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Moriarty Reviews SYNECHDOCHE, NEW YORK And Interviews The Great Charlie Kaufman!

Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. Yes, I am totally in the bag for Charlie Kaufman, and I don’t care who knows it. Why wouldn’t I be? Here’s a guy who survived the sitcom jungle and has emerged as a truly original voice in modern screenwriting, working with some of the most innovative directors of the moment to craft a series of burnished gems that I think have genuinely helped push the art of film forward at a time when studios have retreated into an infantile haze of remakes and comic books and video games and 20-years-later sequels. I haven’t loved everything he’s done equally, and I think I may actually admire one of the films based on his scripts more than he does... coughconfessionsofadangerousmindcough... but I think he is absolutely a vital part of the film community right now, and the idea of him writing and directing for the first time... that’s had me on the hook since I first heard about SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK. It’s a jokey title, but it’s grown on me. The first time I read it, I had to look it up to see what “synecdoche” meant. “A figure of speech by which a part is put for the whole, the whole for a part, the species for the genus, the genus for the species, or the name of the material for the thing made.” Well, that is an accurate description of the alternate reality that Kaufman weaves like a cloud of heavily-laced smoke around the viewer with this truly oppressive vision. As I’m working on this piece, I’m also watching SPLINTER, a horror film that’s coming out theatrically. So far, so good. Strong young cast, likeable writing and fairly clean, effecting directing. And very much what you think of when you hear someone say “horror movie.” That’s not a slam... just an observation. Specifically, it’s a monster movie, but it’s a horror movie in a very classic, familiar way. When most people watch horror films, they watch them because they want that particular definition of a horror movie... something thrilling and fun more than painful or honestly unnerving. In the interview I did with Kaufman, he referred to this movie as a horror film, and in doing so, I think he laid claim to some fascinating and fertile cinematic real estate. I just read Owen Glieberman’s dismissal of SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. And what strikes me is how irritated he is with the film. He’s pissed about having sat through it. I’ve certainly felt that way after films before. I’ve come storming out as soon as the credits hit, frustrated at having chosen this over some other film I could have been seeing at that time, angry at choices made or things said in the film or at whatever. If you don’t have a passionate response to film, I would imagine the mechanical act of writing about them would be fairly awful. So I guess I know how Glieberman feels, but it always strikes me as odd when someone gets really angry or dismissive of a David Lynch or a Terry Gilliam or, yes, a Charlie Kaufman. They get mad that there are viewers who enjoy the films. When I told one friend that I quite liked TIDELAND, Gilliam’s last movie, he almost spit at me. It was like an involuntary thing. He was that instantly apoplectic about what a waste of time TIDELAND had been and how “fucking shitugly” the film was. Another friend opined a similar disdain for Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE, but there was also convinced that people saying they liked it were somehow making fun of him, setting him up for a joke. “No one really likes a film like that, do they?” Sure they do. People like films for a million different reasons. Some people only want to be entertained, and there are plenty of movies that are out there for that. Some people don’t like things that are too visceral, too scratch-and-sniff, and one thing’s certain about the world of SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK... it smells bad. It’s a film that seems to be decaying around the edges as you watch it. There’s real artistry on display here. Kaufman’s obviously been watching how Gondry and Jonze work, and he’s been thinking about his own ideas and how free he can be, and what it means to practically shoot something. He’s created this big crazy idea, this SF-level alternate reality, and he sells it with absolute confidence. I think this is one of the most assured directorial debuts I’ve seen in a while. He’s got this amazing cast he’s working with, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Tom Noonan, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, and Dianne Weist, all names who most first-time directors would love to get. But to get all of them? At once? A bit daunting. And Kaufman appears to have very ably set the precise tone he wants, because I buy the consistency of the crazy idea of his. And the tone he’s gone for is funereal. Depressive. Suicidally painful. And I don’t use that word casually or in a douchey hipster context, either. I mean that this is one punishing movie about someone in the grips of decay, someone whose body is failing them in slow-motion, one indignity at a time, one pain at a time, one ruined day at a time. It’s an exercise in empathy, but what you’re being asked to carry with Caden Cotard (Hoffman) is more than may be reasonable. For him as well as for the viewer. And beyond the viscerally unpleasant aspects of what Caden goes through, the film paints a sort of sliding, liquid reality that dares you to sort out exactly what you’re watching at any given point. Caden’s a theater director who is given a genius grant, and as he faces down the ruins of his personal life, he decides that the only way he can make sense of the miseries that have befallen him is by creating a theatrical piece that somehow sums it up, that somehow uncovers the truth so that he can understand it and impart it to an audience. He rents an enormous warehouse space, builds a reproduction of New York, and then starts to people it with actors who are told to pick a real person and to study that person with the intention of playing them. He workshops with them for weeks, then months, then years, asking them to live and work on the “stage” he’s created on a permanent basis, always in character, in an effort to create something that is just as real as “real life.” After a while, Caden realizes that he needs to add another layer to the piece, casting an actor to play him, casting more actors to play the actors who are playing the real people, allowing his art to comment on the act of art commenting on life, even as he pushes his art towards life with each new layer he adds. Or is he pushing his art further away from life, trapping it under each new bit of artifice until it’s like a funhouse mirror, distorting and twisting and bending the truth to absurd extreme? Such is the game that Kaufman’s laid out for audiences, and when I got a chance to sit down with him at the Four Seasons a few weeks ago, I prepped for it the night before: MORIARTY: So before I sat down to watch SYNECDOCHE, I did a run of your films leading up to it, all in one day. I watched BEING JOHN MALKOVICH for the first time since it came out on DVD, and the same for ETERNAL SUNSHINE and ADAPTATION. It’s interesting the way they bump up against each other. There is a continuity of thought to these films. To me, film is like an out-of-body experience, a chance to see what someone else’s life is like. When I watch a Satyajit Ray film, I don’t have any practical knowledge of growing up poor in India, but for the time of the movie, I can imagine that I know. I can experience it. Your films seem to wrestle with that at their core... how we share and process experience, especially through art. Do you consciously build these same themes and ideas into your films? What drives you to explore this idea repeatedly?

CHARLIE KAUFMAN: You know, I wonder about that when I’m writing because I finish something and then I start something else, and there’s still a million things going on in my head from the last one, and so... that’s where I am. It’s not like I go in and get my... you know, my brain cleaned, and then start fresh. I mean, I am who I am, and I think about the things I think about. Um, and that changes over time, but I think it changes gradually, rather than, you know... like... just... poof, I’m someone else now. I think that, I... what happened was that Spike [Jonze] and I originally were approached by Sony to do… to do a horror movie, and we talked about ideas and we wanted to do something that sort of wasn’t attached to the genre notion of horror, and so we were talking about things that are scary in the real world, and in our lives, and anxieties and, and, and the sort of notion of being in a kind of a dream. Being in that dream state. Even though the movie’s not a dream, but to be able to use that sort of imagery, and to express... um, to express an inner world externally... the way dreams do that. And so, um, we talked about mortality and illness and relationships and, um, um... regret, and, and loneliness and all that sort of stuff, and, um that was kind of the palette. Which I guess... I’m not sure... I mean, you’re talking about the notion of expressing life through... the art thing. Like, I think that probably some of that... may come from that’s the world I live in, and so that’s what I kind of know, and therefore I gravitate towards it, and, um... but I am interested in how... I’m trying to think how to phrase this... how we work things out. How people work things out. And everybody... creates a story about what’s going on in the world and in their lives, whether or not the do that for a living. That’s how we organize things as a species.

M: Absolutely.

CK: We create metaphors. We create analogies. We tell stories about the Universe and how things work. You know, what someone thinks of us... all that stuff becomes... it’s an organizational tool. That’s... I think that’s just how the human brain works, and so... to be able to... to sort of use that... the specific thing of being an artist is a way to explore the larger thing of what people do with their brains. It’s probably closest to what I... if I were going to try to... you know, articulate it. Which I don’t know if I have or I should. That’s probably closest to what I’m doing.

M: When this started, I remember the rumors that you and Spike were working on a horror film. And there’s definitely a paralyzing feeling of existential dread to this one. I’d call it a horror film the same way I’d call Lynch’s films horror films. Your film certainly unsettled me, and it got to me over things that actually matter. It’s not just about some dude with a knife or a possessed DVD player or whatever. The genre is more elastic than people seem to know, and it’s rare to see someone really push that definition. The deterioration of the body in this film...

CK: Yeah.

M: It’s so awful, and it starts right at the start of the film, where it’s almost funny when the little girl’s talking about the color of her poop. And because of the span of time your film covers, you really push the make-ups to an extreme in the second half with everyone playing much older. I love how you even comment on that within the movie, where you have Caden’s production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN with very young actors playing older.

CK: Thank you, Drew, for hearing that. I’m not sure anybody else has heard that. That’s weird, too, because I’ve been waiting for somebody to write that into a review. And no one’s mentioned it.

M: But you always build in the keys to decoding your films.

CK: Yeah.

M: There’s that great moment in ADAPTATION where Charlie asks Donald, “If both characters are one person, how do you...” and he never quite says, “how do you show it onscreen?” but you have them having this conversation about it while these two halves of one person are onscreen together, answering the question he’s not asking.

CK: (laughs) For me, that thing that you just expressed... it would be fun for me as an audience member to go, “Oh, wait! Phil Hoffman’s in old-age makeup, so he’s a young actor playing old, just like in the play! Isn’t that what he said at the beginning? Wht does that say about this whole thing that we’re watching? How does that take us out of it, and put us somewhere else as, as, as, as a moviegoer?” I love that stuff.

M: This feels like the most deliberate puzzle or game of all your films. Even ADAPTATION feels more... ummm... I can’t believe I’m describing that film this way, but more conventional in a sense.

CK: You know what’s unconventional and that I’m sort of pleased with about ADAPTATION is that it really... the screenplay is the main character in that movie that you’re watching. When you look at the character arc, that is what is being transformed. And that is what is losing its innocence in that movie. Um, which I think is kind of a neat idea, and I like that idea. So you’re always sort of left with the question if you watch it that way, “What does the happy ending in ADAPTATION mean? Is it really a happy ending? It’s really a sour ending, you know? And it allows you to take what you want from it, which I also like to do. But it does have that, um, that kind of, for me, that kind of fun sort of... ambiguity.

M: So many people strike one note per film. Like every film can only be about one thing or have one tone or discuss one idea. Like if it’s a comedy, it has to be shiny and plastic and happy. But your films seem designed to illuminate the way these moments coexist. Like when Charlie drops off Amelia in ADAPTATION and he just can’t kiss her, and it’s just brutally painful, and then in the same movie, to have a moment like the description to Susan of the relationship between bees and flowers, which is uplifting and beautiful and damn near a religious epiphany. So how, man? How do you get films like your through the system intact?

CK: I’ve been really lucky. And I went through a long period of being really unlucky. And then I got lucky and I got sort of kind of this freedom, which is a great thing to have. And I’ve been able to have it for a few years now, and I’m really appreciative of that. And there’s another thing in ADAPTATION that’s sort of that way. People really respond to Donald and Charlie at the log, you know? Which is something that I... the sentiment that Donald expresses to Charlie is kind of something that I... that I believe in certain ways or that I believe at certain times. As Charlie, I couldn’t really ever put that in a movie. I would feel that that’s not Charlie, you know? That’s kind of, like, sentimental. So it wasn’t a lie. In fact it’s true that I feel that way, but I needed to put it in what was at that point the crappy screenplay written by Donald to have this thing that I see as true. So it’s fine to have these sort of philosophical digressions but they have to be placed in the proper context in order for it to be acceptable in the various, you know, sort of styles. I don’t know. It gave me sort of a charge that I could do that. And it also kind of made me... I don’t know. I think before that, I sort of felt like... I did want to remove myself a little bit from, uh... from being... uhhh... vulnerable.

M: So if Donald says it, it’s not you on the line.

CK: And it was even before that. In BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, I think that there was a kind of a thing like, “This is going to be heavily philosophical, but I’m going to be making fun of it constantly so no one thinks I’m serious.” Because if I’m serious, then maybe all this stuff I’m saying is just cliché. But if I’m making fun of it, then I’m making fun of it. In this movie, in SYNECDOCHE, I think I’ve thrown away any concern and I’m, just, I’m going to explore different things and I’m going to say the things I really think. And, I mean, there’s going to be some... you know, hopefully some funny stuff and that, but it’s not me defending myself from being criticized.

M: Our whole culture does that now, though, that sort of ironic distance.

CK: Yeah.

M: Everyone’s got this remove from any emotion. Anything that makes you really feel.

CK: The internet has done that a lot.

M: But your films to me seem to be riddled with very raw emotion and raw experience, even amidst absurdity.

CK: Well, I certainly feel like I want them to be.

M: Woody Allen, over the years, has used various people as sort of surrogates for him in his films, and sometimes you can catch an actor in his films sort of “doing Woody”...

CK: (laughs) Uhhhh, yeah.

M: In your films, it can be argued there’s always a character who is your surrogate, or people playing very heightened parts of your persona, like Cusack’s puppeteer in MALKOVICH, or, most obviously, Nic Cage playing your better and worse natures in ADAPTATION. Now Caden’s a dramatist whose work has become reflexive and post-modern and who has literally written himself into the piece. And they each have certain similarities that overlap, but also each go in different directions... like, Hoffman’s this sort of stripped raw nerve...

CK: He’s great in the movie, and he’s just great to work with. I, I, I, you know... I take a little issue... and I don’t know how much issue I can take since I did put a character in a movie named Charlie Kaufman, but I do... I don’t feel like... I know everyone thinks it’s me. I don’t feel like it’s me, though, not even that one. Of course, I’ve written those characters and they, and they somehow are... you know, you look at a painting by a certain artist, and there’s gonna be stuff that is... recognizable by that certain artist, but I... you know, but I, I’m not Caden. I do feel like people assume... and I get it in interviews all the time... that I’m… that this is a stand-in for me. Even though I’ll say...

M: I don’t mean it literally. I just mean that there’s a way these characters give voice to these ideas that you’ve been wrestling with. More like they’re playing pieces of you.

CK: Right. With Woody Allen, you’ve got a performer who’s got a particular cadence. Imitatable. And it’s so much a part of our culture now, what Woody Allen did as an actor, that people just find... especially what he did in that cadence of his. The way he writes his characters. I don’t know. I’m... ummm... certainly Phil was not trying to do me, as far as I know. And as far as he says. Ummm, not in any kind of external way. But, uh, you know, we talked a lot about our lives and our, our relationships and our families and our fears and, you know... we kind of... came together, I think.

M:My kids are very young right now, but, man, I worry about letting them down. Watching that scene where Caden tracks down the girl he thinks is Olive, his daughter, his long-lost daughter, and he goes to that strip club to see her... horrifying. The idea of not knowing your kids, of being a stranger to them, losing all control in their lives...

CK: I, I, I... we shot that scene at 3:00 in the morning, and... I just... I knew it. I got the feeling like that scene was perfect. Watching Phil through that glass with the reflection on it... it was like... it was beautiful.

M: And my favorite meta film joke of the year is the idea that when Caden finally casts someone to “play” Samantha Morton in his production, it’s Emily Watson who gets hired. I know people who confuse the two of them anyway...

CK: Yeah! That’s why I did it. I didn’t know it was an industry-wide thing, but I did sort of feel that way myself, like there’s some sort of connection between them. And since people have seen the movie, lots of people have been saying that they thought they were the same...

M: It’s great.

CK: Actually, Samantha got hired for a movie, and at the, uh, the table read, she got complimented by the director for her part in BREAKING THE WAVES.

M: (laughs) Ohhhhhh, man...

CK: I know. The director. And she had to tell him at that point, “It wasn’t me.”

M: I don’t doubt that they’ve both been plagued by that a little bit. And they’re both so gifted.

CK: And they’ve never been in a movie together.

M: I hope to see the film again soon. I want to watch the first parts again in particular, since there’s so much going on right from the start, the way Tom Noonan’s sort of skulking about at the edge of things.

CK: I think you really do need to see it twice. At least. Because there’s stuff that I... it’s dense, and there’s stuff I don’t think you’ll be able to see the first time, just in terms of the passage of time. I don’t know how much of that you were able to catch, but there’s something happening in the first scene that... uhhh... that’s very unusual.

M: Now I definitely have to go look again.

CK: Yeah. Look at the first scene. The kitchen scene.

M: Okay. It’s strange the way reality gets so slippery. Your films always make you feel like the protagonist, in a way that’s more active than passive, and that alone is worth seeing. Always.

CK: Thank you. That’s great to hear. It was good to meet you.

And then we were done. There were other reporters waiting to sit and talk to him. Honestly, though, if you want the full effect to the above interview, go back and read it out loud, both parts, so fast it’s like there’s no punctuation. I was actually a little nervous to sit down with a guy I admire as much as Kaufman right now, and I hope that comes across in the transcription. Thanks to everyone who helped coordinate and get me my first face-to-face with the guy, and I strongly encourage you, if you’re at all interested in his work, to brace yourself for a tough ride and check out SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK as soon as possible.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 28, 2008, 6:40 a.m. CST


    by terrytips

    I can't wait to see this film.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 6:41 a.m. CST


    by terrytips

    How did I read all that and still manage to be first?

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 7:03 a.m. CST

    Great Moriarty

    by Mister McClane

    Brilliant stuff Drew, well done.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 7:39 a.m. CST


    by mukhtabi

    I've been puzzling over this one, having seen the preview several times and paying careful attention to the Charlie Rose Interview, and it makes sense that this should be horror. It certainly tells me in my own writing that I can probably stretch the genre at LEAST that far. Definitely going to see this one, good work Moriarty.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 7:51 a.m. CST

    I Tried To Imagine a WASPier Cast But Couldn't

    by Aquatarkusman

    But seriously, spending half the review worried about someone else's review is a bit defensive.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 8:24 a.m. CST

    I hate being stupid sometimes

    by Animation

    I watched the trailer and I could tell immediately that I'm just not smart enough to get this film. I don't even understand what is happening in the trailer. It sucks being stupid or simple, sometimes. Oh well.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 8:37 a.m. CST

    totally unprofessional that you talked about Owen

    by Cap'n Jack

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 8:46 a.m. CST

    Nice interview with one of the great screenwriters

    by zapano

    Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal are all amazing films, very post-structuralist, post modern but modernist and structuralist at the same time! Really looking forward to seeing this. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is really hard to rewatch though. Heart-breaking stuff, personal but universal.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 8:46 a.m. CST

    Great conversation Mori

    by henrydalton

    I can't wait to see this film.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 8:55 a.m. CST

    He's a great writer.

    by kungfuhustler84

    One of, if not the best screenplay writer in the industry at the time. And now maybe one of the best directors? I am so excited to see this. A new Charlie Kaufman movie is like a new jazz album. It's always so exciting to discover another artist's raw interpretations and to experience it over and over, learning something new each time.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:07 a.m. CST

    by T 1000 xp professional

    way to go Mor, great great interview. I was going to see this movie anyways(that's if it gets released down here), but the anticipation/appreciation just went up from your conversation.... That topic of people distancing themselves from basically everything in life as a way not to get hurt interests me so much...It definitely is a shame that people have assumed that's what "cool" is...The sadder thing is everybody subconsciously years for somebody to give them a honest emotional experience.... Why you think we(I) get so nostalgic and yearn for the true childlike wonder in films?

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:09 a.m. CST


    by T 1000 xp professional

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:12 a.m. CST

    Thanks, Drew

    by The Gline

    This is exactly the kind of stuff I love to see here at AICN. It's still fandom-of-a-sort as opposed to dry, scholarly criticism, but I'll take this kind of fandom over snobbish (or hipsterish) dismissal any day.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:27 a.m. CST

    Charlie Kaufman is the Patron Saint...


    .....of fucking and all things awesome and hand-held.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:30 a.m. CST

    Dude! you TOTALLY got Charlie Kaufman's work!

    by newc0253

    Charlie Kaufman even said so!<p> you must be so proud!<p>

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:32 a.m. CST

    Can't wait!

    by ImJustSaying

    Any word on when it'll hit San Francisco? I'm very intrigued and banking on some major catharsis with this one, but am quite wary of it feeding despair. Hopefully the mental stretching and what-will-happen-next wonder will outweigh the depression. Great interview!

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:33 a.m. CST

    CK's movies are like a good piece of literature

    by greyspecter

    I've watched Adaptation several times and didn't pick up on the "two sides of the same person" thing. I felt dumb, then impressed. I need a hug.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:54 a.m. CST

    Congrats Mori

    by drturing

    I know interviewing him must've meant a lot. And thank you for bringing such an in depth piece with the man. I still think the original script for Eternal Sunshine is one of the greatest screenplays ever written.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:58 a.m. CST

    Eternal Sunshine is my favorite movie of all time.

    by Err

    Absolutely brilliant script.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 9:58 a.m. CST

    amen on Eternal Sunshine script....


    ....I'm amazed it can pack just as much of an emotional punch as the film. Fucking brilliant script. Especially the scene at the beach house.....fuck...I'm tearing up at work again. FUCK YOU CHARLIE KAUFMAN!!!

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:09 a.m. CST

    The one scene that I feel Gondry blew

    by drturing

    Was the bit with the little kid smashing the birds. He played it a bit too broad and cute when it needed to be fucking heartbreaking. That was the absolutely pure universal embarassing so shameful experience you hide from yourself moment you might have buried in your childhood so deep, and then to have your lover in your memories there with you saying it's ok... If art is supposed to illuminate universal experiences in a manner as if to say - you are not alone - that is one of the single best scenes ever written. That's the one single scene I'd change as shot.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:11 a.m. CST

    Oh yeah and fuck Owen Gleiberman

    by drturing

    He's not a critic, he's a poster quote maker. Read Manhola Dargis' review... I always feel that if a movie can inspire a decent critic to write a review that works as a beautiful piece of writing, there has to be something worthwhile in the film.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:13 a.m. CST

    Saying its horror is just a way to sell it through the system

    by drturing

    I mean honestly, the movies that horrify me are movies like Dan in Real Life or Good Luck Chuck, comforting bits of pablum where lots of white people live in apartments and houses they couldn't really afford if they were middle class, either wearing lots of sweaters attempting to make human connections or in the case of a Dane Cook movie vulgar excess in the name of STD carriers.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:14 a.m. CST

    Early work by Michael Bay?

    by drturing

    There's been some discussion on the Internet that this is one of Michael Bay's earliest works. Really amazing to see how a filmmaker can change.<p>

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:16 a.m. CST



    hhhmmmm...thats interesting you felt that didn't work. I love that scene for all the reasons you described. For me it played just as it should have. It was embarrassing and shameful and sort of hard to watch. I think the reason you thought it was a bit too broad was cutting back to the Jim dressed as the kid with the cape as he walks off. Maybe they could have stayed with the child actor longer to hold the moment. I sorta get what you mean. But that film is fucking flawless in my eyes......wonderful, wonderful film. I doubt either of those guys will ever top it.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:24 a.m. CST


    by Epleterte

    that was just a really really really good fucking interview and introduction, man. but what a bitch it must have been to transcribe! awesome though.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 11:49 a.m. CST

    Epleterte = you are the coolness brother


  • Oct. 28, 2008, 11:52 a.m. CST

    Did Mamet write Kaufmans lines for this Interview?

    by jackietheblade

    Thats what we need...a Kaufman script directed by Mamet...or maybe the other way around. Or a joint script. Directed by Lynch. Would it be like an acid trip?

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 12:33 p.m. CST

    uhhh leave Mamet out of it....


    He's got 1/10th the talent of Kaufman's left nut.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 12:48 p.m. CST

    Owen Gleiberman's an asshole

    by judderman

    I've never agreed with a single review he's ever written. The only kudos I can give him is that he alone realised what a fascist piece of shit Forrest Gump was.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 12:54 p.m. CST

    There was a Bjork video that got this concept across.

    by Christopher3

    In about 4 minutes, too.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 12:57 p.m. CST

    John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine = Masterpieces

    by jimmy_009

    Two of the best, most original films in decades.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 2:14 p.m. CST

    Really Dickblood? Really?

    by jackietheblade

    Thats what you're going with? Mamet practically INVENTED writing. I mean...I bet if you made your comment to Kaufman he would punch you in the ballbag. I by no means am speaking less of Kaufman...or that Mamet is better in some form. I'm simply saying that to say "he's got 1/10 the talent of kaufmans left nut" is irresponsible and asinine. I guarantee you can find just as many people that "don't get" Kaufman as those that "don't get" Mamet.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 2:36 p.m. CST

    Saw it a couple of days ago @ The Landmark

    by FilmZ0mbie

    It's a beautiful piece of work. My brother and I were just totally moved to silence for the 20 minutes it took to get back home. Great interview Mori.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 2:48 p.m. CST

    Thank you!!!

    by DarthCorleone

    Great interview, Drew. I very much enjoyed the window into the mind of my favorite screenwriter. I have loved all his films. (Like you, despite the reported friction in the making, I think Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is fantastic, and surely Charlie Kaufman deserves a great deal of the credit for that. It's my second favorite film of 2002 - behind Adaptation, of course. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is easily my number one for 2004.)<br><br> That said, I caught Synecdoche, New York a couple nights ago, and I had trouble connecting with it. There are many great ideas and moments, but it all seems so self-aware and "meta" that I had trouble finding the emotional resonance that I wanted to find therein. It seemed that there was not enough grounded reality for me to grasp; at a couple points I had stirring interpretations about what the film's "reality" might be, but I can't say for certain if my interpretations were valid. I was reminded of the moment in Adaptation when "Charlie Kaufman" states that he has become ouroburos. Synecdoche itself seems to be ouroburos run amok. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing; I will revisit the film without a doubt, and it might become a favorite. I feel bad about having qualms about a Charlie Kaufman film, particularly his directorial debut, but for the moment I'm feeling at a loss. That all said, Mr. Kaufman, if you happen to be reading this and have need of a monkey butler, I'm your man!

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 3:30 p.m. CST

    The Landmark on Pico?


    Bad ass fucking theater. Thats where I caught Blade Runner last year. Amazing picture.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 4:31 p.m. CST

    Drumline: A-? thank you Owen Gleiberman

    by BadMrWonka

    clearly Entertainment Weekly and it's Diet Critics aren't the audience for a great Charlie Kaufman movie.<p> I don't ask my cat what it thinks about Thoreau either...

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 5:03 p.m. CST

    Charlie oughta check out the Hypnerotamachia Poliphili…

    by Octaveaeon

    Maybe he could use it for a script. It has an architectonic sense of narrative; contains a story-within-a story; uses both ‘love’ and ‘dream’ as conceptual tropes; and it is very open to interpretation. Actually, apart from being largely unreadable, there is still much debate surrounding its authorship. Perfect stuff for Kaufman. But maybe even more so because, as I suspect, the work may represent an example belonging to the ancient tradition of ‘mnemonics’ (‘art of memory’), particularly in its use of space and imagery. Because it at times invokes a descriptive sense of self-referentiality, which is more inherent to (post-) modern art, it may be more effectively approached from a more ‘cinematic’ perspective (in the modern sense) than from a ‘literary’ one. Hence neatly coinciding with many of Kaufman’s cinematic and narrative interests, including the role of writing as an organization tool. Let me explain this a little further... <p> The ‘art of memory,’ to begin with, was the ancient technique of imprinting ‘images’ or ‘places’ (topoi) on the memory in order to organize thoughts or ideas, and to make them reliably accessible to short term memory (remember, this was a time when writing tools were not as available to everyone, and even less were capable of both reading and writing). In ‘The Art of Memory’ Frances Yates explains the general principles involved:<p> The first step was to imprint on the memory a series of ‘loci’ or places. The commonest, though not the only, type of mnemonic place system used was the architectural type. The clearest description of the process is that given by Quintilian. In order to form a series of places in memory, he says, a building is to be remembered, as spacious and varied a one as possible, the forecourt, the living room, bedrooms, and parlours, not omitting statues and other ornaments with which the rooms are decorated. The images by which the speech is to be remembered – as an example of these Quintilian says one may use an anchor or a weapon – are then placed in imagination on the places which have been memorized in the building. This done, as soon as the memory of the facts requires to be revived, all these places are visited in turn and the various deposits demanded of their custodians. We have to think of the ancient orator as moving in imagination through his memory building whilst he is making his speech, drawing from the memorized places the images he has placed on them. The method ensures that the points are remembered in the right order, since the order is fixed by the sequence of places in the building. (Yates: 18-19)<p> Maybe I should point out that in coupling loci to specific notions about ‘thoughts,’ or ‘ideas,’ or in thinking of mnemonics as a tool for ‘[short-term] memory,’ we risk confusing the art of memory as it was practiced and experienced, or the function it was supposed to serve, with anachronistic notions about the cognitive relation between memory and phenomenological experience. For example, both Plato and Aristotle use the metaphor of the seal of wax to explain the relation between the role of memory – i.e. the gift of Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses – and the ideas which represent our knowledge of things. However, whereas Aristotle believed the ideas to be formed by the images derived from sense impressions, Plato had also spoken of Ideas separate to sense impressions, yet which also imprinted their form on the soul. Hence true knowledge, for Plato, consisted in the recollection of the Ideas by the soul. By contrast, Aristotle speaks of artificial memory in order to illustrate the importance of ordering and the role of association in order to properly ‘recollect’ what has already been impressed by the senses. <p> Let me make the distinction more explicit. Frances Yates writes, in relation to Aristotle’s Topics, that “There can be no doubt that these topoi used by persons with a trained memory must be mnemonic loci, and it is indeed probable that the very word ‘topics’ as used in dialectics arose through the places of mnemonics. Topics are the ‘things’ or subject matter of dialectic which came to be known as topoi through the places in which they were stored.” But according to Plato, the mnemonics of the art of memory dealt only with artificial memory, and was therefore inferior to true knowledge. It is in this context that he attacked - in his famous dialogue ‘Phaedrus’ (which is about eros and rhetoric) - the rhetoric practiced by the sophists, which he considered as having failed in their true function: persuading men to knowledge of the truth, which is desecrated, or led astray, by the practice and use of artificial memory systems, including writing. For example, consider the scene in the Phaedrus (274c-275b) where Socrates paraphrases the old Egyptian king Thamus in reply to the god Theuth, who brought with him the gift of ‘letters’, saying that: <p> “the invention [letters] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. You have found a specific not for memory but for reminiscence, and you give your disciples only the pretence of wisdom; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome, having the reputation of knowledge without the reality.” <p> The, after Phaedrus reacts to this story, Socrates continues: <p> “He would be a simple person, and quite without understanding of the oracles Thamus and Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters.” (275c5-275d2) <p> I find the conceptual proximity of the ancient art of memory and the (post) modern hermeneutic problem very interesting, and think so would Kaufman, particularly the ‘layering’ of new meanings by older texts, myths, traditions, experience within a culture – including historical consciousness itself, and our awareness of how the development of writing has helped shape collective memories (or our modern notion of anthropological origins). For example, Gadamer writes that: <p> “In the nineteenth century, the hermeneutics that was once merely ancillary to theology and philology was developed into a system and made the basis of all the human sciences. It wholly transcended its original pragmatic purpose of making it possible, or easier, to understand written texts. It is not only the written tradition that is estranged and in need of new and more vital assimilation; everything that is no longer immediately situated in a world—that is, all tradition, whether art or the other spiritual creations of the past: law, religion, philosophy, and so forth—is estranged from its original meaning and depends on the unlocking and mediating spirit that we, like the Greeks, name after Hermes: the messenger of the gods. It is to the rise of historical consciousness that hermeneutics owes its centrality with the human sciences. But we may ask whether the whole extent of the problem that hermeneutics poses can be adequately grasped on the basis of the premises of historical consciousness.” (Truth and Method, 157-58; ed. 2004) <p> This modern problem of historical narrative (and consciousness) and embodied experience (‘Being’), understood in the context of the art of memory, would make a great subject for a movie (in Imax 3D maybe?), though it would require the considerable talents of a Kaufman to make both intelligible AND watchable (i.e. not as boring and pedantic as I made it out to be). I would also suggest that a proper (and less conventional) understanding of Plato’s so-called theory of Ideas would be helpful (namely his portrayal of ‘eros’ in the Symposium), considering how the dialogues are meant to mediate his teaching by means of synecdoche, metonymy, irony, and metaphor (all of which demonstrate an important relation between the ‘techne’ of writing and the ontological basis of being and experience which is so distinctive in western thought, all the way to the anxiety expressed by post-modern writers…).

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 5:19 p.m. CST


    by NedNederlander

    what that last guy said.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 5:23 p.m. CST

    also worth a look...

    by Octaveaeon

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 5:44 p.m. CST

    Nice cut-and-paste there...

    by Player 1

    No, not really. Actually what a fucking waste of time, pixels and bandwidth, Octaveaeon you dick.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 6:10 p.m. CST

    Semiotics and Orobourous

    by WerePlatypus

    Every word in any language has a meaning that, when voiced, must be composed of other words. Those words also have other meaings and associations, and on you go until eventually, you will be using the original word again, just like the snake eating its tail. So language is a closed system that can be deconstructed into nothing. Since every possible thought is also composed of language, then the only possible meaings we can derive from the world come from a tiny fishbowl of possible meaning, which is ultimately questionable anyway. . . is it 4:20 yet?

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 6:11 p.m. CST

    Mamet Rocks, BTW

    by WerePlatypus

    The Spanish Prisoner is one of my favorite movies.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 7:01 p.m. CST

    by AllieJamison

    Great and very very absorbing interview and review, that I'll definitely revisit to fully understand! From the descriptions I read online I thought Synek(/ch)doche would just be another expression for a "pars pro toto"...but turns out that "pars pro toto" is just one specific case of a Synek(ch)doche... Mmmmhh...we didn't learn that in school.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 7:07 p.m. CST


    by drturing

    This is fucking Aint it Cool News, ok, you're getting all show offy and epistimelogical with a dude named danny glover's dickblood. Go fuckin watch some thundercats or some shit.<p> Also, think about how more awesome Redbelt would've been had Kaufman written it.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 7:08 p.m. CST


    by drturing

    That is all I'm posting about for the next month. All I will discuss is the ball crushing sheer awesomeness that is Baraka on Blu Ray.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 8:36 p.m. CST

    watson and morton

    by imageburn13

    thats funny, it never dawned on me that they look so similar. Huge fan of both too. Kaufmann rules at displaying what people are thinking, and Im sure im going to love this film. cant wait.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:01 p.m. CST

    Yeah DANNY, the one on Pico

    by FilmZ0mbie

    I also saw Blade Runner there. It's gotta be my favorite theater in L.A. How bout that bar?

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 10:21 p.m. CST



    Very cant let it go, have too examine an re examine it several times over, overwhelming you, till it destroys you, or makes you re examine yourself. <P>Smart? I guess so... I always thought that it was a direct look at a Literate Obsessive Compulsive persons mind and in particular someone who is trapped in a few subjects they still haven't resolved. But what repressive obsessive does. After all, the writing is the therapy but it doesn't destroy the ranting or obsession. <P> I picture CK walking around his house. Having both serious and angry conversations with himself on subjects like existence, cognition, mortality, association, shit like that. Not sure sometimes if he's still talking to himself or that other part of us- That part that most people ignore.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 11:01 p.m. CST


    by criticalbliss

    Oh, it's a "horror" film all right. Because we have to watch a suicidal Kaufman avatar construct a wholly narcissistic universe with the inevitable existential, "there is no god and no reason to live" ending that's supposed to masquerade as "literature" in a cinematic environment. Kaufman is a mixed bag of great ideas and awful execution. I wonder how many people want to watch miserable, self-obsessed b.s. in a theatre when they can watch "reality" shows on MTV. The only passable film he's made in terms of structure (particularly concerning his usual abortions of final acts) is Confessions (yep, I said it). It's his best film precisely BECAUSE it was taken away from him. The same idiots who like this retard are the ones who contend that NCFOM's ending is "artistic" rather than absolute bullshit. End rant.

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 11:06 p.m. CST

    This one's for you Player 1:

    by Octaveaeon

    The ‘memory palaces’ in Stephen King’s ‘Dreamcatcher’ or Thomas Harris’ ‘Hannibal’ may help visualize the art of memory, though just in a superficial sense. Unlike that scene in ‘Eternal Sunshine’ where the house ‘deconstructs’ itself, which is both visual as a metaphor of the way in which our sense of being is in large part determined by our subjective memories and the social context in which we experience these (the subject-object dichotomy), while it also visually illustrates the emotional violence of actually losing memories which in fact make up who we in essence are … <p> I find the beauty, and difficulty, of any work of art is in being able to depict these inherently human moments in ways we can both recognize and share, yet in ways in which also open us to new insights about who we are. Though Kaufman seems impelled – like a true postmodernist – to depict this narrative act itself, which in the process confronts him with himself as both object (work of art) and creator (artist), this is no different from the desire of any person to understand who he is and how he does what he does. Another example is Alan Moore, who considers it a fundamental aspect of his work, particularly in his later stuff (viz. Promethea). <p> And that reference in ‘Adaptation’ to ouroboros (don’t remember it so I’m gonna have to watch it again) is more than apt. Plato used it to illustrate the cyclical nature of the kosmos, and hence the self-reflexive aspect of man in attempting to apprehend, and make sense of, the ‘Idea of the Good’ (which I would qualify has been the single most important occupation of western thought ever since) while Moore also refers to it in the Promethea series so as to remind us of its alchemical symbolism and how it represents the destructive yet self-fertilizing nature of the human soul. (Hegel, I might add, uses it to illustrate his system of Logic as a ‘circle of circles’…). So yeah, although ouroboros certainly works as a symbol of semiotics (the study or interpretation of signs) and as a symbol worth studying in itself, it is actually even more representative of the ‘hermeneutic circle’: the problem of interpretation, which lies at the heart of the whole ‘crisis of (post)modernity.’ <p> It is this awareness, as I tried to point out above, that I find so compelling, and illuminating, about the Platonic dialogues. E.g in the Phaedrus Plato has Socrates narrate a story about Thoth, the inventor of writing and measurement), but which in fact serves to portray on a whole different level his true thoughts on the nature of philosophical rhetoric and its effect on the non-philosophically oriented. Another interesting example is the Cratylus, which deals (among other things) with the problem of writing, rhetoric, and the problem of language, viz. the ‘correctness of names.’ In fact, not only does it refer to Hermes, it also includes an interlocutor named ‘Hermogenes’ (i.e. ‘son of Hermes’). The dialogue eventually goes on to show how both interlocutors are unable to come to a proper understanding – or more precisely, knowledge – of names, which is why they ask Socrates to intervene. <p> Again, it is the problem of knowledge, and man’s desire to overcome these limits (which means being willing to scrutinize conventional wisdom, and hence the public opinions upon which social order is established [i.e. the ‘laws’ or ‘belief in the gods’]), that is being depicted. Plato, as he himself knew, understood that his own ‘Socratic dialogues’ were themselves the product and manifestation of his desire for beauty, which in itself was a product of his desire to overcome mortality. In other words, his written work, and his depiction of Socrates, was a conscious attempt to secure his teaching – heavily influenced by Socrates, but politically self-conscious in a classic sense (keeping in mind that Socrates was sentenced to die because of his philosophy) – through poetic depictions of Socrates. <p> It is this ‘poetic’ depiction – in the form of dialogues, not treatises – that ‘immortalized’ Socrates, and why he managed to captivate western thought ever since (compare this with another ‘poetic’ depiction of an influential figure: Jesus Christ). That said, whenever he talked about poets, or used myths (e.g. ring of gyges, the myth of the cave, atlantis), he was always talking on different levels, which differed according to narrative and thematic context. <p> In a way, I think that ‘Adaptation’, and now (it seems) ‘Synecdoche’, depict this aspect of authorship, though I would not go so far as call them platonic. That’s a label I would only be comfortable in using to describe the work of one artist – Kubrick - though I have no idea whether he would agree with that label. Maybe he’s more Socratic than Platonic. After all, although Socrates may have been portrayed (on the surface by Plato in his dialogues) and condemned (by the Athenian ‘demos’) as a philosopher – i.e. a lover of wisdom – there are some key parts in which Plato allows him to reveal his true ‘erotic’ nature. Particularly in the ‘Symposium’, Socrates refers to himself as an ‘erotikos’: he is therefore, in essence, a lover of beautiful things (e.g. the beautiful Alcibiades), though this is an ambiguous depiction, since he was also a lover of Athens (unlike Alcibiades, who betrayed it during the Peloponnesian war). <p> Furthermore, this ‘erotic’ nature was also a private aspect of his nature, and may be an important element of his ‘wisdom’. After all, he was not a teacher – i.e. he did not ask for money for sharing his wisdom, and only ‘taught’ those whom he felt were capable of receiving and understanding his wisdom – which is why his was always poor. This is similar to the depiction of the ancient Greek god ‘Eros’ narrated to us in the ‘Symposium’ by Socrates (as a story-within-a-story) whilst recollecting a conversation he’d had with the priestess Diotima when he was younger. The suggestion is made that, being the one who initiated Socrates into the ‘mysteries of love’, it was also she who served as the source of his ‘wisdom.’ However, it is the ‘poetic’ description that we, as the reader, should also take in consideration. Take, for example, Diotima’s depiction of Eros: <p> “As the son of Poros and Penia, his lot in life is set to be like theirs. In the first place, he is always poor, and he’s far from being delicate and beautiful (as ordinary people think he is); instead, he is tough and shriveled and shoeless and homeless, always lying on the dirt without a bed, sleeping at people’s doorsteps and in roadsides under the sky, having his mother’s nature, always living with Need. But on the father’s side he is a schemer after the beautiful and the good; he is brave, impetuous, and intense, an awesome hunter, always weaving snares, resourceful in his pursuit of intelligence, a lover of wisdom through all his life, a genius with enchantments, potions, and clever pleadings. He is by nature neither immortal nor mortal. But now he springs to life when he gets his way; now he dies—all in the very same day. Because he is his father’s son, however, he keeps coming back to life, but then anything he finds his way to always slips away, and for this reason Eros [Love] is never completely without resources, nor is he ever rich. He is between wisdom and ignorance as well.” [203c6-203e5] <p> In fact, Diotima’s depiction shows that Eros is neither a god nor mortal. By relating the genealogy of Eros; we find out that according to myth, Eros is the son of Poros (resource, or wealth) and Penia (poverty). In so doing, Diotima goes so far as to make Eros the mediator of ignorance and wisdom, which is related to his nature; i.e., the result of his lineage. Contrary to established opinion, Eros is not delicate but tough and homeless, both characteristics which he inherited from his mother, while from his father he inherited courage and wisdom. Futhermore, he is also desirous of what is beautiful, which is explained by how he was born on Aphrodite’s birthday, meaning that he came after the goddess of beauty. Furthermore, he is also in search of knowledge, or practical wisdom, which is in turn related partly to his homelessness, and to his birth in Zeus’s garden. <p> In other words, thanks to Diotima, young Socrates learns that the lover of wisdom is driven by need, i.e. that it is in his nature, for it is likewise in the nature of eros to seek immortality by procreating that which is beautiful and good. By the end of the Symposium, though, we will find another side of the older and wiser Socrates: moderation; a result of the purification of his eros. Paradoxically enough, it is this moderation – with regards to his own wisdom – that guides his hubris in placing in question the gods of the city, and which ends up leading to his demise (but, on the contrary, to his immortality thanks to his student Plato). <p> So, what does this have to do with mnemonics and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili? Well, to begin with, Poliphilo, the main character, means “lover of all/many things” in Greek. He is in search of Polia, or the representation of that ‘all’ in the title. And the god Eros (Cupid) plays a prominent role throughout his erotic encounters, which not only depict in great detail the architectural landscape, but at times depicts the sexual union between the two (i.e. the desire for beauty and the images that are produced by it; an almost incestuous state of affairs). I’ll the rest to your imagination…

  • Oct. 28, 2008, 11:41 p.m. CST



    The bar is sweet. The whole place has a very cool, intimate vibe. Great place to bring a female......or a male....whatever.

  • Oct. 29, 2008, 4:44 a.m. CST

    hey criticalbliss

    by drturing

    ha ha you douche you paid money to see it

  • Oct. 29, 2008, 11:19 a.m. CST

    I agree with Darth Corleone

    by Boxcutter

    Admire this man's work immensely, but only occasionally moved by it (exception: Eternal Sunshine). Mori is right, it is fecund movie territory, Kaufman's paddling pool, but it's so self-consciously framed that you're always aware that each example this is The Screenplay As An Exercise. Which kind of swamps the invention, keeps our distance, the meta-ness and the metaphors preventing us from really committing and connecting. Nothing wrong with movies of the mind, per se, and while the end-product is never as remote as the Coen Brothers' games, I for one would like a little more genuine heart. More "sharing" as Octaveaeon puts it. Synecdoche is beautifully made, clever, has some moments of piercing delicacy and aching beauty...but, again, I walked away impressed with the conceit of the construction and contents rather than smitten.

  • Oct. 29, 2008, 10:22 p.m. CST

    Dr Turing

    by criticalbliss

    You're right. Another argument for piracy...