In the final instalment of my conversation with Kent Jones on Diane, which stars Mary Kay Place and is executive produced by Martin Scorsese, we discussed the casting by Jodi Angstreich of Joyce Van Patten, Andrea Martin, Deirdre O'Connell, Estelle Parsons, Barbara Andres, and Phyllis Somerville in meaningful roles, watching Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky before filming, the soundtrack that includes Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, John Cage, Right Said Fred, the Peppermint Trolley Company, and what is or is not a MacGuffin.
Kent Jones: "Mary Kay and I talked about what she would move to and that would be the Leon Russell song." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
A Tribeca Film Festival highlight, winning Best Cinematography for Wyatt Garfield, the Founders Award Best US Narrative Feature and Best Screenplay, Diane is the rarest kind of road movie, one that stays put in a small town. Absurdity enters in the shape of religion (people speaking in tongues), and a sense of grace at the food bank, where Diane (Mary Kay Place) a widow, surrounded by a large extended family volunteers. "I feel sanctified," Tom (Charles Weldon), a regular, says about being served by her. Her son Brian (Jake Lacy) doesn't know how to deal with his life in rural Western Massachusetts and struggles with drugs of one sort or another to give him meaning.
Anne-Katrin Titze: You assembled so many good actresses for this gigantic family. I have no idea how they are all related. What matters is to see them all interact? These are not characters we see in cinema.
Kent Jones: That was very important to me. Yeah, it's true. I don't think I could ever get interested in showing characters that we do see a lot. You know, it was just a world that I grew up in. Everyone in the film in one way or another is based on someone I knew or a feeling that was present or a kind of relationship. Jodi Angstreich, who is the casting director, was just like, people are coming out of the woodwork, because there are no parts for them.
Diane executive producer Martin Scorsese in Kent Jones's Hitchcock/Truffaut
AKT: That's right.
KJ: If you're over 60 and you're a woman, your choices are limited, to say the least. I mean I was just sitting there, I was like: I'm working on a movie with Andrea Martin? That woman is a genius. So is Mary Kay, obviously. You know, Joyce Van Patten, I just watched Mikey and Nicky before I made the movie, I think. And there she is. Phyllis Somerville and Deedee [aka Deirdre] O'Connell. Deedee was from my hometown. It was incredible.
AKT: There's a line I particularly liked. "I feel sanctified when you serve me." Tom [Charles Weldon] says to Diane. That is at the core of it all, isn't it? The word sanctified is such a profoundly fitting, odd choice.
KJ: I had another scene where Diane goes to talk to her minister. And they're sitting in a parish house, having coffee. And she kind of hesitatingly starts talking about this affair that she had with this man. It read really well and I really liked the way that it felt.
And Mary Kay liked it too, but she was like "There's something about this, though, I don't know." And I was like "Yeah, I get your point." I don't know why the minister would react this way to her and be kind of like a hip minister and say: "I don't know why you're so hard on yourself."
New York Film Festival Director Kent Jones at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Then I thought about it and was like, well actually, what I'd rather do is write out that character and write a different character. Someone that she knew, someone that her husband had worked with, who is down on his luck. She's surprised to see him and he's embarrassed and she's embarrassed.
The second scene together, she doesn't want him to do anything, she's the one who has to take care of him. And he knows that there's something wrong with her. And that word - you know, it's funny, Mary Kay was like "Oh, I love that word." He wanted to say something very small to her but it's also very big.
AKT: My favourite song in the film is … Can you guess?
KJ: Is it the Sixties song by the Peppermint Trolley Company?
AKT: No. It's [Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy] "I'm too sexy for my car". It fits so perfectly in that scene.
KJ: Oh? That's really funny.
AKT: I mean, "Too sexy for my cat" or "… my pants." It's so idiotic and it's so perfect.
KJ: Terrible song.
AKT: To be clear, it's not my favourite song! I just thought it was genius to put it in this place.
Diane won the Tribeca Film Festival Founders Award for Best US Narrative Feature Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
KJ: You know, it's the jukebox that doesn't exist that has those three songs on it. The Dylan song is the Rolling Thunder live recording of Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You. To sort of like open up a space in the movie. And then Mary Kay and I talked about what she would move to and that would be the Leon Russell song. We decided on that.
For a long time, there was another song that was playing and it didn't work out. I remember [costume designer] Carisa [Kelly] and I going through YouTube one night and she was like "I remember this from when I was growing up." And I was just like "What a terrible song." But I think it [I'm Too Sexy] works out pretty well.
AKT: I think it's wonderful where it is.
KJ: So you prefer it to the John Cage piece?
AKT: I actually do because of what happens at that moment.
KJ: You should watch the video again!
AKT: Well, it's Diane. She is the sanctified one and this is her as well.
KJ: Of course.
Diane poster - opens in New York on March 29
AKT: And then it doesn't go into [Sebastián Lelio's] Gloria territory. Her friends or family, or whatever they are, come and pick her up and rescue her out of that situation. The old affair that comes up, her guilt tied to it - it seems like a MacGuffin. Is it?
KJ: Sure. The thing about it is, that it's supposed to be, kind of like, stale. Something that's just been hanging there forever. The conversation with her cousin, where they have a fight and she walks out - that's probably a fight they had nine million times periodically over the years.
It's just that it happens that this moment where it's the last conversation that she has with her. It is a MacGuffin in a sense that there had to be something that is tangible. You know, I grew up around people who depended on guilt.
AKT: On guilt?
AKT: Specific guilt? Or Kafkaesque guilt?
KJ: That's the thing, guilt is very … you become dependent on it. It becomes unmoored from anything specific. It's just there. But for a movie, I felt that's just not … I couldn't have had her kind of like feeling guilty in the abstract. So I just wanted something concrete, simple. One can put together the history of her relationship with her husband however one wants to. So the answer is, yes, a MacGuffin.
Sneak preview of Diane on March 14 at 7:00pm and a post-screening Q&A with Kent Jones at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
At the IFC Center on Thursday, March 28 following the 7:00pm screening Martin Scorsese will have a conversation with Kent Jones.
?Diane? opens in New York on March 29.