Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Kaufman

Friday Night

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* Breaking news: TPM is reporting right this second that Obama has brokered a climate deal with China.

* Also breaking at this hour: I will never get a job.

* Trinity College entrance exam, 1900-1901. Via Mitch.

* Two more Avatar reviews, here and here.

Yes, on one level it’s a crock: predictable, sentimental, and tin-eared. It’s an attempt to rewrite (and reanimate) American history in the form of a barely disguised parable of Native Americans triumphing against white imperialists who would drive them from their ancestral lands — aided by a white imperialist (a Marine) who has Gone Native. Set in the year 2154 on Pandora, a moon of the vast gas planet Polyphemus in Alpha Centauri, it’s Dances With Thanators (and Banshees and Direhorses and Hexapedes and Hammerhead Titanotheres and Leonopteryxs). The narrative would be ho-hum without the spectacle. But what spectacle! Avatar is dizzying, enveloping, vertiginous … I ran out of adjectives an hour into its 161 minutes.

* Muhammed Ali fought 50 men. Only one disappeared.

* And There Will Be Blood wins movie of the decade on Gawker’s meta-list. Surprised to see Eternal Sunshine and the Lord of the Rings series as such close seconds, and found this observation noteworthy: “If the Pixar movies had been one series, it would have won the decade. Easily.” PS: Quentin, Wes, Alfonso, Chris, and the Coens wuz robbed.

Monday 1

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Monday!

* The trailer for the SF-infused Paul-Giamatti-as-Paul-Giamatti comedy Cold Souls causes io9 to ask whether “Charlie Kaufman” is officially a genre yet.

* Kari in the comments directs us to a defense of Holden Caulfield against the spurious assertions of irrelevance I blogged about yesterday.

* Bruce Schneier: SF Writers Aren’t a Useful Aspect of National Defense—a followup to an article I posted last month. Via Boing Boing.

* Also not useful: classifying “protests” as “low-level terrorism activity.”

* The Art of the Title Sequence considers the end of Wall-E. Via Kottke.

* What’s wrong with the American essay? I’m not sure anything is, but certainly not this:

The problem, of course, is not merely our essayists; it’s our culture. We have grown terribly—if somewhat hypocritically—weary of larger truths. The smarter and more intellectual we count ourselves, the more adamantly we insist that there is no such thing as truth, no such thing as general human experience, that everything is plural and relative and therefore undiscussable. Of course, everything is plural, everything is arguable, and there are limits to what we can know about other persons, other cultures, other genders. But there is also a limit to such humility; there is a point at which it becomes narcissism of a most myopic sort, a simple excuse to talk only about one’s own case, only about one’s own small area of specialization. Montaigne thought it the essayist’s duty to cross boundaries, to write not as a specialist (even in himself) but as a generalist, to speak out of turn, to assume, to presume, to provoke. “Where I have least knowledge,” said the blithe Montaigne, “there do I use my judgment most readily.” And how salutary the result; how enjoyable to read—and to spar with—Montaigne’s by turns outrageous and incisive conclusions about humankind. That everything is arguable goes right to the heart of the matter.

“The next best thing to a good sermon is a bad sermon,” said Montaigne’s follower and admirer, the first American essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. In a good sermon we hear our own “discarded thoughts brought back to us by the trumpets of the last judgment,” in the words of Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” In a bad sermon we formulate those thoughts ourselves—through the practice of creative disagreement. If an author tells us “love is nothing but jealousy” and we disagree, it is far more likely we will come up with our own theory of love than if we hear a simple autobiographical account of the author’s life. It is hard to argue with someone’s childhood memory—and probably inadvisable. It is with ideas that we can argue, with ideas that we can engage. And this is what the essayist ought to offer: ideas.

It doesn’t seem to me at all that American letters suffers from a lack of hypotheses confused for certainties.

* And Shia Labeouf may live to ruin Y: The Last Man after all.

"Synecdoche, New York"

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Lately I’ve shied away from reviewblogging, partly because I don’t think I’m especially good at it but mostly because I haven’t been moved to write about anything I’ve seen. Synecdoche, New York moves me, but only to say “Go see it.”

Almost certainly the best film of 2008—only Dark Knight really comes close—and Kaufman’s best film since Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche can’t really be described without being reduced to a series of gimmicks. I wouldn’t even read reviews of it. Just go.

For those who have seen it, or who plan to flaunt my sage advice, the best writing I’ve seen about Synecdoche has been from Adam Kotsko, who writes, insightfully:

While watching Synecdoche, New York this week, a thought occurred to me: the reviews that presented the movie as an elaborate puzzle requiring multiple viewings to unravel are wrong….

[T]here is, within the frame of the movie, no “underlying reality” that can be uncovered through the work of decoding, not even that of Caden Cotard’s dream. All the action is taking place directly at the surface. That’s what the proposed title “Simulacrum” is telling us (a name he suggests to Claire, not Hazel, pace Dargis).

“What really happened” is only what you can see: Kaufman is being brutally direct. No amount of plot summary can get at what it feels like to be watching this movie, and to get to caught up in trying to decipher “what’s going” on is to run the risk of failing to feel what it feels like to be watching this movie.

I’d even go so far as to suggest that Synecdoche should really only be viewed once. The novels to which one might be tempted to compare it—Ulysses? Pale Fire? If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler?—are surely not “elaborate puzzles” to be solved but do possess rich textual subtleties that reward an nth reading. Synecdoche, I fear, may not only lack these subtleties, but may in fact be significantly worse when re-viewed in the context of a known whole.

In particular I’m afraid any rewatch would just direct us more and more towards the notion that [SPOILER—HIGHLIGHT TO READ] Cotard is in the process of dying, likely from suicide committed either very early in the movie or perhaps slightly before it began, and Synecdoche is his dream. To the extent that the suggestion of any “underlying reality” can be deciphered in Synecdoche, it seems to me it can only be this one—and just the slightest taste of that is more than enough.

But wherever they point us, I feel fairly certain the uncovering of any “clues” upon rewatching would only throw the movie’s vital ambiguity off-balance. It’d ruin it. Synecdoche‘s a truly great film, that is to say, but probably just the once.

UPDATE: Copied from Facebook wall scribblings:

my fave reader review from the nyt:

This movie was really boring! Just like life! This movie thought it was original and cutting edge but wasn’t! Just like life! This movie has been made before about seven trillion billion times! Just like life! This movie was way too long! Just like life! The first half was okay but the second half made up for it! Just like life! I almost walked out of this movie! Just like life! Some people don’t realize how awful this movie is and actually think it is good! Just like life!

Written by gerrycanavan

November 24, 2008 at 4:40 am

R.F.L.

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Random Friday links.

* Those “I’m a PC ads”? Made on Macs.

* Slacktivist has finished his years-long read of Left Behind. (Via MeFi.) Amazingly, he plans to keep going.

* Is there a media blackout on the Hurricane Ike aftermath?

* The ‘Watchmen’ film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I, for one, am sick of worms. Alan Moore doesn’t mince words.

* David Simon’s next project is Manhunt, “about the Lincoln assassination and the 12-day search that ended in the capture of John Wilkes Booth.”

* LeBron James loses to a civilian in Horse.

* Kottke has the trailer for the next Charlie Kaufman movie, Synecdoche, New York.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 19, 2008 at 9:21 pm