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Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach and the Films of Their Lives

Antonio Monda, director of Le Conversazioni, interviewed Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach at The Morgan Library about films that inspired them

"Le Conversazioni" by Antonio Monda, Morgan Library, New York (Foto di Nicola Di Costanzo)

Gerwig said that she grew up not watching a lot of TV, so her early experiences with art were routed mainly in theatre. A lot of the films she chose were theatrical films or had a relation to theatre. For example, the excerpt from All that Jazz showed all the dancers performing together. “I get a contact high from watching all the dancers”, Gerwig admitted.

The aim of the evening was to get an insight into Gerwig and Baumbach’s creative process by talking about films that influenced each of them. They each chose excerpts of a few films that they considered their greatest inspirations.

Greta Gerwig is an actress, playwright, screen-writer and director. She most recently wrote and directed her first movie, Lady Bird, for which she won two Academy Award nominations. During 2019 she has been working on her second movie as director, Little Women.

Noah Baumbach is a director and screen-writer. His screenplay The Squid and the Whale was nominated for best original screenplay at the Academy Awards in 2005. His latest movie, The Meyerowitz Stories, was distributed by Netflix in 2019. Baumbach and Gerwig collaborated on Frances Ha and Greenberg.

Greta Gerwig, Antonio Monda, Noah Baumbach (Foto di Nicola Di Costanzo)

The movie clips Gerwig chose were, All that Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse), Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1974, Chantal Akerman), Another Year (2019, Mike Leigh) and Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean). Baumbach chose To Be or Not to Be (1942, Ernst Lubitsch), Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976, Blake Edwards) and E.T. (1982, Steven Spielberg).

Gerwig said that she grew up not watching a lot of TV, so her early experiences with art were routed mainly in theatre. A lot of the films she chose were theatrical films or had a relation to theatre. For example, the excerpt from All that Jazz showed all the dancers performing together. “I get a contact high from watching all the dancers”, Gerwig admitted. Her second film, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, however, was an artistic movie that dedicated a lot of time to a woman, a prostitute, doing housework and daily tasks. The film shows the woman go through her daily routine. Each step is planned. As the film progresses there are cracks in the routine. The sequence Gerwig chose was of the woman washing her dishes. The viewer only sees the back of the woman, but knows she is not following her exact dishwashing routine. Gerwig said she burst out in tears watching this sequence in the movie theatre. It is heartbreaking because the audience knows the woman is losing her mind just by watching her washing dishes. Her face isn’t even visible. It shows the relationship an audience can form to the characters by watching a film.

Foto Nicola Di Costanzo

Another Year fascinates Gerwig because the dialogue is elevated and strange, but at the same time incredibly natural. About Brief Encounter Gerwig said that it is a movie about falling in love through conversation, the purest form of love.

Baumbach’s selections were mostly comedic films. To Be or Not to Be, part of the Golden Age of Comedy, has a unique style, according to Baumbach, because there are no pauses or lags, but it never feels rushed. Monda mentioned that the film might be somewhat controversial because it was made so close to World War II. Another comedic film Baumbach chose was The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the epitome of physical humor. Persona is Baumbach’s major inspiration. He says he watches it before preparing any film himself. The last film Baumbach chose was E.T. He admitted that he can relate to E.T. and “cried his eyes out” watching the movie.

Foto di Nicola Di Costanzo

Gerwig and Baumbach are both multi-faceted in their relationship with art, taking on many roles in movie production. They represent the coming together of theatre, film and literature.

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