White Noise (2022)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 2, 2022 @ tonymacklin.net.

Why does a movie director decide to make an adaptation of a classic novel? How true to the original source is he or she going to be? How much is he or she going to invent in the transformation to a different genre?

Is he or she going to create a classic film based on the classic novel? This rarely happens. Despite Stephen King's rejection of Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining, it seems to be more of a work of art than his. Both Kubrick's and King's succeed on their levels.

The impending release of White Noise on Netflix December 30 raises the above questions.

When director/writer Noah Baumbach was named to helm the film, I was disappointed. I had thought only someone with the creative capabilities of Kubrick could be up to the novel by Don DeLillo.

Baumbach is a pretentious director. DeLillo is a master of mystery and clarity.

Baumbach claims the credit for script writing, but he employs the same characters as the novel, the same plot, a lot of the same dialogue, and many of the same themes. He does drop important dialogue, and changes the ethnicity of Murray Siskind (Don Cheadle), but he offers his contribution in the same wrappings as DeLillo. That's misleading and partially bastardization.

DeLillo and Baumbach speak with very different voices. DeLillo's is singularly his own.

DeLillo and Kubrick share a cool, even chilly, sharp intelligence. Baumbach does not.

DeLillo is an ironist. Baumbach is not. Irony is dead today. How does one be ironic in a world of overwhelming overstatement and absence of thought?

DeLillo grew up in a world in which irony was omni-present. He was born into an Italian Catholic family in Brooklyn. [Baumbach also was born in Brooklyn].

DeLillo evolved over the years. It is a voice created in the '60s, and tempered over the decades.

The 1970s were the Golden Age of American Film. In an interview in the Chicago Tribune in 2012, DeLillo said, "...and then in the '70s came the Americans, many of whom were influenced by the Europeans: Kubrick, Altman, Coppola, Scorsese and so on. I don't know how much they may have affected the way I write, but I do have a visual style."

There is an artificiality about the film White Noise, especially in the rendering of DeLillo's dialogue. The actors are capable, but can't master the language.

Adam Driver portrays Jack Gladney, chair of the department of Hitler Studies at the College-on-the-Hill in rural country. He and his wife Babette [Greta Gerwig - Baumbach's partner] live with children from previous marriages.

Their area is struck by an accident that spews toxic fumes into the air, forcing the inhabitants to evacuate.

The last part of the 2 hour and 16 minute slog is their facing consumption and mortality.

Perhaps it isn't clear that Baumbach has wrested the material away from DeLillo until the end. Then he goes off on his wayward jaunt with an end credit sequence of characters dancing in a supermarket. Baumbach substitutes his joy for DeLillo's sense of panic.

Baumbach might have ended Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with dancing Starchildren.

2022 is a world of motion. Advertisements, TikTok, and the world of 2022 are dominated by mere motion.

Many years ago I went to New York City to attend a reading at the 92nd Street Y by Don DeLillo. Later I sent him a note and a story I had written.

He sent me the following letter:

"Dear Tony Macklin,

"Many thanks for your letter. And I'm honored to learn of your long journey (although it probably wasn't as death-defying as a few minutes on the book-signing line in NY that night.) If you're my shadow, it's only because I'm eleven months older (it hurts to say it) than you are.

"I am sitting in a room filled with snowdrifts of mail, manuscripts, books, CDs, baseballs, bumper stickers (Who Killed Kennedy) and other forms of reader generosity. I caught up with your story between trips to Chicago and Albany. I saw it as a Francis Coppola movie, with operatic overtones. Big, strong, filled with uneasy tensions- 'The Unnatural.'

"Thanks again. Serious readers are the other half of a precious conspiracy - I never take them for granted.


"Don DeLillo."

In his film of White Noise, Noah Baumbach has dropped that "precious conspiracy."

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin