On the road again

Kent Jones on Tribeca award winner Diane

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal announced Diane as the winner of the Best US Narrative Feature of the Tribeca Film Festival
Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal announced Diane as the winner of the Best US Narrative Feature of the Tribeca Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Hitchcock/Truffaut director Kent Jones's first feature Diane, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, with Mary Kay Place in the title role, took home three Tribeca Film Festival Awards, including Best Cinematography by Wyatt Garfield. The film has a terrific supporting cast including Jake Lacy, Joyce Van Patten, Andrea Martin, Deirdre O'Connell, Estelle Parsons, Barbara Andres, Phyllis Somerville, and Charles Weldon.

At The Roxy, Kent talked with me about his costume designer Carisa Kelly, Richard Bruno's work for Raging Bull, and the fact that costume design is just as much what Wendy Chuck does for Tom McCarthy's Spotlight and Alexander Payne's films as what Milena Canonero did for Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Kent spoke about the difference between growing up in the Berkshires where he was free to be on the road versus being stuck in the New York City subway system.

Kent Jones accepts Best US Narrative Feature honor
Kent Jones accepts Best US Narrative Feature honor Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In Diane, people wear woolly hats outside in the snow and inside the hospital rooms and homes of rural Western Massachusetts, where Diane (Mary Kay Place), a widow, is surrounded by a large extended family. Her son Brian (Jake Lacy) doesn't know how to deal with his life there and struggles with drugs of one sort or another to give him meaning. The wintry roads slice through the entire film as they slice up the character's daily life.

In a Mexican-type bar where Diane tries to shed some of the pressure, the scene is suddenly elevated by the choice of a song playing in the background. Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy" (for my love, my shirt, my car and my cat among other things) is the perfect antidote that raises Diane to a new height.

The wintry roads slice through the entire film as they slice up the character's daily life. This is the rarest kind of road movie, one that stays put in a small town.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You made a road movie?

Kent Jones: That's debatable. But, yeah, sort of.

AKT: People often say, so-and-so reinvented the road movie but I think you really did. Everything in Diane is structured by the drives on the snowy roads. Also because of the life the people who live there lead. Their lives are structured by the driving, by the roads.

Kent Jones also won Best Screenplay for Diane
Kent Jones also won Best Screenplay for Diane

KJ: Yes, it was a big part of my life when I was growing up. I grew up in the Berkshires. There are no subways. You have to drive distances to get from your house to the supermarket. From your house to the nursery to buy your plants. To get from your house to your cousin's house or to the hospital or wherever, your friends' houses.

And being in the car with my mother when I was a kid. My mother was someone who the minute that someone died, she would say "Okay, I'm going to start cooking now and bring them over some food." When I was older I would get very snarky about it - "I guess we're going to bring the food over now." But now when I think back on it, it's just wow.

AKT: What a wonderful thing to do.

KJ: Sure. But it was what everyone did for everyone else. And I think still is.

AKT: You think so?

KJ: Yes. We're very far from that kind of life here in New York.

AKT: Very. Even the idea of driving, going from one place to another, you have time to reflect. If you take the subway, good luck to reflect on much. It's a different kind of space, you always have a conflict between blocking out the world and going inside. Driving gives you a different state of mind.

Kent Jones on Diane costume designer Carisa Kelly: "I was really really floored by her work and her attention to detail."
Kent Jones on Diane costume designer Carisa Kelly: "I was really really floored by her work and her attention to detail." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

KJ: The subway is a different kind of aloneness and solitude because you're alone among people, among strangers who are all alone together. And you're having a different experience of motion or in the case of the current situation with the subway system, stopping for minutes unknown and being stuck.

But it's a different experience of motion, it's happening all around you, a lot of it in the dark. I now live in Brooklyn and have elevated stops. It's one of the most glorious sights when you come out of the F train tunnel at Carroll Street and you see the Statue of Liberty and you see all of Brooklyn around you, that's a beautiful thing.

But driving is different, particularly on roads like that where you're not like in bumper-to-bumper traffic. We had, you know, a limited budget and a limited amount of shooting days so I knew that I had to be very economical with the amount of time I spent showing Diane driving through the window. So I only did it once, where it counted.

AKT: Ah, I didn't even notice.

KJ: The rest of the time, though, looking out the window of that car is very much you're placed within her.

AKT: Right. The driving stayed most in my memory thinking of the film. And for some reason, I linked the car with the woolly hats. Those woollen caps that everybody is wearing in your film, inside the houses and out. They have the cars around them to protect them and the hats to protect their heads.

KJ: The costume designer, Carisa Kelly, amazed me from the start. I was really really floored by her work and her attention to detail.

The live action inside the lobby of The Roxy during the Tribeca Film Festival
The live action inside the lobby of The Roxy during the Tribeca Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

It's my first narrative movie, I've been on sets before, but there were things I didn't know. I couldn't say 100% in all honesty, I did not have a complete understanding of costume design. You look at the words costume design and you think Barry Lyndon.

AKT: And not necessarily Wendy Chuck.

KJ: Right. A Visconti movie or something. That's not at all what costume design is.

AKT: Clearly not, I am very much aware of that.

KJ: It's like my friend was saying to me, now I pay attention to clothes in movies. I realized that I always have been paying attention to it but I never articulated it myself. Marty [Scorsese] and I were talking about Bob De Niro finding exactly that incredible jacket that he wears when he meets Vickie at the pool in Raging Bull.

Dick Bruno, the costume designer, just brought in a whole bunch of stuff and put it on racks. Marty and Bob spent a lot of days, kind of like, this is it. And that's what Carisa [Kelly] did. And she knew this world like that [Kent snaps his fingers]. And so, the hats - we were just talking about this this morning - it's funny.

Tribeca Film Festival Awards at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center
Tribeca Film Festival Awards at the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Please compliment her from me about them.

KJ: I will. You know, Mary Kay's hat, Joyce's [Van Patten] hat in the scene where they're going to save her, pull Mary Kay out of the back of the bar when she breaks down. Or the dog that is on Barbara's [Andres] shirt in the kitchen scene. These things are just like passports to another universe or something.

On Sunday, April 29, the closing day of the Tribeca Film Festival, Diane will be screened a total of six times in the Best US Narrative Feature, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography slots at Cinépolis Chelsea.

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