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NYFF: Brian DePalma & Noah Baumbach Discuss Friendship, Fraternity & Filmmaking In A Career-Spanning Conversation

Photo of Cory Everett By Cory Everett | @modage October 10, 2012 at 10:02AM

At first glance, the idea of pairing filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Brian De Palma together for an onstage conversation doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. After all, what would the filmmaker behind intimate character pieces like “The Squid & The Whale” and “Greenberg” have to say to the master stylist responsible for “Scarface” and “Carrie,” whose career has been built on swooning, impossible camera moves and nail-biting suspense? This idea only appears unconventional until you see Baumbach (accompanied by girlfriend/actress Greta Gerwig) at two showings of DePalma’s latest, “Passion,” which is now screening at the New York Film Festival. As it turns out, the filmmakers are friends and mutual admirers, and organizers have been trying to coordinate an onstage pairing for years.

“When I see a character movie, see a two-shot in a restaurant, I suddenly start getting very sleepy,” De Palma groused. “I see that two-shot, I see that over-the-shoulder, I think ‘Oh God, this is boring.’ But of course, you need scenes like that in order to build character relationships. I’m very aware of it. But to me, because I think in all these developed cinematic terms, it’s not very challenging to me. You know, the worst thing I could say about a director is that he ‘covered the scene,’” he said, adding that “any idiot could do that.”

Another cliche that seemed to irritate De Palma was lazy movie openings. “How many helicopter shots have you seen of Manhattan? Or a car driving up to a house? And also in the beginning of movies when they waste all this time going into the city and you see all the second unit going out there shooting all this arriving in New York or arriving in Chicago while the titles go across. In the beginning of a movie you’re ready for anything, you’re all excited. And suddenly you start seeing this terrible travelogue?” he said annoyed. “It drives me crazy.”

Baumbach agreed, “How you start the movie is critical. And how often you feel that there’s no reason for how it’s starting. And every so often you get the helicopter shot in ‘The Shining’ and you feel like the scariest thing is about to happen and you don’t know why.” De Palma interjected, “Well, that’s Stanley Kubrick, please. And he’s always the exception to the rule.”

Baumbach’s films have evolved visually over his career but says he would never attempt to shoot one of his films using a more theatrical style like De Palma’s. “I love how Brian approaches his movies visually, the things that he’s known for -- the long shots, the split screens -- I’m in awe of that when I’m watching his movies. I have the museum scene from ‘Dressed To Kill’ and the scene in the mall in ‘Body Double,’ they play on in my head. There’s pieces of all his movies that I have in there and will reflect on at different times. But they’re not things that I feel like I could imitate or would want to imitate.”

Foundas struggled to draw similarities between the two filmmakers (because there really aren’t very many practical ones to be had) but De Palma offered some help offering up the obvious, “Well, I think we’re both interested in women,” he said. “Beautiful women.” A pair of sex scenes were screened for the audience which included the “Relax” sequence from “Body Double” and the awkward oral sex scene from “Greenberg.” DePalma said the key to a good sex scene was “a good idea,” saying that “just shooting naked people rolling around in the bed together is not very exciting and you’ve seen it a billion times.” For the scene on “Body Double,” he said, “The idea is that he’s in a pornographic music video that doesn’t exist,” before lamenting that, “unfortunately MTV never showed it because I guess it was too pornographic.”

This article is related to: New York Film Festival , Brian De Palma, Noah Baumbach

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