Director Noah Baumbach turns to song and dance to make closing credits unskippable

Actress Greta Gerwig (left) and director Noah Baumbach at the 79th Venice Film Festival in Venice, on Sept 1, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

VENICE, Italy – Noah Baumbach is not a fan of Netflix’s “skip credits” feature. When he directed Marriage Story (2019) and The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), he implored the streaming service not to speed viewers past the closing credits and into the next piece of content before the films had technically concluded.

Still, the 53-year-old director realises that on this front, he might be an old-school outlier. “When I’m watching a movie with my 12-year-old and it finishes, I like to decompress and watch the credits, always,” Baumbach said recently at the Venice International Film Festival. “And he’s like, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”

To ensure the survival of closing credits, film-makers now have to make something truly unskippable, and it is here that Baumbach has delivered. At the end of his new film, the Venice opener White Noise, he delivers a full-blown musical number starring the entire cast and set to the first new LCD Soundsystem song in five years. It is a deliriously fun sequence that dominated chatter in the first 24 hours of the festival.

In White Noise – adapted from the 1985 novel of the same name by Don DeLillo – Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig play married parents Jack and Babette Gladney. He is a paunchy professor who blathers about his “advanced Nazism” course; she is a pill-popper with a mighty 1980s perm. When a toxic spill forces their neighbourhood to evacuate, the leads must confront their obsession with death in a way that hits much closer to home.

The only thing that seems to soothe these neurotics is the local supermarket, a giant, gleaming temple of consumerism where everything is always in the right place. With its abundance, bright-white lights and collection of familiar, beaming faces, a trip to the supermarket in White Noise is not just like going to heaven – it is better.

That makes it the perfect place to set the end-credits number.

Here, nearly every character in the movie cavorts among aisles of Hi-C, Doritos and Ritz Crackers while Driver and Gerwig pull boxes from the shelves with Busby Berkeley-level precision. Later, workers in the checkout area throw plastic bags into the air as if they were feathered fans, and a coterie of college professors boogie in a charmingly fussy fashion.

The sequence is reminiscent of the dance-heavy curtain calls from The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension (1984) and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), though Baumbach, a more refined cineaste, was motivated by 8½ (1963) and Beau Travail (1999), he said.

“As I arrived at the end of the script, it revealed itself to me as the thing to do,” said Baumbach, who likened it to smaller cinematic flourishes that close his previous films. “Frances Ha (2012) has no unmotivated camera until the very end, and then there’s a push in on her face – it’s very simple. Meyerowitz Stories is all piano music, and then an orchestra comes in at the end. I like trying to listen for those things.”

He went to LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, who also contributed to Baumbach’s Greenberg (2010) and While We’re Young (2014), to craft New Body Rhumba, an upbeat, catchy song about death for the sequence. “I said, essentially, write the song you would have written if you were writing songs in 1985,” Baumbach said.

The dance sequence, choreographed by David Neumann, was shot in two days at an abandoned Ohio superstore. “It actually was as happy shooting it as it is to watch it,” Baumbach said. “It was this contagious feeling. It just felt good.”

And though Baumbach has flirted with making a movie musical before, making White Noise has not fully scratched that itch.

“It makes me interested in doing more of that,” said Baumbach. “I think this whole movie opened up things for me, aspects of moviemaking that I’ve always been drawn to that the movies I’ve made haven’t needed or wanted.” NYTIMES

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