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Motherless Brooklyn

EN caricature
Caricature of Edward Norton- Entertainment Weekly 10/29/99

The novel Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem is now available in paperback


Lethem in Landscape


Edward Norton is currently working on the script and will also direct and star in it as well. He will produce the film along with Keeping the Faith screenwriter/co-producer Stuart Blumberg through their newly formed production company Class 5 Films

This will be a loose adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem novel Motherless Brooklyn. EN will play as Lionel "Freakshow" Essrog, a detective with Tourettes Syndrome who tries to find his mentor's killer. EN has chosen to move the setting to the fifties rather than the present day.

Latest News

May 16, 2005 - EN was a guest on Le Grand Journal Saturday night. He mentioned that he is almost finished writing Motherless Brooklyn and he might make it next year. Le Grand Journal EN appearance [Thanks again to Fleur for the English translation!!!].

December 10, 2004- Yesterday's New York Sun had an article on author Jonathan Lethem and included a mention of the film. Since the article is only available to subscribers, I was only able to get a few sentences from it while searching Google News. With a little bit of manipulation, I was able to get the following fragment. However I don't know if there was any additional mention of the film or EN anywhere else in the article (or even in the sentences following what I was able to retrieve).

Mr. Lethem sold the film rights to the story several years ago and has no idea when it might actually make it to the screen. Edward Norton is expected to write the screenplay, star in, and direct the project. "I just get an occasional phone call from the agents, who always tell me that it's going great," Mr. Lethem notes wryly, "but that's all they ever tell me about anything."

February 3, 2004- Two other EN projects are gearing up. EN is starring/producing indie drama Down in the Valley, which will start filming Feb 29. He is also starring/producing in The Painted Veil which may start filming Spring 2004 but is currently lacking a female lead and a director. Therefore, MB looks like it may be on the back burner for a while.

December 13, 2003- U.K.'s The Guardian has an interview with author Jonathan Lethem. Straight outta Brooklyn

Lethem has also been courted by Hollywood. Ed Norton is making a film of Motherless Brooklyn: 'He optioned it before it came out,' he says. 'Which means it has been in the air since the summer of 1999. I think Ed Norton's a great choice and it would be a very interesting thing to see come together. But I don't want to be involved. I don't want to write screenplays. I want to take their money in good faith and go off and do something else.'

October 13, 2003 Variety (10/10/03) reports that EN and Stuart Blumberg have formed a production company called Class 5 Films and have signed a three-year, first-look deal with Universal Pictures. They will apparently produce MB through this company. Norton, Blumberg usher in Class V

October 10, 2003- EN described his plans for MB in a interview for the October issue of British GQ.

Far from a straightforward adaptation, he's abandoned he contemporary setting of Motherless Brooklyn to place his screenplay in Fifties New York, in particular drawing on a real life character from that era, an unelected city planner called Robert Moses. "What he did in terms of the physical infrastructure of the city," explains Norton, "like ramming the highways through the old neighbourhoods, was kind of a watershed in the history of New York. If you look at a map of the city in 1870, all the activity was on the periphery. And Moses played a singular role in sealing the city off from its waterfront. Only now, especially on the West Side, is it beginning to reclaim that connection with the waterfront, with the Hudson River Park and hopefully the High Line."

July 25, 2003 EN was a guest on the Charlie Rose Show last night. He mainly talked about several charitable projects. In the remaining minutes, EN mentioned that he had been and continues to work on a screenplay (he did not include the name - could it be either MB or Fear Itself?).

January 11, 2003- After over a year without news, it appears that MB is back on track. On the Jan 10th show of The Charlie Rose Show, Edward Norton and Spike Lee discussed 25th Hour. When asked about future projects, EN said he would be taking time off in the spring to work on the Motherless Brooklyn script. Aside from his acting projects, EN also wrote the screenplay to Frida (although a dispute with the Writers Guild has prevented him from receiving screenwriter credit), which explains the delay in MB moving forward.

October 22, 2001- Added a Variety article on Motherless Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem from August.

May 24, 2001- News on the MB screenwriter: EN is currently working on the script for Motherless Brooklyn (E! Dotted Line 5/21/01). This is not altogether unexpected: he did a rewrite on the Frida script during the filming of Death to Smoochy [Thanks to Joanne for the news!!!]

Apr 19, 2001- Lethem Landscape received a tip that author Jonathan Lethem visited the set of Death to Smoochy on Tue April 17 and spoke to EN, Danny De Vito, and Catherine Keener. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Feb 24, 2001- In Ed Norton Just Wants It Perfect, GQ magazine's March cover article, EN spoke to the interviewer (interview was held in December) about his plans to adapt Motherless Brooklyn to film. Unfortunately, the details were not mentioned, but his continued interest seems like a good sign.

Jan 24, 2001- Changes at New Line, including the departure of production president Michael De Luca, makes the future of the film adaptation of Motherless Brooklyn "unclear". I will continue to update this page with new information on the status of this project as soon as it becomes available.

In October 1999, it was announced that Edward Norton would star in and produce (along with Keeping the Faith screenwriter/co-producer Stuart Blumberg) a film version of Jonathan Lethem's novel Motherless Brooklyn. Motherless Brooklyn is about Lionel "Freakshow" Essrog, a detective with Tourettes Syndrome who tries to find his mentor's killer.


New Line's turmoil tangles tomes. Reuters January 24, 2001.

Norton birthing 'Motherless'. Variety October 13, 1999.

NL's booking Norton as lord of 'Brooklyn'. Hollywood Reporter, October 13, 1999.

Info on Tourette's Syndrome

Here is some info on TS, courtesy of NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke's Tourette Syndrome Fact Sheet. I've summarized the information here. Please visit the Fact Sheet for a more comprehensive look at TS.

Tourette syndrome (TS) is an inherited, neurological disorder characterized by repeated involuntary movements and uncontrollable vocal (phonic) sounds called tics. In a few cases, such tics can include inappropriate words and phrases.

The symptoms of TS generally appear before the individual is 18 years old. TS can affect people of all ethnic groups; males are affected 3 to 4 times more often than females.

The natural course of TS varies from patient to patient. Although TS symptoms range from very mild to quite severe, the majority of cases fall in the mild category.

The first symptoms of TS are usually facial tics--commonly eye blinking. However, facial tics can also include nose twitching or grimaces. With time, other motor tics may appear such as head jerking, neck stretching, foot stamping, or body twisting and bending.

TS patients may utter strange and unacceptable sounds, words, or phrases. It is not uncommon for a person with TS to continuously clear his or her throat, cough, sniff, grunt, yelp, bark, or shout.

People with TS may involuntarily shout obscenities or constantly repeat the words of other people. They may touch other people excessively or repeat actions obsessively and unnecessarily.

People with TS can sometimes suppress their tics for a short time, but the effort is similar to that of holding back a sneeze. Eventually tension mounts to the point where the tic escapes. Tics worsen in stressful situations; however they improve when the person is relaxed or absorbed in an activity. In most cases tics decrease markedly during sleep.

Because symptoms do not impair most patients and development usually proceeds normally, the majority of people with TS require no medication. However, medications are available to help when symptoms interfere with functioning. Unfortunately, there is no one medication that is helpful to all persons with TS, nor does any medication completely eliminate symptoms; in addition, all medications have side effects. Instead, the available TS medications are only able to help reduce specific symptoms.

There is no cure for TS; however, the condition in many individuals improves as they mature. Individuals with TS can expect to live a normal life span. Although the disorder is generally lifelong and chronic, it is not a degenerative condition. TS does not impair intelligence. Tics tend to decrease with age, enabling some patients to discontinue using medication. In a few cases, complete remission occurs after adolescence. Although tic symptoms tend to decrease with age, it is possible that neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, panic attacks, mood swings, and antisocial behaviors may increase.

Although the basic cause of TS is unknown, current research suggests that there is an abnormality in the gene(s) affecting the brain's metabolism of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that carry signals from one nerve cell to another.

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Last updated on Wednesday, December 06, 2006

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