Well, sure, it's all downhill that way
October 7, 2011 5:05 PM   Subscribe

"Storytelling is inherently dangerous. Consider a traumatic event in your life. Think about how you experienced it. Now think about how you told it to someone a year later. Now think about how you told it for the hundredth time. It's not the same thing. Most people think perspective is a good thing: you can figure out characters arcs, you can apply a moral, you can tell it with understanding and context. But this perspective is a misrepresentation: it's a reconstruction with meaning, and as such bears little resemblance to the event." Charlie Kaufman: Why I Wrote Being John Malkovich.

Kaufman recently spoke as part of a lecture series for BAFTA. The video isn't up yet, but movies.com has an overview of the speech.
posted by codacorolla (47 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite

 


Maybe we can pass a law that requires anyone who tells you a story to also tell you how many times they've told that story.
posted by hermitosis at 5:17 PM on October 7, 2011


"Failure is a badge of honour. It means you risked failure."
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [19 favorites]


Hmm. I wish this article were about 10x longer. I wonder if we can get another post when the lecture video goes up?
posted by duvatney at 5:18 PM on October 7, 2011


If we couldn't make our memories more pleasant and/or interesting than they really are, we would all go insane before the age of 30.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:25 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


If we couldn't make our memories more pleasant and/or interesting than they really are, we would all go insane before the age of 30.

Well, I'm glad I finally have an explanation for that.
posted by curious nu at 5:30 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


If we couldn't make our memories more pleasant and/or interesting than they really are, we would all go insane before the age of 30.

And most of us do.
posted by swift at 5:46 PM on October 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't wait until I can have some sort of automatic magic 24/7 video recorder on me that records everything that happens for reference later. I imagine being able to refresh our memories with the actual content would be a good thing.
posted by floam at 5:46 PM on October 7, 2011


Can I just say that Adaptation is one of my favorite movies ever?
posted by newdaddy at 5:47 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep forgetting that Charlie Kaufman is one of the people I most admire on the planet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:01 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


I keep forgetting that Charlie Kaufman is one of the people I most admire on the planet.

Yea but how many times have you really forgotten it, and then tell us you forgot it.
posted by victors at 6:06 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can I just say that Synecdoche, New York is one of my least favorite movies ever?
posted by pokermonk at 6:07 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If we couldn't make our memories more pleasant and/or interesting than they really are, we would all go insane before the age of 30.

Well, I'm glad I finally have an explanation for that.

Do you mean you have an explanation for why you're insane or why your memories are so pleasant and/or interesting?
posted by euphorb at 6:08 PM on October 7, 2011


I keep forgetting that Charlie Kaufman is one of the people I most admire on the planet.

Why don't you just stop going to get your memory erased?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:16 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can I just say that Synecdoche, New York is one of my least favorite movies ever?

Sure, why not. Interesting though - I thought it was an intriguing story that had some great moments, but overall was a little depressing and slow. However my girlfriend at the time literally got mad at it, stormed out of the room 20 minutes in or so, and later even got mad at me for finishing it. I didn't see the big deal.
posted by mannequito at 6:26 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can I just say that Synecdoche, New York is one of my least favorite movies ever?

You can, if I can sigh and shake my head emphatically.
posted by naju at 6:28 PM on October 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Storytelling is dangerous

Yes. In the big safe Nerf world some people would make, no new stories would ever be told because stories can be acts of violence. They can permanently affect people.

This is not a bad thing, though, because this is their purpose. We can be changed by stories in ways that we can't be changed by real experience because, if we had the real experience, it would destroy us.
posted by localroger at 6:33 PM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Synecdoche, New York is one of my favorite movies ever. It's simultaneously the most and least honest film I've ever seen, and that really makes it resonate with me on a level very few stories ever have. I think maybe you have to be in the right period of life to get all you can out of it (late 20s through 30s, not quite having a midlife crisis but watching the shape of the remainder of your life unfolding and feeling disappointment, heartache and dread at all the inevitability before you; all the possibility behind you), but I was there when I watched it, so it reduces me to a little blubbering bucket of tears every time like no other movie.
posted by byanyothername at 6:40 PM on October 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I am saddened to report that the inspiration for the 7 1/2 floor no longer exists. Before it was demolished, it was being used as a paper conservation lab. I am sure the woman who worked there was not too upset about it, as she is quite tall.


Can I just say that Synecdoche, New York is one of my least favorite movies ever?

You can, if I can sigh and shake my head emphatically.


Synecdoche, New York is really polarizing. I enjoyed it, but there are many reasons not to. Elements of the story are dreamlike or poetic, so sometimes it's easy to lose the narrative. It's a long film that demands a great deal of attention, and it might not feel like it's worth it. It's also a film that demands that you engage emotionally with the story and empathize with a main character who is a really unpleasant person (or, at least, is presented as one.) Kaufman is more of a head guy than a heart guy, and his cerebral approach sometimes misses the mark when a story demands warmth.

But whether you love it or hate it, you can't say Kaufman played it safe.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:49 PM on October 7, 2011


I was sobbing at the end of Synecdoche, New York (which is rare for me), but I think that says more about where I was at the time than the movie itself. I can absolutely understand why people dislike it, and I can't even say that I liked it, but I certainly appreciated it greatly (being both an imperfect perfectionist and intensely self-analytical).
posted by muddgirl at 6:56 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


~it's very important that what you do is specific to the medium in which you're doing it, and that you utilise what is specific about that medium to do the work. And if you can't think about why it should be done this way, then it doesn't need to be done.~

Damn right.
posted by chronkite at 7:09 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Synecdoche, New York is a hard ovie to like because it is all about depression and the creative process. I love it. My husband hated it. It's polarizing.
posted by The Whelk at 7:09 PM on October 7, 2011


the most and least honest film I've ever seen,

This is really spot it, it really gets at and conveys the feelings you can get in such a state, even if those feelings are false or in error, they feel real, and the movie presents them very well. This is how it feels to have all these horrible thoughts that are wrong.
posted by The Whelk at 7:11 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always thought it was cousins with David Foster Wallace's The Depressed Person
posted by The Whelk at 7:13 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, Charlie Kaufman was a writer on Get A Life, the greatest sitcom of all time? Somehow that makes sense; that show utterly ripped apart the sitcom format in an utterly original way that managed to be utterly hilarious at the same time.
posted by koeselitz at 7:14 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay better never-much-discussed Kaufman screenplay: Human Nature or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind? Show your work.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:18 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


utterly
posted by koeselitz at 7:19 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Human Nature cause it's really good and it was totally buried. COnfessions Of A Dangerous mind got a lot of press and critical warmth.
posted by The Whelk at 7:19 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can I just say that Synecdoche, New York is one of my least favorite movies ever?

My parents put this on one night while my wife and I were visiting, none of us knowing what it was. I think Eraserhead would have been less awkward.
posted by swift at 7:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now I want to put together an INLAND EMPIRE/Synecdoche, New York double feature.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:25 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


you would really have to provide consoling and support afterwards.
posted by The Whelk at 7:29 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's what Tetsuo: The Iron Man is for.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:33 PM on October 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


I know that the FPP is a bit of a teaser, but I enjoyed the article and have no idea when or if the video will be up online, so I decided to make it.

I was digging around trying to find said video, and came across this 2011 interview from the Göteborg festival: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpjgjJqayxI.

I haven't watched the whole thing yet, but it's an hour and a half long and fairly recent, so I figured there may be some interest.
posted by codacorolla at 8:20 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh man, Synecdoche, New York laid - me - OUT - as only a handful of films ever has. Like muddgirl, I was outright sobbing at the end, just devastated. It stayed at the forefront of my mind for the next two very bleak weeks until my brain mercifully found something else to concern itself with.

I doubt I'll be watching it again any time soon.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:32 PM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


It,s all downhill from here
posted by growabrain at 9:21 PM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now I want to put together an INLAND EMPIRE/Synecdoche, New York double feature.

YES THIS PLEASE MINDMELT LIFECHANGE FEST 2011
posted by naju at 11:08 PM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


>Can I just say that Adaptation is one of my favorite movies ever?<

One of my least favorite movies ever. So much so that I was actually angry at him personally. But by some strange twist I saw "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" the same day and loved it, so my hate was averaged out in a matter of hours. I still haven’t seen anything else he’s done though, just because of how much I disliked that movie.
posted by bongo_x at 11:18 PM on October 7, 2011


Storytelling is inherently dangerous. Consider a traumatic event in your life. Think about how you experienced it. Now think about how you told it to someone a year later. Now think about how you told it for the hundredth time. It's not the same thing. Most people think perspective is a good thing: you can figure out characters arcs, you can apply a moral, you can tell it with understanding and context. But this perspective is a misrepresentation: it's a reconstruction with meaning, and as such bears little resemblance to the event.

Brings to mind my favorite Sartre quote:
For the most trivial event to become an adventure, all you have to do is start telling about it. This is what deceives people; a man is always a teller of stories: he lives surrounded by his stories. He tries to live his life as if it were a story he was telling. But you have to choose: live or tell. While you live, nothing happens. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that’s all. There are no beginnings. Days add on to days without rhyme or reason, an interminable and monotonous addition… But when you tell about a life, everything changes; … events take place in one direction, and we tell about them in the opposite direction…. The story is going on backwards: moments have stopped piling themselves happy-go-luckily one on top of the other, they are caught up by the end of the story which draws them on and each one of them in turn the previous moment…
posted by juv3nal at 12:15 AM on October 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts." ~Salman Rushdie
posted by headnsouth at 6:01 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did an experiment the other day. After the Saints won the Super Bowl I told seven or eight different people that Saints fans would remember Terry Porter's interception and touchdown (it sealed the game) for a very long time. Like where you were when Elvis died, &c. I also told them that I remember very clearly Marcus Allen's touchdown run (it sealed the game) in the Raiders-Redskins Super Bowl (I am from Oakland). So the experiment was this: how many yards was the run and was he wearing a black shirt or a white shirt? I thought I clearly remembered 86 yards and a white shirt. I looked up the youtube video. 74 yards and a black shirt.

So much for my very clear memory.
posted by bukvich at 7:15 AM on October 8, 2011


"Grammar is the queen of sciences. We are all of us living stories that on some deep level give us satisfaction. If we are unhappy with our stories, that is not enough to free us from them. We must find other stories that flow naturally from those we have been living."
posted by wobh at 7:57 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of the movies of his I've seen, I've enjoyed then, probably Confessions more than most others (possibly having to do with the masterful performances). Still, just reading the intro to this post reminds me of one of my key reasons for giving up on writing; every idea I had, every poem or story based on any sort of real experience just wasn't good enough. No matter how powerful tue moment was for me, the first version of the telling was never good enough. Each story, each poem, each moment of direct experience needed to be revised, rewritten until the words worked better, even if they no longer fit the moment. The primacy of the moment, the words that come out in response to the impact are just never enough to convey the thing properly. We need time, distance, and the inevitability of revision and rewording to make artificial art only loosely based on real pain.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:43 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I recently watched Being John Malkovich again for the first time since its release in 1999. It's funny (in some parts zany and silly), but I was struck by how unbelievably sad it was. In the end, the characters endure so much pain and humiliation, and only a couple of them get away intact.

As for my favorite Charlie Kaufman thingamajig, I'd have to say it would be the end of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because the way you interpret it as a viewer says so much about you. When they are standing in the hallway, making an agreement to try to be together in spite of the fact that they have documentation of their previous resentment and hatred of one another, a lot of people view as romantic and sweet, but it makes me cry every time knowing that they will end up in the exact same relationship cul-de-sac that brought them to Lacuna in the first place.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 9:17 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eternal Sunshine is pretty close to a flawless movie.
posted by The Whelk at 9:51 AM on October 8, 2011


When they are standing in the hallway, making an agreement to try to be together in spite of the fact that they have documentation of their previous resentment and hatred of one another, a lot of people view as romantic and sweet, but it makes me cry every time knowing that they will end up in the exact same relationship cul-de-sac that brought them to Lacuna in the first place.

I've thought about that a lot, and again when Louie CK was doing his "best case scenario" routine in his show...where the best case scenario in starting a new relationship is that you eventually get to watch the other person die, and then you die. They both seem to be basically toying with the idea that the destination invalidates the journey, or at least that it might.

My only reaction is that when I got married, it wasn't because I thought it was impossible that the relationship could fail. There's a million ways we could fail as a couple. That's the risk and that's the bargain of entering into a relationship, and it seems crazy to me to not just acknowledge and accept that. The best case scenario is that you get to spend all this time with a person you love and when awful shit happens you get through it together.

I guess I wouldn't call the ending of Eternal Sunshine "romantic" but it's a long way from "pessimistic". It seems just beautiful and truthful, that we all implicitly accept the bargain of risking misery in order to not be alone, because it's the best bargain we can get, and we'll even do it when our eyes completely opened to the risks.
posted by anazgnos at 12:16 PM on October 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


knowing that they will end up in the exact same relationship cul-de-sac that brought them to Lacuna in the first place.

Yet they do it anyway. Maybe even with the old, noble "But this time, it'll be different!" line. Because that's what we do. That's what we always do.


Oh, you do too.
posted by Spatch at 4:28 PM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can I just say that Synecdoche, New York is my favourite movie ever?
posted by Theta States at 1:04 PM on October 12, 2011


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