Frances Ha, suffer from acute narcissism. The effect here is that his White Noise comes across far more sentimentally than DeLillo likely ever intended. Yet its forgiving nature is oddly comforting."

After a couple of paragraphs about the film's story, Loughrey continues:

Baumbach has omitted one of the most famous passages of DeLillo’s book, in which his characters visit the “Most Photographed Barn in America”. The author uses it to theorise that our reality is now so documented and commodified that it ceases to exist as an independent state. We’re never looking at the barn as it is, but only at the barn as it’s been photographed. Rather than try and clumsily translate the passage onto film, Baumbach instead finds his own way to integrate that idea into the very language of his adaptation. White Noise, therefore, swings wildly between cinematic allusions – there are car chases, hints of Spielbergian wonderment, touches of David Lynch’s dream logic, and Brian De Palma’s lurid thrillers. It ends with a musical dance sequence set to LCD Soundsystem.

Much like the “Most Photographed Barn in America”, these references create distance. They help us face the mortal terrors of White Noise with a little more ease. The same could be said of the Gladney’s familiar rituals, from their supermarket trips to their daily verbal pile-ups. But Baumbach also suggests these might be nothing but harmful delusions, ultimately making us blind to fate. The spectacle of society may be our only comfort, but could it also herald our ultimate doom?

At Premiere, Frédéric Foubert writes that "Noah Baumbach explodes the framework of his cinema" -
Baumbach kneads the themes of DeLillo: the disintegration of the family by media saturation, the anguish of death, the appetite of the society of the spectacle for chaos and destruction (a thought for Nope). Serious, therefore, but treated in the tone of a savage farce.

The comic power and poetic fury of the source material allow Baumbach to burst the seams of his cinema. We think at times of the azimuted comedies of David O. Russell: the same taste for the ruptures of tone, the toupee actors, the "zinzinerie" cartoon. Where we remember that Noah Baumbach is also the co-screenwriter of Madagascar 3: Kisses from Europe… The film, which begins as an intellectual comedy, turns halfway through to an indie variation on Spielberg's War of the Worlds ( yes, yes), before playing it 80s thriller, with visual quotes from Brian De Palma in support. It's a lot, probably too much, for a single film, but Baumbach here portrays a man who counts the days he has left to live, and it's as if he himself counted the films what remains for him to do. And that he took advantage of it to shoot several at the same time, put in thrillers and SF adventures that he has never done, and will probably never do. Some will probably find it a bit indigestible. The rest will nod and smile during the fun end credits, punctuated by an unreleased LCD Soundsystem song, "New Rumba Body". Noah Baumbach asked musician James Murphy to write "a joyous song about death". That's also a good way to describe the movie.

Posted by Geoff at 10:43 PM CST
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Thursday, December 8, 2022

In the video above, from a livestream yesterday, Noah Baumbach talks about adapting the Don DeLillo novel White Noise for the cinema:
Really, what I found is an opportunity to find these cinematic analogues for what he was doing in a very literary way. But the book is all about American culture and how we’re inundated with product and TV and radio and movies and a lot of visual media. And so I was excited about the sort of visual opportunities and ways to push in that direction. Because the novel and the movie have different tone shifts and different genre elements that all have sort of cinematic equivalents to them. And because it was taking place in the eighties and I grew up in the eighties and I read the book in the eighties, I was interested in, not entirely, but sort of eighties interpretations of some of these genre elements. You know, film noir in the eighties, or family comedy in the eighties, or disaster movie elements in the eighties. So I was sort of using the kind of language that was inspired by that. And that was exciting to me, because I felt it was a way to play, in some ways, another tune that the book was alluding to but, you know, can’t do because it’s a novel. You know, if he does that thing in the novel where there’ll be a paragraph and there’ll be just a line from the radio or the television just as its own line, or just suddenly, that the word “Panasonic” appears in. Which is brilliant and it’s such a great novel thing, you know, a great writing thing. And so I then thought, you know, thinking about… or all the dialogue and the kids and the talking. So I got these… I should say not just visual ideas but audio ideas, and thinking about Robert Altman movies, and how he would, you know… This is something I actually started/played with in Marriage Story, was micing everybody in big groups, so everybody would talk at once, and I would have control of the different [voices]. So you could make a cacophony or you could break it down and really push one person to the forefront. And if you know Robert Altman’s movies, obviously he did this in a really kind of abstract [way]. In McCabe and Mrs. Miller, it becomes its own music. And so I found that was exciting for me, too, with this movie. You see it a little bit in the scene we saw, that first kitchen scene. They’re all talking over each other, and it becomes this sort of, you know, a song, in a way. And then to marry that to a certain kind of choreography and movement. So I felt like I could take, kind of, real life, and then put it in this sort of slightly abstract area. And that that, again, to me was a way to kind of represent that strangeness I was talking about.

Meanwhile, at The Film Stage, Nick Newman talks with cinematographer Lol Crawley, who filmed White Noise on anamorphic 35mm:
The Film Stage: This is far from the first period piece that you’ve shot. But I noticed, looking over your filmography, almost every one of them was photographed on film. 

Lol Crawley: Sure. Yeah.

And I think people balk, rightly or not, at a period piece shot on digital—it seems inauthentic. So how much was there a conversation about the necessity of shooting the 1980s with something visually and technologically analogous?

It was kind of established very early on. My recollection is that Netflix had gotten behind the idea of it being shot on film before I was even in the mix. And combining film with anamorphic seemed to do the heavy lifting of the aesthetic. It’s like, you combine Jess Gonchor‘s fantastic set design and shoot it anamorphic, on film, and you’re like: okay, that’s in the ballpark. Yeah, it is interesting. In general, if pushed, I would have to say I prefer shooting film over digital formats, but I also think it’s important to keep an open mind on the format and feel you’re serving the film, not just serving your own desire.

There are cinematographers I admire for that very fact. Like, Julien Donkey-Boy is a film I really love, that Anthony Dod Mantle shot, and I love the lo-fi aesthetic. I love the lo-fi aesthetic and philosophy of Dogme. It’d be interesting to know if it would feel a little dated to do that now; I don’t see a lot of people working on those low-end formats. But in a way it’s more interesting to shoot on those than a digital format that’s trying to emulate 35. I’m not sure everybody would share that opinion, but I’ve always liked the “punk” approach, in a way—trying to be more impressionistic and break an image down into textures. There’s more opportunity to do that with a much lower-resolution image to start with.

I was really surprised about this pairing with Baumbach because I tend to associate you with the Borderline crew.

Oh, okay! Yeah, I’ve shot for Brady and Antonio. That’s probably half the Borderline crew. [Laughs]

And there was a situation where he’d been working with a DP who left for various reasons. How was it coming into it after things were moving? Was there an established mold you had to work from?

No, it was so early on, I guess, that I didn’t really feel I inherited anything other than what was inherently Noah’s vision. So much comes from Noah because I find him to be a very visual filmmaker. Which might seem an odd thing to say, in the sense that his close comparisons would be Altman and Woody Allen. In some regards Noah is known for his studies of wonderful dialogue, wonderful performances, but can be also be internal—geographically, in rooms.

What was nice about this was he could flex different muscles for a Noah Baumbach film and do different things visually. The moment where Jack Gladney—Adam Driver’s character—becomes untethered and maniacally tears through the trash, the camera becomes untethered and does this circling thing. That was an idea that Noah had. A lot of those strong motifs came from Noah—which was enjoyable.

Of course he’s a De Palma acolyte, and that shot can only make me think of Blow Out.

It is very much a reference, yeah.

And the split-diopter moment.

Yeah. Well, that was another thing, but that wasn’t achieved in-camera; he did that as a post effect.

No kidding!

And I was like, “Oh. Okay. All right.” I don’t really get—I mean, within reason—bothered by people, directors and editors, reframing shots. Some people do, and I can kind of understand why they’d get bothered by it. I think also, once you’ve shot it, you’re not really in a position to… and I only say this because that one shot, we didn’t really discuss it. It was just in the editing they decided to do that, but I thought it worked terrifically well. Smart move.

Posted by Geoff at 10:18 PM CST
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Saturday, October 1, 2022

Noah Baumbach's adaptation of Don DeLillo's White Noise won't be released until the end of December, but reviews have been coming out of film festivals in Venice and New York:

Rehna Azim, Movie Marker

Based on the 1985 novel by Don Delillo, White Noise is a far more ambitious film than director Noah Baumbach’s last effort, the popular 2019 drama Marriage Story. His influences, such as the American disaster movies of the 70s and 80s, the rom-com of that era, the family on vacation movies, as well as the high-octane thrillers of directors such as Brian De Palma, are all evident here in the tonal shifts, the technically assured and stylish look of the film, the flashy action scenes, the looming disaster of a toxic, chemical cloud, the large family bundled into a car and the verbal back and forth of the central married couple.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire
If the first act of “White Noise” feels like a work of expert-level pantomime, the similarly faithful second act somehow creates an energy all its own. Baumbach knows that DeLillo anticipated the likes of “The Matrix,” “The Truman Show,” and scads of other stories in which reality becomes a simulation of itself, but those aren’t the movies he wants to remind you of here. A crucial difference between the “White Noise” of 2022 and the “White Noise” of 1985 is that Baumbach has already seen the movies that DeLillo’s book helped to inspire, and that frees him to have some fun with this one.

As Jack, Babette, and the four younger members of their blended brood (a terrific group that also includes Raffey Cassidy and May Nivola) attempt to flee the airborne toxic effect, trying to suss out how safe they should feel amid the traffic jam of other families trying to do the same thing, Baumbach switches to a register that we’ve never seen from him before. Suddenly we’re in “War of the Worlds” territory, complete with oodles of Spielberg Face and a menacing awe so artful and evocative that it feels more like the real thing than a commentary on it. Something I never thought I’d write about a Baumbach film: The CGI is fantastic.

The evacuation sequences viscerally convey the appeal of disaster movies by clinging to a character who refuses to accept that he’s in one (at least at first), or to acknowledge that death can still find him in a large crowd. Baumbach’s visual language ensures that we have no such trouble. We’ve seen “Independence Day,” “Deep Impact,” and enough films of its ilk to recognize what a massive disaster supposedly looks like, but Jack — living in 1985 — doesn’t have the same frame of reference. To him, his situation doesn’t feel like a movie, and so he’s slow to recognize it as a disaster (a phenomenon illustrated in the brilliant shot of a black cloud swallowing the glow of a Shell logo just above Jack’s shoulder). We have the opposite problem, and it epitomizes why “White Noise” may be even more relevant today than it was 37 years ago: When we reckon with a disaster that seems too much like a movie, we struggle to accept that it’s real. As a character puts it in the book, and possibly also in this film: “For most people there are only two places in the world: Where they live and their TV set.”

Baumbach has an absolute field day with this dissonance; the closer his characters veer towards danger, the more that Baumbach exaggerates the movie-ness of their existence. A dramatic car chase is shot like a scene from an ’80s road trip comedy like “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” complete with a slow-motion shot of the family station flying through the air. A climactic showdown in a seedy motel — the end of the Dylar affair — drips with De Palma, all the way down to an unmissable split-diopter shot.

It’s a good thing the movie’s semiotic pleasures are so pronounced, because the book’s more basic charms don’t quite survive the trip to the big screen (let alone the ride home to Netflix). That third act gunplay is typical of an adaptation that’s always smart and on edge, but seldom involving enough beyond that. DeLillo’s writing gives readers the space to see their own existential terror reflected back at them in the funhouse mirror of Jack’s absurd circumstances, but Baumbach’s “White Noise” — more externalized by default — proves too arch for our emotions to penetrate.

Baumbach’s film is so determined to feel like “White Noise” that it ends up wearing the novel like a costume, a sensation epitomized by its lead performance. Driver is far too young to play the 51-year-old Jack (even if 38 was the 51 of 1985), though his middle-aged cosplay contributes to the general air of simulacra. More difficult to excuse is the actor’s struggle to sell the journey of Jack’s epiphanies. Driver is so naturally wild with life that he never quite musters the latent fear needed to fuel his character through the first act; it’s the same reason why the self-possession Jack finds in the third act feels less earned than it does inevitable. It’s a fitting anchor for an adaptation that gets everything so right that you might yearn for the friction that comes with getting it wrong, or at least the tension that comes from pulling away.

It’s no coincidence that the film’s most ecstatic moments — the first scene, the last scene, and the Spielbergian chaos that runs down the middle — are also the ones that most deviate from the book. Baumbach is ultimately too in sync with DeLillo for “White Noise” to escape from the shadow of its monolithic source material, as movie struggles to escape the hat on a hat sensation of that match between filmmaker and novelist, and often feels like the work of a third party who’s trying to imitate them both at once. All the same, you can still hear something almost subliminally divine under that uncanniness whenever Baumbach cranks up the volume. The sound of a beeping smoke alarm, perhaps.

Posted by Geoff at 11:34 PM CDT
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Monday, December 9, 2019

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is getting raves and topping lists all over the place. Dazed's Nick Chen spoke with Baumbach last week, and, amidst discussion of the new film, asked him about a Brian De Palma quote from Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's De Palma documentary:
Baumbach is in the middle of a jet-setting tour. The previous day, he flew in from Paris and delivered a BAFTA Screenwriting Lecture. (“Greta Gerwig pointed out to me that my movies tend to tell you what they’re about at the very beginning,” he said at the event. “I wasn’t aware of this, but it’s embarrassing when you go back and look.”) Earlier in the week, in New York, Marriage Story won so many prizes at the Gotham Awards that Baumbach took to the podium four times, eventually deadpanning, “I hope you remember what I said in the last speech, because it’s still relevant.”

Compare it to early 2018, a few months after the release of The Meyerowitz Stories, when Baumbach was a regular at awards shows – but as a plus-one on the Lady Bird table. (InStyle ran an article titled “Who Is Greta Gerwig’s Boyfriend?”) However, several pundits are predicting that Marriage Story will be the first Netflix film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. So what about the rumours that Marriage Story was originally set up at Amazon?

“That wasn’t true,” Baumbach says. “We had talked to Amazon about it, but I already had a relationship with Netflix.” Was he impressed, then, with the creative freedom a streaming service offered on The Meyerowitz Stories? “Netflix is a movie company run by people who really love movies. A few years ago, there was a legitimate distinction between what Netflix is doing and what other companies are doing. But now the movie business is moving that direction. Netflix adjusted on their part, too. We had a month in the United States exclusively in theatres before it went on Netflix, and they’ll keep it in theatres for people who want to have that choice.

“I talked to Scorsese about it. The King of Comedy was pulled after two weeks in theatres. It’s a complex discussion and in flux. In two years, it’s going to be something else. To me, Netflix is just a great place to make movies.”

Unlike Baumbach’s earlier features where scripts were written then sent out to potential actors (Greenberg was nearly shot with Mark Ruffalo and Amy Adams, not Ben Stiller and Gerwig – a real Sliding Doors moment), Marriage Story was conceived specifically for the leads. “Adam’s an actor I’ve continued to work with since Frances Ha,” Baumbach says. “Knowing Scarlett and Laura was invaluable and helped me visualise the scenes. There are sequences written in the movie because I’m motivated by knowing that actor is playing that part. Laura’s monologue came from Laura. We talked about it while I was writing it.”

As Nora, Nicole’s lawyer, Dern delivers a fiery speech about how society accepts imperfect fathers but not imperfect mothers. Fathers are already expected to be absent, Nora explains, but mothers are chastised if they drink too much wine. “We were saying that Nora got into the business for moral reasons. Nora wanted to stand up for people, and women particularly, who she feels the system is rigged against, and she wants to be their crusader.”

Early on, the camera regularly hovers over the shoulder of Charlie or Nicole, depending on narrative momentum. The legal scenes, though, are blocked and framed as if the bickering pair are helpless children in the room. Occasionally, it’s like the lawyers are in cahoots. Dern and Liotta’s characters are arch enemies who socialise at charity dinners and drive up each other’s business. It’s an emotionally cold war: when Nicole hires Nora, Charlie reluctantly directs “two shitty plays” to afford an expensive equivalent. (Incidentally, Baumbach wrote Madagascar 3 and nearly directed Mr Popper’s Penguins around 2011.) In the courts, it’s like we’re witnessing a different film – or what Baumbach describes to me as “various genres that are hidden and that reveal themselves in the movie”.

One of those hidden genres is a musical. At rock bottom, Charlie belts out Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive”, a song that appeared for five seconds in Lady Bird. The sight of Driver’s gigantic face on a gigantic screen as he splutters Sondheim’s lyrics (“Make me confused, mock me with praise/Let me be used, vary my days/But alone is alone, not alive!”) is reason enough to catch Marriage Story in a theatre. That Driver is initially too tall for the microphone is the cue to laugh or cry.

“Charlie clearly knows the song very well,” Baumbach explains. “He’s doing all the other parts. We all have that experience where there’s a song we’ve heard a million times, and suddenly you hear it in a different way.” When performing Sondheim, Charlie is able to reveal his deepest, innermost emotions. Did Baumbach find something similar with Marriage Story – that screenwriting unlocks a certain kind of honesty and catharsis?

“It’s through art that Charlie can express himself in a way that he can’t, or hasn’t been able to, in life,” Baumbach says, slightly avoiding the question. “That was very moving to me. There’s something true of many artists, that they can be smarter and wiser and more profound in their work than perhaps in regular conversation.”

Through Robbie Ryan’s cinematography, the film depicts the visual contrast between New York, where Charlie directs his plays, and LA, where Nicole lands a role in a TV pilot. Often, Charlie is like Stiller in Greenberg: a New Yorker resentfully residing in the open spaces of LA. “We thought about that with the wardrobe,” Baumbach explains. “When Charlie’s in Los Angeles, he’s still wearing an overcoat and sweater. He’s dressed for the past.”

Does Baumbach, a New York resident, consider LA to be his Bergman Island? There are, after all, numerous references to Ingmar Bergman in Marriage Story – including a magazine profile titled “Scenes from a Marriage” and close-ups that pay homage to Persona. “I find LA so strange,” the director says. “Every time I go there, I need to adjust. The car culture and the light is so different from New York. The movie was an opportunity to have these radically different-looking environments: LA for her, New York for him. But it’s a stand-in for a more abstract idea of what home is, and identity.”

As for why there are so few divorce movies, Baumbach doesn’t have an answer. ABBA, I mention, sang about divorce, had two divorces within the band, yet the blockbuster celebrating their music revolved around a wedding. “There are a lot of breakup songs,” he says. “But many love songs are actually about breakups. There’s a movie genre, even, of the love that can’t be: Casablanca and Brief Encounter. I thought about this movie in that context as much as any ‘divorce movie’ context.”

Baumbach, it must be said, speaks carefully and considerately, often starting sentences again, as if punching up his own responses. But he does answer a few quick-fire questions, such as the status of the stalled Barbie movie he’s writing with Gerwig (“It’s happening, but we haven’t started it yet”), and if the “you should see the other dog” line that appears in both Meyerowitz Stories and Isle of Dogs is an in-joke between him and Wes Anderson (“Really? We’ve never discussed it – I’ll ask Wes”).

But the longer answers are, understandably, reserved for Marriage Story, which could have premiered at the 2018 film festivals, but the director opted to spend a few more months perfecting it in the editing room. All of which is to say, catch it in a theatre if you can. There’s a misnomer that talky dramas don’t require the cinema treatment. (A headline from The Onion: “You Haven’t Seen Frances Ha Until You’ve Seen It In IMAX.”) But it was shot on 35mm, the cinematography is thoughtful and elegant, and the collective discomfort can only be experienced with a crowd – unless you watch it at home with a resentful partner, that is.

Many critics have called it Baumbach’s best film. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it’s certainly up there. It’s definitely his most mature, in that it’s the only one in which a character would apologise for screaming, “Every day, I wake up and hope you’re dead!” The richness of the material – feeling like a criminal who hasn’t committed a crime; the irony that Charlie is a better husband in divorce; that loving someone generates a deeper potential for hatred; that Nicole thrives by dumping her controlling partner – wasn’t there in Baumbach’s first few movies. Which brings to mind a quote from Brian De Palma at the end of the 2015 documentary De Palma, co-directed by Baumbach. De Palma claims that filmmakers peak in their 30s, 40s and 50s – then go downhill. Does Baumbach, aged 50, have 10 years left at his peak?

“That’s Brian’s observation,” he says, chuckling. “But what Brian also says, which I think is very true, is that directing is very physical. Concentration-wise, it’s exhausting. It’s a challenge. I’m really impressed with directors like John Huston and Robert Altman who work to the end of their lives. It’s so tiring and gruelling, getting up and shooting nights, and under stress and parameters.”

So it’s fortunate Marriage Story turned out the way it did? “It’s a crazy art form when you think about it. I don’t know if there’s any other art form where you have to get it right this one time – and that’s it.”

Posted by Geoff at 11:59 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 1:18 AM CST
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Thursday, August 29, 2019

Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman attended the world premiere today of Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story at the Venice Film Festival. After pre-movie drinks at the Hotel Excelsior (where De Palma will participate in a Mastercard conversation event tomorrow), De Palma and Lehman arrived on the red carpet, where they posed for photographs, and De Palma signed autographs (as in the photo above, taken by Alberto Pizzoli). See below for a few more pics, a YouTube video from the Red Carpet, and a few links to early reviews of the well-received Marriage Story, which stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in what Telegraph critic Robbie Collin describes as "a thinly veiled cine-memoir about the filmmaker’s recent divorce from the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh."


Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

One of the strangest and most beautiful paradoxes of cinema is this: the more needlingly specific it gets, the more sweepingly inclusive it feels. At the Venice Film Festival earlier today, the multi-national audience in the Sala Grande winced and hooted as one at Noah Baumbach’s tremendous Marriage Story, a thinly veiled cine-memoir about the filmmaker’s recent divorce from the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

It is Baumbach’s funniest, most fine-grained picture since 2012’s Frances Ha – a kind of screwball Kramer vs. Kramer, full of laser-targeted telling comic detail, both about the divorce process itself and the couple’s split existence between the New York arts scene and upper middle class Los Angeles. There is a subtly brilliant running joke in which the film’s LA residents keep gushing over their city’s “sense of space” – invariably from inside some poky air-conditioned office.

Jon Frosch, The Hollywood Reporter
Marriage Story begins with a fake-out. Via voiceover, spouses Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) enumerate the things, big and small, that they adore about each other: she’s an unparalleled listener, an expert gift giver, an "infectious" dancer; he’s a natural with their young son, a surprisingly great dresser, cries at movies. Glimpses of their shabby-chic domestic contentment are shown as a bittersweet Randy Newman score swells. It’s all warmly romantic in a grounded, adult way.

Alas, those lists aren’t Valentine’s Day cards Charlie and Nicole have written for one another, or an intimacy exercise meant to draw them closer. They’re something a mediator has asked the pair to cobble together to kick off their separation in good faith. On the surface, this is indeed not a tale of love, but of mounting mutual hostility — though as Noah Baumbach’s wounding, masterly new film argues, the line between those sentiments can be agonizingly blurry.

Viewers who dug the relative mellowness of Baumbach’s last effort, 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), should brace themselves: Like Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage — an inevitable influence — this is a tough piece of work, steeped in pain that feels wincingly immediate (it’s based on Baumbach’s own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) and unsparing in its willingness to observe, at sometimes startling emotional proximity, good people at their worst.

It’s also funny and, when you least expect it (and most need it), almost unbearably tender, thanks in large part to the sensational leads, who deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned performances of their careers. Marriage Story puts you through the wringer, but leaves you exhilarated at having witnessed a filmmaker and his actors surpass themselves.

Owen Gleiberman, Variety
Marriage Story” is the Noah Baumbach movie we’ve been waiting for. It’s better than good; it’s more than just accomplished. After 10 features, released over a quarter century of filmmaking (his debut, “Kicking and Screaming,” came out in 1995; his other films include “The Squid and the Whale,” “Greenberg,” and “Frances Ha”), this, at long last, is Baumbach’s breakthrough into the dramatic stratosphere. At once funny, scalding, and stirring, built around two bravura performances of incredible sharpness and humanity, it’s the work of a major film artist, one who shows that he can capture life in all its emotional detail and complexity — and, in the process, make a piercing statement about how our society now works.

The movie is a drama of divorce, and when it’s over you may feel like you know the lives it’s about as well as you know your own. Yet “Marriage Story” isn’t just the tale of a marital breakdown and its aftermath. It’s a film about divorce: how it operates, what it means, its larger consequences. Television periodically confronts this kind of thing (on “Big Little Lies,” say), but if you’re wondering when it was that a movie last dealt with the subject of separation on such a big-picture scale, you might have to go back 40 years — to the era of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Scenes from a Marriage,” and “Shoot the Moon.” “Marriage Story” makes a worthy addition to that canon, though so much has changed. Divorce was commonplace back then, but this is the first film set inside what might be called the divorce-industrial complex. It’s about two people coming to terms with a process that, however necessary, is more wounding at times than their heartbreak.

Posted by Geoff at 8:48 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, August 29, 2019 11:19 PM CDT
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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Posted by Geoff at 9:36 PM CDT
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Friday, November 3, 2017

In Episode 101 of The Director's Cut podcast, posted on SoundCloud two days ago, Brian De Palma interviews his friend Noah Baumbach. De Palma kicks things off by asking Baumbach about the titles of his films, and how he came up with them. Together, they go movie-by-movie through Baumbach's titles. De Palma then asks if he'd ever had a "Vertigo moment," (a movie that made him want to make movies), and Baumbach mentions Steve Martin in The Jerk. "Yes, you keep on referring to that," responds De Palma, "and I'm trying to get my head around it."

The conversation keeps flowing from there, with De Palma comfortably asking his friend questions about how he developed as a filmmaker (Baumbach eventually says his "Vertigo moment" might have been Truffaut's Jules And Jim). At one point, Baumbach recalls first meeting De Palma at Paul Schrader's 50th birthday party, and offering De Palma a part as a therapist in his new (at that time) movie. "And you said no," Baumbach recalls, "but you said, 'Don't worry, I turn everybody down. I turned Woody Allen down.' So I felt in good company."

That's all in the first 13 minutes-- listen to the full 39-minute podcast for much more.

Posted by Geoff at 3:08 AM CDT
Updated: Friday, November 3, 2017 3:11 AM CDT
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