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Spoilers for ‘White Noise’: How Noah Baumbach brought that ‘bizarro’ supermarket dance to life

Adam Driver discovers purgatory in the produce section of Noah Baumbach’s latest film.

In the final scene of Netflix’s “White Noise,” college professor Jack Gladney (Driver) and his wife, Babette (Greta Gerwig), walk into a supermarket after encounters with atheist nuns, a crazed drug dealer, and an airborne toxic event. Although they still fear death, the couple is grateful for their life and family, and they begin to dance merrily with their fellow shoppers.

As the end credits roll, a jubilant seven-minute musical sequence begins. Here’s how everything came together.

LCD Soundsystem’s ‘White Noise’ concludes with a death dance.

The film “White Noise” is based on Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel of the same name. The film shifts between genres, including road-trip comedy and apocalyptic thriller, so a full-fledged musical number didn’t seem out of place.

One of the film’s central themes is that in order to live life fully, one must “acknowledge that it will end and welcome in death,” as Baumbach puts it. Jack and Babette are savouring the simple pleasures of everyday errands by dancing with abandon down the condiments aisle, knowing that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

Along with movie musicals, Baumbach and choreographer David Neumann say they were inspired by “dances of death and mourning in different cultures.” Neumann, who previously worked with Baumbach on “Marriage Story” in 2019, wanted the choreography to emerge organically from how people shop, such as twirling into the checkout line to place cake mix on the conveyor belt or lunging at a sleeve of Pringles to inspect the expiration date.

“I got cereal boxes, canned beans, and meat packets and just played around,” Neumann explains. “I also did a lot of on-the-ground research by being a weirdo in a supermarket and watching people shop.”

“We knew that we didn’t want 45 svelte, 20-year-old dancers,” Neumann says of the customers. “We wanted real people like you’d see in a supermarket.”

To write the end-credits song, “New Body Rhumba,” Baumbach called on his longtime friend James Murphy, frontman of alt-rock band LCD Soundsystem.

“I put this upbeat song about death in his head for the ’80s,” Baumbach says. “I know him well, and it just felt like something right up his alley. And James wrote a song about death that is also incredibly muscular, powerful, and danceable “which has been nominated for an Academy Award for best original song.

The scene was shot in an abandoned store by Noah Baumbach.

Although the majority of “White Noise” was shot in Cleveland, the supermarket scenes were shot in Bedford, Ohio, where the production rented an empty big-box store that never opened due to COVID. Jess Gonchor and his team were tasked with recreating approximately 500 signs as well as 6,000 cans, bottles, boxes, and bags, all with period-appropriate labels.

The goal was to create a “heavenly place where the entire town got lost in this white noise of consumption,” according to Gonchor. DeLillo describes the grocery store in the book as a place “where things don’t die…. The stuff (on the shelves) is always there, always available, always alive, and always vibrant.”

The set was designed with the final scene in mind, with enough space for the dancers to ride shopping carts down aisles and walk tightrope-style along shelves.

“I wanted the cast to be able to improvise, find moments, and be inspired by the set,” says the director “According to Gonchor. “Everything was made climbable; the aisles were wider, and the supermarket carts were larger. It just happened so beautifully.”

The camera, too, serves as a spectator, moving slowly through the aisles and observing the supermarket’s “wildlife” from a safe distance.

“There’s no longer an illusion that we control our own destiny,” Baumbach says after the characters survive a deadly chemical explosion early in the film. As a result of this, “The camera loosens up and begins to live on its own. So, by the time we shoot the dance sequence, the camera can roam on its own, seeing what’s down different aisles, going up high, and peeking around the corner.”

The credits dance is far more “tightly choreographed” than you might think.

The supermarket dancers can appear almost careless at times, barely lifting their arms or brows as they bag groceries and strut past cleaning supplies. But it’s all practise.

“The dance vocabulary that you see is tightly choreographed and then directed to feel more relaxed,” Neumann explains. “We wanted it to feel organic,” as if everyday people are suddenly doing this bizarro dance.”

André L. Benjamin, who boogies alone with a box of cookies, and Jodie Turner-Smith, who fiercely leads a procession past potato chips, are two standouts. (“I wanted Jodie to be in the spotlight,” Neumann says. “There was no other option.” Despite its eccentricities, the dance sequence should strike a chord with anyone who has faced death.

“After all the dark things that happen in the film, it’s great to have a (scene) that helps us navigate that emotional terrain,” Neumann says. “Seeing ordinary people having fun – they happen to be shopping and then dancing – allows us to relax and enjoy the moment.”

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