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.Noise Canceling

music in the park san jose

‘White Noise’ is redundant; ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ is the antithesis

Noah Baumbach’s White Noise is a catastrophe for three-quarters of its running time. Probably the kindest thing that can be said about the story of college professor Jack Gladney (Adam Driver), his wife Babbette (Greta Gerwig) and the mock-sci-fi disaster they go through, is that it’s so haphazardly conceived one wants to give it the benefit of the doubt, out of a sense of fairness. Surely Baumbach’s non-sequitur, unfunny adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel is meant to appear ridiculous. Maybe it’s a take-off of a cheap disaster flick. 

Be that as it may, as the movie winds down and this viewer squirms uncomfortably in a theater seat, it seems there is a way to salvage something from the wreckage: to drastically re-edit it. 

Near the end of the absurd-o-mat last portion of the film, after a toxic cloud has driven the Gladney family from their home, the scene shifts to a motel room where a mad scientist (Lars Eidinger from Babylon Berlin), and eventually a zany group of German nuns (one of whom is an un-credited Barbara Sukowa), hold the key to the world’s salvation. It’s an antidepressant drug called Dylar. (Are readers following here?) 

Suddenly it’s Morning in America, as signified by a giddy musical production number in a supermarket. The shift of mood is refreshing after the clichéd social satire that led up to it. Why not begin the movie with the motel room scene and fill in the obligatory supporting action later, in flashback? Couldn’t hurt.

It is faintly amusing to see Driver as a paunchy, middle-aged drone who specializes in “Hitler Studies,” and Gerwig as a frizzy-haired exercise instructor, and to chuckle at their anxiety spritz. But seriously, over the years Baumbach has gotten more than his money’s worth from these two actors. This style of character is no longer as fresh as it used to be, so naturally one’s attention drifts. It’s not one of the filmmaker’s most coherent projects. Approach with caution.

* * *

Photographer Nan Goldin made a name for herself beginning in the 1970s, when her fine art photos of gay and transgender people—including artists and musicians on the fringes of New York City’s Lower Manhattan club scene—captured the zeitgeist indelibly. The new documentary essay film, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, focuses on Goldin’s empathetic explorations of her life and times, a period of “love and nurturing and loss,” as reported by filmmaker Laura Poitras. 

Goldin’s black-and-white and color pics of sex workers, go-go dancers, LGBTQ rights activists and (in her words) the “taffeta gowns and quaaludes” set would make a sensational documentary subject in their own right. However, Goldin noticed a problem in the modern art museums where her work was hung. The name Sackler was prominently displayed on plaques, and in some cases on the entrances to entire wings. 

While her devil-may-care photo subjects were dropping dead from overdoses of highly addictive painkillers, the sellers of those same pharmaceuticals were spending their windfall profits on art endowments and museum sponsorships. So in Goldin’s view, the Sackler family and their Purdue Pharma, makers of Valium, Oxycontin and Fentanyl, were reaping a fortune on the misery of some of the artists on display in their namesake galleries—that is to say, Goldin’s community.

Much more than a prurient peepshow “exposé” of picturesque queers and junkies lolling in their habitat, All the Beauty has a mission: to rally endangered creative types to resist those who would cynically exploit them in multiple ways while raking in truckloads of blood money. One can see it and be outraged. 

Think about it, and be gratified that the organization Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.) has the courage to take on a multi-billion-dollar industry. There’s still more work to do. The Sackler name has been removed from several major institutions, but drug addicts—among them the outsiders to whom this startling film has been dedicated—are still dying by the thousands. 

‘White Noise’ and ‘All the Beauty and the Bloodshed’ are playing theatrically, and streaming. 

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