The New York Writers and Publishers Who Inspired “The French Dispatch”


One of my favorite sequences in the film features Jeffrey Wright in a role that combines elements of AJ Liebling and James Baldwin. Wright delivers a beautifully calibrated performance as Roebuck Wright, imbuing his character with a sense of stillness and a quality of quiet reflection. Like Joseph Mitchell, Liebling wrote for the New York World Telegram before joining the new yorker, in the thirties. (As a war correspondent in Europe, he once asked Ross how long his stay abroad might last; Ross, with advice that seems appropriate for any avid journalist, replied: “For now, I say mark the time and be prepared for the excitement if it starts.”) Liebling, who contributed to the magazine until his death in 1963, wrote on almost every subject under the sun, from boxing to the media to the culinary arts.His 1959 series “Memoirs of a Feeder in France” served as inspiration for this chapter of the film, in which Wright sets out to paint the portrait of the personal chef of a police chief, a mission gone wrong.”Memoirs” chronicles Liebling’s many memorable meals during his years working as a journalist overseas. Of one of his frequent dining companions, he writes: “Mr. Mirande would dazzle his cadets, French and American, by dispatching a lunch of jam good Bayonne cru and fresh figs, a hot sausage in a crust, pike skewers with rich rose Nantua sauce, a leg of lamb larded with anchovies, artichokes on a pedestal of foie gras, and four or five sorts of cheese, with a good bottle of Bordeaux and one of champagne, after which he called Armagnac and reminded Madame to prepare for dinner the larks and ortolans which she had promised her. As a journalist, Liebling brought not only a good appetite to his work, but also an evocative and moving approach to his reporting. He’s “one of my all-time favorites New Yorker writers,” Anderson said. “Everything we do in the movie where we portray different dishes, it all comes from him. He’s like Wodehouse with his metaphors for different plates of food. He sometimes describes portions by their area or volume, such as the area of ​​a thin steak.

On one occasion, Brendel and Anderson debated whether to refer to Liebling in “An Editor’s Burial” as an “enthusiast” or a “foodie”, a conversation their real-life inspirations might have enjoyed. Brendel recalled: “There’s a note from Janet Flanner that she wrote after Ross died, in which she said, of her relationship with the editor, ‘We hunted words together in the office. ‘ And Wes was like, ‘That’s what we do!’ (They eventually went with “greedy.”) At one point, Wright delivers a finely crafted monologue about the delicate joy of being an observer, marking time outside by looking within and absorbing the expanse of another culture, another way of life. Arriving during one of the film’s most thoughtful moments, it’s a speech that is poignantly reminiscent of Baldwin – who, like Liebling, produced some of his finest works in France, but whose embrace of a foreign culture carried added dimensions. For Baldwin, and perhaps for Roebuck Wright, France represents not only adventure and sophistication, but a refuge, a refuge from the racism and homophobia he faces at home.

Towards the end of the film, immigrant leader Lieutenant Nescafier (played by Stephen Park) says of being a foreigner or expat that it’s like “looking for something missing, missing something left”. The role of a writer – and indeed of a filmmaker – is to unearth the invisible, to discover what is missing and to explain it. In “The French Dispatch,” Anderson shows us a fictional take on this approach, capturing the exhilarating demands and transcendent rewards of writers and editors as they invent new possibilities for their craft. It’s like looking through a cinematic telescope, offering, instead of planets or stars, a view of a prismatic magazine of intense hues and a changing literary culture.

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