On November 9, 2009, four days before the release of Fantastic Mr. Fox, an animated film by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, I attended a live “conversation” between the two directors at the New York Public Library. The event was part of NYPL LIVE, a program that presents lectures, conversations and “Cognitive Theater” related to literature, science and the arts that are “Irresistible,” “Ripe,” and “Salty,” according to the brochure. I was fortunate enough to attend not only this irresistible and salty event, but a ripe post-reading cocktail party as well. Here is a subjective account of my night.
A man in a red beanie hat and a light blue t-shirt put a strip of paper into my hand. It said, “Please join Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, and your fellow Young Lions for a reception directly following the event….” I walked into the ballroom. An interesting choice—the red hat, I thought.
Propped on a white clothed table were books on the making of Fantastic Mr. Fox, a film based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl and the first film Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach have collaborated on since the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. “What should I say?” I imagined Wes Anderson saying as he signed my book. “Do something with your life for f–k’s sake,” I’d say. But I’ve neither ever liked book signings nor stood in a book-signing line.
Sitting, I saw a red-hatted man lean down to a blond woman in a seat. She looked up, concerned. She turned to her friend who was also blond and concerned. I couldn’t hear what was said. The high glass-domed ceiling magnified the music and chatter. A red-hatted woman reached up and adjusted the speaker pole.
Because there was no moderator, one of them had to speak spontaneous-like. “We’ll be catching up live,” said Noah Baumbach. He and Wes Anderson hadn’t seen each other in two years he said. That seemed unlikely, having made a film together. It was probably difficult to think of something grabbing with all that light on them. Considering breaches of ethics, I thought lying for the greater good is acceptable. But what constitutes the greater good? We weren’t in a flood. I concentrated on the low table before them with the vase of pink roses, a large pitcher of water, and two highball glasses.
“We were at dinner with Isabella Rossellini,” said Wes Anderson (who I could only see when I moved to the right). He and Noah Baumbach talked about how they had wanted to ask her if they could use a scene from Blue Velvet for a film. Wes Anderson said Isabella Rossellini said, What scene?
Noah Baumbach changed his voice to sound like Wes Anderson and said, “The scene where you’re naked on the porch and you say, He put his disease in me.” Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach laughed. People in the audience laughed very hard.
Noah Baumbach said he later saw David Lynch at another dinner and David Lynch said, “Yes. I lent you something of mine.” His voice was sticky. He lifted his large glass and drank water. He put it down.
Noah: “That began it—”
Wes: “That began it. Yes—”
Noah: “We wrote Life Aquatic at one table—”
Wes: “Yes. At Bar Pitti—”