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Russell's Tomlin freak-out

Posted by Wesley Morris  March 26, 2007 09:31 AM

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In case this wasn't emailed to you 400 times last week, David O. Russell tells Lily Tomlin "I heart you" on the set of 2004's "I Heart Huckabees." It just doesn't sound like I heart you. It sounds more like something you can't print on a family blog. (I just typed "family blog," didn't I?)

As a fan of Russell and this movie, the footage is painful to watch. He never seems completely irrational in person. But if memory serves, this was part of Russell's mysterious directing tactic, to break the actors down, apparently by humiliating them, all of which was captured in a highly entertaining account the New York Times's Sharon Waxman wrote a few years ago after she visited the set. Naturally, the details of her account sparked a feud between journalist and director.

(If you don't have a New York Times subscription -- which you'll need in order to read Waxman's piece -- Defamer has picked out relevant highlights.)

Here's the office scene. Here's the car scene. (Both are camera-phone ugly, complete, on one occasion, with incriminating fish-eye effect.)

Tomlin, heroically strikes back, unhinged, in a way that feels like an outtake from a Altman picture that's fallen into Cassavetes's hands. She spares no one, not even poor Naomi Watts, whom we can't see in the rear, but who lets out a giggle that Tomlin attacks. Dustin Hoffman tries to conciliate, while Isabelle Huppert and Mark Wahlberg can barely contain themselves, as if they've never experienced such a raw reaction to a director's mixed signals. It's also as if they're all trapped in that car, adding a layer of real family dysfunction to the proceedings, with "kiddies" Wahlberg and Watts in the back seat, with the veterans up front. This is totally wild.

What's funny is that nothing of the sort comes on the DVD's audio commentary, which is nothing but great memories between Russell and some of the cast. Gawker has Tomlin characteristically putting the leaked footage in perspective.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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