Izzy Maurer is a jazz saxophonist whose life is permanently changed when he is hit by a stray bullet during a performance in a New York nightclub. After his recovery, lzzy stumbles across the body of a stranger in the streets of lower Manhattanand winds up with the murdered man's briefcase. In it he finds a napkin with a telephone number on it and a box that contains a mysterious stone. The number leads him to Celia Burns, a young actress, and under the magical influence of the stone, the two of them fall deeply in love. When Celia is cast as Lulu in a remake of Pandora's Box, she and Izzy separate for what they think will be just a few days. But people are looking for the stone, and when lzzy is abducted and interrogated by the enigmatic Dr. Van Horn, the story takes a dark and surprising turninto the Pandora's box of Izzy's soul.
About the production
Redeemable Features presents Lulu on the Bridge, a new film written and directed by Paul Auster. It is produced by Greg Johnson, Peter Newman and Amy
Lulu on the Bridge is a film about the magic of love. This is Auster's solo debut as a director, and the film, like his acclaimed novels, combines myth and realism in a form of story-telling that is at once simple and complex. In Lulu Auster weaves a tale of one man's redemption.
Three years ago Auster's work was brought to the screen with prize-winning and popular films, Smoke and Blue in the Face. Smoke, for which Auster shared credit as co-filmmaker with director Wayne Wang, was written by Auster and based on the Christmas story he first published in The New York Times. Auster co-directed the mostly improvised Blue in the Face with Wang. The two films charmed audiences all over the world with their humanity and humor.
Auster did not at first intend to direct Lulu on the Bridge, His initial thought was only to write the screenplay and then give it to his friend Wim Wenders to direct. But after considerable discussion, Wenders encouraged Auster to take the next step and direct the film himself. Following Smoke and Blue in the Face, Auster had a clear idea of what it would be like to direct Lulu and was well aware of the need to surround himself with top-flight collaborators.
Given their successful track record together, Auster turned to his Smoke and Blue in the Face producers, Peter Newman and Greg Johnson, to make Lulu happen. Says Newman: "Lulu was like a godsend to me, because I saw it as a chance to work with Paul again. I also found the script remarkably innovative and courageous, and the love story between Celia and Izzy was deeply moving."
When Newman, Johnson and their partner at Redeemable Features, Ira Deutchman signed on, the producers held meetings in February with various companies to finance the film. Capitol Films, a London-based finance and sales company, emerged to provide the majority of the budget and overseas distribution. Also, Pyramide, Smoke's French distribution company, signed up separately with the producers to acquire the distribution rights in that territory.
Auster recalls, "I didn't set out to write a role for Harvey Keitel, but at a certain point it became inconceivable to think of Izzy without also thinking of Harvey." In Smoke, Keitel played the central character, a man who ran a smoke shop in a diverse Brooklyn neighborhood who took a photograph of a store from the same corner at the same time every day. Keitel's character in Lulu on the Bridge is also an artist, but in Lulu Keitel is playing a man who has isolated himself behind both his work and his unpleasant and perhaps even violent demeanor. "It goes without saying," Auster continues, "that Harvey is a superb actor. But there's something more to it than that. The way he moves, the irresistible qualities of his face, his groundedness. It's as if Harvey embodies something that belongs to all of us. When he agreed to play Izzy, I knew that we would have an extraordinary time together, and we did."
In May, Paul Auster was asked to serve as a juror for the 50th Cannes International Film Festival, as was Mira Sorvino, who had been honored with an Academy Award the previous year for her work in Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite and with whom Auster had worked for one day on Blue in the Face. "We saw each other every day for two weeks at Cannes," recalls Auster, "and we got to know each other better and become friends."
Following the Festival, when Auster's thoughts turned seriously to the casting and other pre-production issues of Lulu on the Bridge, "I didn't hesitate to ask Mira to play Celia," he says. "It turned out to be my luckiest stroke, the smartest move I made. I knew she was going to be good, but I had no idea she had it in her to reach the heights she did, to touch such deep emotional chords. Mira is a very brave person, a girl with guts. And yet she feels everything, registers everything happening in the air around her. Like a tuning fork. It's rare to find this combination of strength and sensitivity in one person."
With principal cast and financing in place, pre-production on Lulu moved forward through the summer. Auster asked Gina Gershon to play Izzy's ex-wife and Mandy Patinkin (who played Nashe in Philip Haas's movie of the Auster novel The Music of Chance) to play Philip Kleinman, the producer of the film within the film, Pandora's Box. Auster chose the inimitable Vanessa Redgrave to play Catherine Moore, a well-known actress turned director. And Willem Dafoe was cast as the ambiguous Dr. Van Horn, a part that called for subtlety and intelligence.
When he cast the remaining roles in Lulu, Auster saw the chance to work with actors he had collaborated with earlier in Smoke and Blue in the Face--Victor Argo (Pierre), Peggy Gormley (the hospital therapist) and Harold Perrineau (who had a leading role in Smoke) all appear in Lulu. Even Stockard Channing, who could not be in the film, makes a phantom appearance. It is Ms. Channing's voice that is heard as Celia's agent telling her client that she has been cast as Lulu.
Auster hired Kalina Ivanov as production designer for Lulu, because he admired her careful and intelligent work on Smoke. He hired Adelle "Bonny" Lutz as costume designer. His friendship with Ms. Lutz had long made him aware of her talent and insight as a designer. Ivanov and Lutz worked together to create the film's sets and costumes.
The film posed an artistic challenge for the two women, because the story functions on several different levels. It is grounded in reality, but also explores the magical. Ivanov points out that because he is a novelist, Auster's script was fuller in terms of description than most screenplays. It gave clues as to how a room or space should look. "I started looking around for inspiration," says Ivanov, "and for some reason the painter that I really connected to was Francis Bacon. It's inevitable that when I read a script, an image forms in my mind; a color, a painter, a mood comes to me. I thought that Francis Bacon was a good reference for this movie, because on the one hand, he is a portraitist, which is a traditional, formal discipline, while, on the other hand, his work is extremely experimental and emotional. Izzy Maurer seemed to me like a Francis Bacon character; he lived in that sort of dark, oppressive world, and he desperately needed to be rescued from it. This woman who comes into his life is a ray of hope, a true breath of fresh air. She is what saves him from the deep depression he has fallen into. And although Bacon uses a very dark palette, his paintings always have a line of brightness running through them as a contrast. I wanted to try to bring those same combinations of simplicity and formality, of expressionism and emotion to the set."
Adele Lutz approached the costumes for the film's two main characters in terms of their relation to time. She understood Izzy as a person of the past. "Even before he's shot," she says, "his life is over in the sense that he has nothing to look forward to. Therefore, the look I developed for him is a past-tense look. He is most comfortable in clothes from his past--khakis, old shirts. His colors are those of the tobacco he smokes, the bourbon he drinks." Lutz viewed Celia, on the other hand, as representing the future. "I thought her look should be clean and modern. But I also wanted to indicate that there was something a bit different about her, something more exotic, and so I designed that little brocade Mandarin jacket--in blue. Because of Celia's relation to the stone, I decided to base her palette around the cooler tones."
Auster knew that his choice of cinematographer would be crucial. He needed a person with experience, speed, talent and, most importantly, someone with genuine sympathy and understanding of the project. "I knew the schedule was going to be intense and grueling, so I wanted to hire someone who was rather young, with a lot of physical stamina who still had something to prove to the world." As it happened, Alik Sakharov was not on Auster's short list, and the director was on the verge of hiring someone else. But then Kalina Ivanov called Auster and suggested that he interview Sakharov, the young Russian-born director of photography on a film called Animals, on which she had most recently worked. Auster agreed, and the two men met at Auster's house in Brooklyn only days later.
For the first forty minutes of the interview, Auster said very little. "When you're interviewing someone, it's always more important to hear what the other person has to say. So I asked Alik how he would approach this scene, and then that scene, and then this other scene, and after a while it was as if I were listening to my own thoughts. Shot for shot, look for look, he had almost the same idea about film that I did." Alik Sakharov got the job.
Through the late summer and early fall, Auster and Sakharov worked closely together. "We talked through every scene again and again," says Auster, "making up shot lists, analyzing the story in visual terms. That was the foundation of the film. Everything grew out of those early conversations. Not only did we develop a plan that we both believed in, but we learned to trust each other, to depend on each other's insights and judgements. By the time filming began, we were comrades. I can't tell you how important that was to me on the set."
The collaboration between Auster and Sakharov was one founded on a harmony of their two sensibilities. "When I read the script," says Sakharov, "I felt that the story was coming fom a place I knew, a place I understood. I found the script incredibly poetic, and poetry in cinema is what I respond to most strongly. What I mean by poetry is transcendence, the ability of the image to take you from one place and put you in another. In what I consider poetic cinema, the framing is not as stylized, the lighting not as precise, the images not as geometrically exact."
Sakharov also admired and understood Auster's original form of story-telling. "I really liked the complexity of the film's infrastructure. There is a fine thread that unites certain scenes together, but some things are never fully explained. You can read the film as very linear and straightforward, but this leads you into trouble, because the film operates on so many different levels. Once you understand the film's structure, you see that it is ultimately very simple, but it requires an intellectual process to arrive at this under-standing. It has open ending, really. The film is over, but you keep thinking about it, and that to me is a successful film."
Lulu on the Bridge began production in October of 1997 and completed principal photography at the end of the year. The fall and winter months were mercifully mild, and the film was finished on schedule. As Paul Auster knows, writing a book and directing a movie have little in common. "The two experiences are entirely different. When you write a book, you have all the time in the world. If you make a mistake, nobody sees you make it. You can just cross out the sentence and start over again. You can throw out a week's work, a month's work and nobody cares. On a film set, you don't have that luxury. It's do or die every day. You have to accomplish work on time, and you don't get a second chance. Things can get pretty nerve-wracking at times. But that doesn't mean they aren't enjoyable. When things go well, when everyone is doing his or her job the way it's supposed to be done and you pull off the thing you've set out to do, it becomes a beautiful experience, a deeply satisfying thing. I think that why people get addicted to working in movies--the grips, the gaffers, the camera team, the prop men, the sound people, everyone. They work terribly hard, the hours are long, and no one gets rich, but every day is different from the day before. That's what keeps them at it: the adventure of it, the uncertainty, the fact that no one knows what's going to happen next."
"Lulu on the Bridge is not a puzzle, some code to be cracked," says Auster, "and I hope that audiences will be moved by what is essentially a story about deep and powerful feelings. Because, on another level, all these things that Izzy experiences really happen. I firmly believe that Izzy lives through the events in the story, that the dream is not just some empty fantasy. When he dies at the end, he's a different man than he was at the beginning. He's managed to redeem himself. If not, how else to account for Celia's presence on the street at the end? It's as if she has lived through the story, too. The ambulance passes, and even though she can't possibly know who's inside, it's as if she does. She feels a connection, she's moved, she's touched by grief--understanding that the person in the ambulance has just died. As far as I'm concerned, the whole film comes together in that final shot."