Julian Schnabel, March 24, 2011: Wildcat

By the New York Bureau Chief

In The Royal Tenenbaums there’s a scene in which a hotshot writer (played by Owen Wilson) appears on an interview show that looks a whole lot like Charlie Rose. The Charlie stand-in—in characteristic Charlie fashion—challenges Wilson’s character by asking him why his last novel was a critical failure. Wilson says that it was “written in a kind of obsolete vernacular,” then slowly repeats to himself the the title of the book, Wildcat. He’s like a kid stalling for time on a multiplication drill. It’s clear he doesn’t even remember having written Wildcat.

Julian Schnabel’s not a drugged-out dummy, but I’d peg him as the CR guest most likely to attribute the failure of one his projects to an “obsolete vernacular.” Quite simply, he’s the most pompous man in New York—though he’s not stuffy at all. The Pasha of Downtown Manhattan lives in an outlandish high-rise castle in the West Village (from which he’s made an absolute killing), burns through beautiful women half his age, and, as a celebrated painter and filmmaker, considers himself the ultimate artiste. He might be the only person in the world who could get away with wearing sunglasses on Charlie Rose.

Schnabel appears on Rose to plug his new film, Miral, the story of an orphaned Palestinian girl during the First Intifada. The film has gotten generally negative reviews, and while I can’t comment on its merits, I can on its premise. Is there anything more irritating than a multi-millionaire bon-vivant artist weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? It’s as if he wants to live out the ultimate cliché of limousine leftist self-congratulation, opining to CR, “I don’t care about the movie. I care about what’s going on in the Middle East.” (I hear an echo of another corpulent genius-asshole: “this film isn’t about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.“) Charlie, in case you were wondering, tells us at the beginning of the show that he and Jules are friends.

But you want to hear about the women. Schnabel’s last movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, featured his then wife, the Spanish model Olatz López Garmendia. Schnabel’s new movie, Miral, is based on a book written by his current girlfriend, Rula Jebreal. Charlie doesn’t mention their relationship in the interview (although given the fact that Jebreal is Pam Grier–hot, you have to wonder if anything’s cooking), but Schnabel makes a wonderful slip that reveals all.

CR: “Did you make this film in part because you met her and fell in love with her story?”
Jules: “…Absolutely had nothing to do with me falling in love with her.”

Indeed, Schnabel doesn’t seem all that committed to Jebreal’s story or its cause. During a discussion of the film’s advertising slogan, “The movie they didn’t want you to see,” Charlie sensibly asks, “Who doesn’t want you to see this movie?” Jules backtracks immediately. He claims that, had he been in charge of marketing, he would have plugged the film with the limp phrase “the movie we were waiting to see.” Then Jules throws down and calls out the haters who don’t want you to see his film. They are “the people who haven’t opened their hearts and minds to empathy.” Bam! A four-siren alert just went off on Drudge Report.

Jebreal, who also appears on the broadcast, is less cautious. She calls out the American Jewish Committee, which asked the UN to cancel a screening of Miral, and seems on the verge of making a bigger political statement when Jules shuts her up: “most of the people who worked on this film were Jewish.” When did Pasha Jules become so cautious? And why, based on this interview, do I not believe him when he says, “I think people are scared of this material?”

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