The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Transparent Talent

Last night I was lamenting that I wouldn't be around to see Synecdoche, New York as I'll be leaving Austin two days before it screens. Damn. As far as I'm concerned Charlie Kaufman is the king of screenwriters. After seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind I proclaimed to all that would listen that I would light myself on fire if he did not win an Oscar for the screenplay. Today I am thankfully unburned. Eternal Sunshine is as subtle as it is jarring. I simply love the questions he asks in this film. I'm even more impressed that he doesn't even attempt to answer all of them. Some people are meant to be together, but sometimes some of those irresistibly drawn to one another are also destined to fly apart after only a few orbits. Charlie illustrates this beautifully by making his story a kind of quasi-sci-fi fantasy. To me the movie is fantastic right up until the end, right up until the point where, SPOILER ALERT, Clementine and Joel find out not only that they've been together before, but actually hear all the bad things they said about one another. At this point the movie kicks into its final triumphant gear rocketing up to the area of true greatness. Armed with the knowledge of their possible, maybe probable, demise as a couple, what will they do?


Now where was I before detouring onto Eternal Sunshine? Ah, Kaufmnan. It dawned on me in the late hour just what attracts me to Charlie*. He writes on a level that I only hope I can achieve someday, and he does it without pretense. He does it without hanging a sign up above him saying "Look at me! I'm a screenwriter! Don't you wish you could be this good?" There are fantastic writers out there who seem to enjoy drawing attention to themselves. They craft exellent movies that somehow single themselves out as movies and beg for you to know that they were written. The first names to come to mind are the Cohens. Now before you storm my home wielding torches understand that I love almost all of their work. I find their films to be both entertaining and thought provoking, but I can't deny that there is also the idea that they are flailing their arms wildly trying to get people to notice them. The same can probably be said of Shane Black, another immensely talented writer whose work I always look forward to. And the list goes on from there.

This is not a criticism or an indictment of their work, but an acknowledgment on my part on what appeals to me. I certainly enjoy the flash and the pomp and the showboating, but in the end it isn't me.

What really draws me to Kaufman and what sets him apart is his transparency. He doesn't make me aware that I am watching a movie. He sucks me in with the story and grabs my attention. He doesn't try to force over the top characters on me, or try to wow me with a turn of phrase or a wonderfully intricate plot. There is a humbleness about him. Perhaps that is the result of a deep seated crisis of self confidence or maybe its just Charlie being Charlie. Whatever the answer may be, at the end of his movies I'm still thinking "wow" and wondering if I'm going to have to reach for a can of gas and a match.

* Yes, you can now start singing about me and Charlie in a tree.

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