Edward Norton and Thom Yorke: ‘The last thing we wanted was for it to get bloody’
Over tea and tequila, the actor and the rock star discuss making Motherless Brooklyn, the dark forces behind Trump and why Yorke was too messed up to score Fight Club
In Edward Nortons new film, Motherless Brooklyn, a keening ballad blows in and out, affecting the narrative and painting the prevailing mood with a deep shade of blue. Its unmistakably the work of Radioheads frontman, Thom Yorke.
Some film songs (Stayin Alive, The Harder They Come) sit so snugly with the tale that one can barely see the join. Others (Mrs Robinson, Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head) drop like gaudy visitors from another world. Its an inexact science, a curious alchemy. Norton and Yorke are still figuring it out.
As a director, your job is to take a lot of talented people and pull them into a frequency alignment, Norton says. Youre trying to create a coherent aesthetic. But thats exactly the wrong headspace to be in with regard to the music. The worst thing you can do is to get in the way. You dont want to over-manage a whole separate poetry.
If the film and the song should be standalone entities, it therefore follows that the collaborators must be, too. Here they are, perched side-by-side in a posh hotel; the crisply respectable film-maker and the rumpled, elfin musician, like a Norman Rockwell illustration next to a cartoon by Dr Seuss. Norton orders a pot of tea. Yorke, for his part, opts for a tequila. He smiles. What can I say? Im starting early.
Norton has wanted to make a film of Motherless Brooklyn ever since he read Jonathan Lethems source novel in 1999. The result is rich, gamey, abundant; a labour of love. Norton wrote the script, called the shots and takes the lead role of Lionel Essrog, a whip-smart private eye who uncovers institutionalised corruption in 1950s New York. Lionel has Tourettes, which has made him a pariah. He jerks and yelps and puts his hand on random bystanders as though to anchor himself. The condition is a drag but its his rocket fuel, too.
Shortly before shooting, Norton decided that Lionel needed a song. Something fractured and beautiful; something to reflect the inside of the mans head. He found himself thinking of Billie Holidays Strange Fruit. Its the most mournful of songs but its also political, its about living in dark times. And I thought: Well, you know, Thom is my Billie Holiday.
Ill take that as a compliment, Yorke says, as if theres any other way to take it. I mean yes, Strange Fruit is like the ultimate song for me.
Daily Battles is not Strange Fruit any more than Motherless Brooklyn is Chinatown, the films most obvious influence. But its an excellent ballad all the same something soft, raw and gorgeous tucked amid all that hard-boiled noir aesthetic. Just as Lionel explains that he sometimes feels that he is two people living inside the same body, so the film and the song somehow conspire to share the story between them.
Yeah, but I had no idea whether it worked or not, Yorke insists. Its a weird experience, because youre working outside of the film. But you still have to try to make it personal. Maybe thats the mark of every good song. If you make it personal it carries everything else with it. All told, he reckons he just about got away with it. He puts down his shot glass and mimes mopping at his brow.
In the end I think I liked Motherless Brooklyn for the same reasons others didnt (the reviews have been mixed and the box office grim): because its lengthy and knotty and longingly romantic as only a dyed-in-the-wool cynic can be. Norton is aware of the problems. He admits that the tales clashing ingredients can be both a blessing and a curse. Id describe this film to people and say: Well, its a big period epic about dark things in the vein of the best noir. But by the way its also got Rain Man at the centre of it. People go crosseyed. Its like youve offered them an olive and a piece of chocolate. They think: I might like them both, but they dont go together.
Hi my name is Kareem Maize and welcome to my personal blog. I am 26 year old musician and information technology professional with a passion for learning new aspects of life everyday. On my journey to express myself I began blogging to share my ideas with others. Now I intend to write fun, interesting, and engaging content for my viewers to help them grow spiritually, physically, and mentally . The concept of belief systems and the law of attraction peak my interest!!! I believe blogging about my personal experiences, beliefs, and ideas is the best way to achieve these goals!!!