Tag Archives: New York City

Deleted Scenes: Edward Norton on Motherless Brooklyn and the Ghosts of New York

Cinematographer Dick Pope and director/star Edward Norton on the set of Motherless Brooklyn in 2018. (Glen Wilson/Warner Bros.)

Here are some outtakes from the interview Edward Norton I had on Smithsonian this week, where we talked about his long-gestating adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, Motherless Brooklyn , out this week. The book is set in the present of when it was published, but Norton has, with Lethem’s blessing, set his version of it in 1957 in an attempt to make something like New York City’s answer to Chinatown. Anyway, I was sorry to see these exchanges go, so I clipped ‘em out and saved ‘em.

I was trying to remember if there are any signposts in the book that mark it as taking place in the present, or in the present of when it was published 20 years ago. I don’t think there are any until we get to the passage where Lionel is talking about how much he loves Prince, and he hears in extended remixes of Prince songs a sort of reflection of how his condition makes him play with language in a way he can’t control. 

You do a version of that in the movie in a jazz club scene where Michael K. Williams’ character is performing, and Lionel can’t stop himself from trying to contribute verbally to the music.

Yes, that’s a very intentional transposition of a part of Jonathan’s book that I loved. The idea of music being a beautiful expression of compulsion. And I thought we could have a lot of fun with jazz and especially Bop, in that era, because if you were ever to say, “What is the Tourretic impulse writ into music?”, it’s Bop. It sounds Tourretic to me, in that it’s impulsive, it’s improvisational, and it loops on itself. It takes things and, just as Lionel says about his brain, it twists them around and reforms them. 

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