White Noise Opens the New York Film Festival with a Bang

Film Festable
The 60th New York Film Festival opens with a lot of noise, White Noise, that is. Noah Baumbach’s movie, adapted from Don DeLillo’s classic American 1985 novel, features the kind of ambient sound that barely registers, punctuated by the boom of train/freighter collisions in combustible flames exuding plumes of smoke. It’s a canvas of the senses, in grays and vivid crayon color—all the distractible elements necessary for survival in the face of definite death. In Samuel Beckett’s hands, this dilemma is sparely etched. But guided by DeLillo’s images of American detritus, Noah Baumbach succeeds in answering the question of how can anyone make a movie out of the satiric cacophony/ harmony of White Noise? Or, perhaps even more relatable, how would you respond to a “toxic airborne event?”

He succeeds well, utilizing station wagons and the A&P supermarket to full luster. Not since Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” have the aisles popped with shoppers and products strategically placed in happy familiarity. Mountains of everything a consumer would want to hoard.

His first adaptation, Baumbach claims to have been thinking about this project ever since as a teen his father put the novel in his hands. It helps that his father, novelist Jonathan Baumbach, was a professor at Brooklyn College and a writer wracked with his own existential dread, all familiar territory for the young Baumbach to mine. On a college campus setting, Jack Gladney (the excellent Adam Driver) is a celebrity academic, a specialist in Hitler studies. His colleague, Murray Suskind, (wonderful Don Cheadle) teaches Elvis. A beautifully choreographed lecture shows how enthusiasm for each of these idolized “superstars” flattens any moral, ethical consideration. Jack’s wife Babette (Greta Gerwig with big hair reminiscent of Melanie Griffith’s in Working Girl--no doubt costume designer Ann Roth’s touch), tries to cure her affliction: fear of death, much to the alarm of their three eldest children who chatter from beginning to end. Baumbach directed them to do that, as if they were an ongoing radio--back-sound being the point—punctuated by Danny Elfman’s music and a surprise joyful ending from LCD Soundsystem: to “new body rhumba.”

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