martes, mayo 23, 2006

el cine es una comunion...

"One of the best things I know about community is what Saint Paul said: "What I am for you frightens me, but what I am with you comforts me. For you, I am a bishop; with you, I am a Christian". When you come into a cinema, you have to be willing to say, "We´re all here to undergo a communion, to find out what the hell is going on in this world". If you´re not willing to say that, what you get is entertainment instead of art, and poor entertainment at that".

David Mamet
Three Uses of the Knife:
on the nature and purpose of drama

domingo, mayo 21, 2006

entrevista con Kaufman

Interesante lo q planteo el Los Angeles Times hace unos días. Es un guionista un escritor? Debe ser considerado parte del canon? Es más importante que el director? Que es, a la larga, una película: imágenes o textos. O acaso es el texto el que es capaz de crear las imágenes (por ahí va la cosa). Sin duda esto da para un debate largo, y espero que en la Alberto Hurtado, donde estamos debatiendo estas cosas, surga el tema. Muy contento con volver a clases, mas allá que me toca estar al frente un par de veces. Capto que para hacer cine, tal como para escribir, tb hay que leer, ir al cine, hablar de cine, leer a críticos. No sé: ahora que PERDIDO se rodará en abri, siento que puedo aprender mucho más leyendo a Quintin, a Daney, a Soto--- quizás la verdadra preparación para un film fusiona lo visual (locacionar, locacionar, locacionar; crear complcidad con los actores) con leer y ver cine que te "descoloque" y te haga replanteartelo todo y, sin duda, leer y hablar sobre temas ligados al tema de tu película.

OK-- aquí va una entrevista, no un perfil, a Kaufman. Ire posteando otras puesto que ando leyendo entrevistas a más guionista pues que tengo que preparar una clase sobre dialogos.



Since the spec market boom of the '80's, literally hundreds of books and articles have been written on the subject of storytelling, each promising to unveil the secrets to writing what sells. The three-act structure, character motivation and thematic devices have been dissected, analyzed and prepack­aged in books and software as if good stories could be mass-produced. About a dozen screenwriting gurus make a handsome living teaching writers to fol low their formula to success. Just follow the "mythic structure" and name a "pro­tagonist" and an "antagonist," then pick a theme, and voila! The byproduct of this assembly line method is tens of thousands of screenplays that lack origi nality and substance.

When BEING JOHN MALKOVICH was released in 1999, many in the industry took notice. Although Charlie Kauf man's film followed the traditional three-act structure it broke many of the established storytelling conventions, which had the gurus busy for weeks mapping out the story and forcing it into their paradigms. As further proof that Kaufman's screenwriting debut was groundbreaking; the film was nominat ed for a Golden Globe, an Independent Spirit Award and an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Originally from Long Island, Kaufman went to New York University Film School before moving to Los Angeles in 1991. He got his start in television, writ ing for the Chris Elliot series Get a Life, in 1990. Then in 1995 he wrote for Ned and Stacey and in 1996 wrote several episodes of The Dana Carvey Show. Kaufman made the transition to fea tures by writing a number of spec screenplays including CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, an adaptation of The Gong Show's Chuck Barris' memoir, which was named Best Unproduced Screenplay by Entertainment Weekly. The film is currently in production with George Clooney in his directorial debut. Shortly before the platform release of his latest feature, HUMAN NATURE, we talked with Charlie Kaufman about writing the unconventional movie and somehow getting it made.

When you write a screenplay there will inevitably be changes during the production and post-produc tion process. For your scripts, which are so intricately structured and multi-layered, changes must be have been particularly difficult to do.
You shoot the movie and then you look at it and you assemble it, and you look at it, and there are things that don't work the way you'd hoped or things that you don't need or the movie is way too long which [BEING JOHN MALKOVICH] was. The way it was shot it needed to be cut by like an hour and a half, so we had to make changes. Then once you make those decisions you have to figure out different ways to reinsert information that you definitely need so that people aren't more confused than they are already going to be with that movie (laughs). I think for me, since that was my first experience, I was a little bit freaked out with the post-production process, but I made the decision that, 'okay, this is what we have to work with and now how can I be of service in making what we have as good as it can be?' Once I adopted that frame of mind it became kind of fun, because then you find con nections and you find things that you hadn't expected that now fit together in ways that are exciting. Editing is just more writing.

Serving as producer of the project in both of your films at least gives you some measure of control of the vision.
I think it did, but with MALKOVICH I was an executive producer and that was really only a title I was given sort of as an honor after the [film] was made because of the help I'd been to them.

What was more to the point was that Spike [Jonze] and I had a very good collaborative relationship and he wanted me involved, and then again with HUMAN NATURE I was an official producer, but it was because of the relationship that Michel [Gondry] and I had that I could influence things. I wasn't going to go in there and be a dictator even if I could.

In both films you've worked with first time directors, is there an advantage?
I guess the advantage might be that they might be more interested in collaborat ing with you. I don't know. I haven't worked with any director whose made a movie before. CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND went through a couple of directors before it ended up with [George] Clooney. Originally it was PJ. Hogan who'd made My BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING and MURIEL'S WEDDING and he was somewhat more experienced and he was a great guy to work with, and then it looked like David Fincher was going to do it. I had a couple of meetings with him and he seemed like a good guy to work with. I think maybe when push comes to shove with more experienced directors you might find yourself shut out. I've cer tainly heard those stories.

How do you go about pitching an unusual project like HUMAN NATURE or do you even try?
It wasn't necessary with MALKOVICH or HUMAN NATURE because they were written as spec scripts that I sent around. They were being passed around for maybe three or four years before anyone expressed any interest in making them. When it came to it, it was people who had read the script. It would be hard. I have these inter views now and people say, 'Well, how would you describe HUMAN NATURE?' and I don't have a clue what to say. I can sort of make something up that sounds okay, but I'm glad I don't have to do that to try to get the movie made.

So obviously you prefer writing on spec.
It's a good thing to do because there are no expectations and you can go any where you want, which I try to do any way even with an assignment. But there are people who are waiting, and they're people who have hired you to do a cer­tain thing. I did this script called ADAPTATION because I was hired to write an adapta tion of a book and I kind of went off course. Without telling anyone I wrote this other movie, which worked out but it might not have (laughs). It could have been a very bad thing for me.

You can still find inspiration even in a writer-for-hire gig?
Well, I have to otherwise I don't know what to do. I've taken a few assignments and fortunately I've never had to be a writer-for-hire, in the sense that I've taken things that I was really interested in. I've worked on TV shows and I've done shows that I needed to do because I needed the work and I didn't have any interest in it. It's definitely not as much fun, but even on those you try to do something original. You try to bring something of yourself to it anyway.

You started out as a sitcom writer before making the transition to features; do you plan to return to television at some point?
I've thought about going back to televi sion-by the time I got my first job in television it was such a relief that I was working as a writer because it was a long time coming. So I liked it in that sense, and then as the years went by and I was writing pilots and trying to get them produced, I realized there wasn't really an opportunity in television for the kind of stuff that I wanted to do. I got disenchanted.

Now maybe I can go back and have more authority or at least have people be more interested. I've thought about it. I do like it, but the hours are bad. When I was working on sitcoms I'd work 80 or 90 hours a week and I might do that anyway, but I do it at home now and I do it on my own terms as opposed to being in a room with six other writers and that being your life.

Comedy is tough to do, especially when you have to concentrate on being funny for 80 or 90 hours, as you've described. How do you manage to churn out funny mate­rial under pressure?
You do because you have to, and maybe the quality suffers, I don't know. Certainly there are a lot of crappy sit coms (laughs), but I think you do it. There's kind of a point when it's the day before you're shooting and it's two in the morning when you get punch drunk. At least to my mind some of the funnier stuff starts to happen in the room. It's a grind; it's definitely a grind.

You have a number of scripts in various stages of development at many of the major studios. Is there a great deal of pressure on you now like in television to get things done?
There's been a lot of pressure because things started to happen kind of on top of each other so I was writing a few things at once. With the studios so far my situation has been pretty comfort able. Everyone's been respectful. I don't get a lot of stupid notes. It's not like the kind of notes that you get from the net work when we work in TV which are really hard and silly. It's not like we're trying to do a generic family comedy or something. People know it's going to be odd so they sort of stand back and let it happen a little bit.

Is it because they already know your sensibility?
I think so, maybe, or maybe they don't know what to say so they're just being trusting. I guess that could all change, but right now it's been pretty good.

HUMAN NATURE is funny, quirky, but dark and it does not have the typical Hollywood ending. Did you even think in the back of your mind about the possibility of turn ing off that person at the studio who could ultimately greenlight the project, but might not because it's too dark or the subject matter might be considered offensive?
I don't think about it. In the case of HUMAN NATURE and MALKOVICH I didn't have any expectations that they would be made so I was writing what I was interested in at the time. That gave me a lot of freedom. Since then, I kind of feel like I need to maintain that integrity in my work. I don't want to put stuff out there that I don't believe is correct so I'm not interested in selling something [like that]. That could all change if I need work in a couple of years and no one is interested in the stuff I'm doing. I will probably have to make a living but right now I feel like I have an opportunity to really try to do the stuff that I want to do. I feel if I have the opportunity I should take advantage of it. So I don't think about offending the greenlighting people. If they don't want to make it, then they don't have to.

How do you get these unique ideas?
I don't know where I get my ideas. I think about what I'm thinking about at that time and what's going on in my life or what my concerns are, and I find a certain tone that I'm thinking about, and then I sort of build on it and I leave it open as I'm working to discover something else, to discover more things... characters and situations and if it feels funny to me or right or scary, I kind of feel like I'm on to something. And so I stay with it. I think those are the things to not shy away from-what your gut reactions are to what you're doing. What is really scary about this as a character or as a writer? If you feel like you shouldn't be doing something then you sort of want to do it.

How structured are your stories when you're writing?
They're not very structured. I think the structuring comes as I'm writing, I kind of go back and if I figure out something on page 40 that is important to me, then I might have to go back and change page lO in order to begin the process of getting to that. So you start adding stuff in the beginning and then the structure starts to find itself.

I take a lot of notes. I do a lot of think ing when I write. I have ideas; I have things that I want to try to put together. But a lot of times I find that I can only get to a certain point until I start writing dialogue even if the story does n't seem ready for me to go to that step. I start to do it anyway and I find char acter traits by having characters talk to each other and that helps me kind of get a better idea of where the story is going to go. I don't do the three-act structure thing. I don't really know what it is exactly, although I've been told by peo­ple that I adhere to it, so I don't know. But maybe people just want to see that because they don't want to think that someone's not doing it. So they say, 'Oh, he's doing it anyway.' I've seen that comment like, 'Oh, yeah, on page thirty in MALKOVICH it's exactly where it should be.' Well if it is, it's kind of a coincidence or an accident maybe. It certainly wasn't conscious.

Then structure just comes natural ly to you -
Maybe it's because I'm conditioned in the same way as everybody else. But I wouldn't map it out that way, it would n't occur to me to do that.

In BEING JOHN MALKOVICH you have a puppeteer as a main charac ter and in HUMAN NATURE it's a behaviorist. While most movies go with the standard businessman or some other familiar occupation, you present people in jobs we've never seen before.
Part of it is because they're funny to me. With Craig [John Cusack] in MALKOVICH I wanted him to be an artist, but I wanted him to have some kind of an odd art form. I like puppetry, especially the kind that he does which is the very sensitive stuff, but it's also kind of funny to me to be in this world where there was actually a need for that kind of stuff. He's got this nemesis who is this amazingly successful puppeteer that is someone who doesn't exist in the world as we know it. I'd been reading about behaviorism for Nathan [Tim Robbins] in HUMAN NATURE. I was reading about it first and then I was reading about this guy, John Watson, who is considered the father of behaviorism and his sort of torture experiments. I found that it served this particular story about the natural world, and civilization and stuff, to have some one who was training the nature out of these animals. It was all a bit tongue-in cheek too. I'm more playing with these ideas than I am having a serious discus sion about them I think.

There are scenes in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH and in HUMAN NATURE that are tough to visualize. Did you think when you were writing these scenes about how they were going to work?
There were a few things when people would say that this movie will never get made. One of them was, 'you're never going to find an actress who is going to be willing to do this to herself and how are you going to do the mice?' We did n't know. Early on we were talking about puppets and stuff. But we had this company called BUF where Michel Gondry had done a lot of work for his videos and commercials and they fig ured out a way to do it. We decided we wanted it to be as realistic as possible so that it wouldn't be like a jokey version of mice using the forks. We tried to keep it as close to what would be possi ble as we could. They figured it out and it didn't seem to be that much of a problem for them.

Another problem you faced was the nudity in HUMAN NATURE and the whole issue of sex that would have the MPAA looking to give the film an NC-17 rating.
We certainly were contractually obligat ed to bring in an R picture. When it came to the rating and the rating board looked at it, they objected to one thing in the movie. There is a scene in the movie where Puff goes into a porno booth to masturbate; he's watching a little video screen and the image on the video screen was apparently too explicit so we had to go back and fudge that image a bit. That was the only thing that they objected to, that was the only thing that was going to give us an NC-17 so we changed it.

The hardest thing about this movie is in promoting it. The movie is an R, but the trailers have to be G and all the jokes in the movie are sort of sexual. Our trailer-and I think it works out okay, but it was frustrating because this funny moment and this funny moment, and this funny moment we can't use, and that became very complicated. I don't know what the rules are for R and I guess going in the people who know those things must have been comfortable that we would get an R because we did.

At a time when many Hollywood films dumb down for the audience, you take a rather complex idea and you build on it rather than simpli fy it for mass consumption.
I think the movies that I've done and the movies that I seem to be doing, there are these budgetary concerns and I think that is because they're not going to be able to sell it to mass audiences, and they want to keep costs low and that's fine with me, I prefer that. It's a much easier environment to work in. I have no interest in making a block buster movie because I think that there are almost always not interesting.

A couple of things in this movie CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND had to be changed a little bit and that was a studio thing, and Warner Bros. at the time and then later Miramax both objected to a certain element in the movie that had to be taken out. I was frustrated with it, but I had no control. It's not mine. I wrote it as an assignment so I voiced my protest and then had to let it go.

Whoever is providing the budget makes the ultimate decision.
And it wasn't even a rating thing it was more like we don't want to do anything that's offensive to anybody in the world. That is the mindset of those people. You say what you need to and then you try to do smaller and smaller budget movies, and have less and less interfer ence from people like that. That's my goal.

Do you have any closing thoughts or advice that you'd like to share?
Figure out how to get an agent. That's the thing that I didn't understand and that certainly has made all the difference in my ability to get work. I could not get anyone to read anything for years and years. For some reason I thought that I could do this without an agent and I just couldn't. [Having an agent] gives you some kind of credibility or something. It is the thing that opened the door.

Previously published in Screenwriter Magazine.

miércoles, mayo 17, 2006

soñar y escribir

"Writers are dreamers. Movies are dreams and, at their purest, they're fantasies that we want fulfilled; they're anxieties and nightmares we want purged."

--Robert Towne
guionista as: Barrio Chino, Shampoo, El último detalle
director: Personal Best, Tequila Sunrise, Ask the Dust

domingo, mayo 14, 2006

¿Puede un guionista ser una estrella?

Encontré esto en el LA Times, antes: FRASES SUBRAYADAS de este perfil sobre el "guionista más célebre" de su época, acaso más famoso que los directores con que trabaja.

La "fórmula" de la adaptación de un texto para transformarlo en guión; más q "buscar las escenas o reducir el material", el tema, para mi al menos, y en eso coincido 100% con Kaufman, es ver que tiene que ver el libro contigo. Cito del artículo:
Rather than find himself in the story, Kaufman found the story in himself. In order to connect to the material, he had to take it apart and remake it, literally in his own image.


"As Kaufman points out early in the movie: "Writing is a journey into the unknown."

y otra--- esto si que da para un debate literario que, acá, estamos lejos de empezar: es un guionista un escritor?

"Charlie Kaufman is a great American writer. Let's not equivocate or qualify this in any way. Yes, he writes for the movies; yes, his medium is the 100-plus-page script. But in all the ways that matter—his mastery of structure, his voice and vision, his recognition of the power of the word to remake the world—he stands with the finest writers of his generation, among them David Foster Wallace, Mona Simpson, Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Colson Whitehead and Jonathan Safran Foer. At times, he is even the best"

aqui va el artículo entero:
From the Los Angeles Times
May 14, 2006

Why Charlie Kaufman Is Us
In exploring our inner selves, he's become one of the best writers of his generation, David L. Ulin argues.

by David L. Ulin

It's Charlie Kaufman's world. We just live in it.

The day after I first saw Kaufman's movie "Adaptation," my wife and I took our daughter to a birthday party. It was mid-December, an afternoon of flat white sunlight, washed out in that Southern California winter way. At the door, a tangle of balloons announced the festivities in orange and blue and red. Inside, kids raced by in groups of twos and threes while parents clustered in the corners, trying not to spill their coffee, chatting stiffly among themselves. One of the very first things you learn about birthday parties is that no one over the age of 6 or 7 wants to be there, yet when your children are young, you have no choice but to stay. So you look for a place to install yourself, and try to appear engaged—no matter how uncomfortable you feel. It's a curious disconnect between inner and outer reality, not unlike the existential tension of a Kaufman film. How did I get here? you keep asking. And more important: How do I get out?

That afternoon, the only way out was via the backyard, which flickered like an alternate reality through a pair of French doors. After a while, my wife and I drifted down the hall and onto a small patio, breathing relief in the tepid air. Although the day was mild, none of the kids had found their way here, and it was quiet, a patch of grass shaded by fruit trees. In the middle, a slim, dark-haired woman sat talking in a small group. Who is that? I wondered. Where do I know her from? And then, in a flash, I knew. There is a moment in "Adaptation" when the character of Kaufman (who has written himself into his own movie) calls home to check in with his twin brother Donald (whose existence is another invention of the script). Over the phone, he hears laughter and a woman's voice. The woman is the actress Catherine Keener, who starred in Kaufman's first film, "Being John Malkovich," and, in this scene, plays Boggle with his brother, much to the writer's dismay. "Catherine Keener?" he asks, his voice plaintive, tight. "Catherine Keener's in my house?"

Just the night before, I'd laughed at the lunacy of the situation—a dramatized version of a screenwriter lamenting a real-life actress' friendship with a brother who doesn't exist. It was like a Möbius strip of the imagination, a double exposure of fact and fiction. Barely 15 hours later, here I was, watching Kaufman's movie come to life. For who was the woman in the backyard? None other than Catherine Keener, whose own child was at the party. I stood there, briefly confused. Then my wife brushed up behind me and, with a quick elbow to make sure she had my attention, repeated in a quiet whisper the line of dialogue I was then recalling: Catherine Keener's in my house?

There are a couple of approaches you can take to this experience, a couple of lines of interpretation. Some might see it as just one more example of life in Los Angeles, where even in the most unexpected setting, we may come face to face with the reality—not the illusion—of Hollywood. I, however, choose to see it differently. It's a perfect example of the connections we forge with the art that moves us, in which a particular piece of writing, of film, of music can take up residence not only in our heads but in our lives.

For me, "Adaptation" is precisely such a work, a strange and remarkable movie that offers the most accurate portrayal I've yet seen of what it's like to be a writer. It's also a compelling riff on narrative structure, on the intricacies of art and commerce, the difficulty of storytelling by committee and the universal human desire to be liked. Based on Susan Orlean's 1998 nonfiction book "The Orchid Thief," it is an investigation of obsession, of the elaborate, looping interplay of the author's mind and his material and, indeed, himself. "Do I have an original thought in my head?" the film begins, as Kaufman—or Nicolas Cage, who plays both Kaufman and his brother—murmurs in a voice-over, while credits flash across the bottom of a black screen. A minute later, we're on the set of "Being John Malkovich," where Kaufman/Cage is waved off the soundstage after getting in the way of a shot. "What am I doing here?" he wonders. "Why did I bother to come here today? Nobody even seems to know my name. I've been on this planet for 40 years, and I'm no closer to understanding a single thing. Why am I here? How did I get here?"

This is, surely, a persona, a pose, a provocation, an oddly manufactured public face. In the introduction to his published script of "Being John Malkovich," Kaufman reveals a similar point of view: "It's 3 in the morning. I haven't been able to sleep for several weeks now. Things are falling apart." At the same time, it's an overarching theme, not just in Kaufman's writing, but in all of our lives. Like "Adaptation" (or "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which Kaufman adapted from Chuck Barris' autobiography), "The Orchid Thief" is a story of self-absorption, reinvention, personal mythology. Although much has been made of the differences between book and movie, both express the belief that to live fully, we must engage. "Passion itself is a unifying factor," Orlean told me by phone from her Boston home on a Sunday afternoon in April. "For me, writing the book was a way to discover my own sense of passionate engagement, to learn why I do what I do."

And yet here's the paradox: Rather than find himself in the story, Kaufman found the story in himself. In order to connect to the material, he had to take it apart and remake it, literally in his own image. Not only does he write himself into the movie, he creates a through-the-looking-glass version of Orlean and her subject, the orchid-obsessed Florida hustler John Laroche, recasting them as co-conspirators in a plot to run exotic drugs. For Kaufman, it's all fair game, this blurring of reality and invention, of ego and expression, until we're no longer sure where either begins or ends. "I just thought this was crazy," Orlean says of her initial reaction to Kaufman's script. "I thought it was going to ruin my career." Ultimately, however, she agreed. Why? The simple answer is that the producers were persuasive: "Do you want to see your book on-screen," they asked, "under a different writer's name?" But there is another answer too, one that has to do with a different kind of truth. "The adventure appealed to me," Orlean admits—which is, of course, the whole point of "Adaptation." Or as Kaufman points out early in the movie: "Writing is a journey into the unknown."

Charlie Kaufman is a great American writer. Let's not equivocate or qualify this in any way. Yes, he writes for the movies; yes, his medium is the 100-plus-page script. But in all the ways that matter—his mastery of structure, his voice and vision, his recognition of the power of the word to remake the world—he stands with the finest writers of his generation, among them David Foster Wallace, Mona Simpson, Michael Chabon, Aimee Bender, Colson Whitehead and Jonathan Safran Foer. At times, he is even the best.

To experience Kaufman's work is to follow an idiosyncratic throughline in which archetypal ideas and even images emerge again and again. Toward the end of "Being John Malkovich," two characters chase one another across the landscape of John Malkovich's subconscious. (Don't ask.) One by one, they cycle through moments of half-remembered childhood—Malkovich as a boy walking in on his parents in bed; Malkovich being teased in a high school locker room; a twentysomething Malkovich trying to impress a date. The scenes cascade and tumble, as memories do, one leading to the next in an interior montage. In "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Kaufman's protagonist, Joel, tries to hide his girlfriend Clementine (or his mental projection of her) in a series of protean memories to prevent her from being erased. (Don't ask.) "Hide me somewhere deeper? Somewhere really buried? Joel, hide me in your humiliation," Clementine urges, as the walls of Joel's memory crumble, as if his very identity is at risk. "Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves—that's the truth," F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1933. "We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the time that anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before." Fitzgerald is another great American writer who knew his way around a movie set, but he never wrote anything like Kaufman has.

The notion that screenwriters are artistically legitimate is hardly a new one, although it's been out of vogue for quite a while. "I think it used to be more true," says novelist Steve Erickson, who edits the literary journal Black Clock and is the film critic for Los Angeles magazine. "People like Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges were known for the films they wrote. In fact, they became directors to protect their screenplays." Earlier this year, National Endowment for the Arts literature director David Kipen published a book titled "The Schreiber Theory," which argues that movies should be categorized by writer, not director. "Imagine a library of novels alphabetized by editor," he writes. To some extent, Kipen means to be provocative; the problem with looking at movies as writer-driven is that film is a profoundly collaborative art. "It's a very interesting situation," says Jonathan Lethem, whose novels, not unlike Kaufman's screenplays, use dark humor, pop culture and a touch of homegrown surrealism to get at deeper fascinations of his own. "I can understand the impulse to consider screenwriters as writers, but at the same time, the whole nature of screenwriting is to relinquish control. Even from the perspective of the audience, movies are different. You don't experience the story in the direct and intimate way a reader does on the page."

Kaufman, though, is the great exception. He is incapable of relinquishing control. (Indeed, he's credited as producer or executive producer on every one of his movies, with the exception of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which is as close as Kaufman gets to work-for-hire.) When we think of his projects, we think of them as Charlie Kaufman movies, not as movies directed by Michael Gondry or Spike Jonze or George Clooney. The world is his. So is the vision: a longing for control even as control eludes him, a sense that if he could only peer deeply enough within himself the very core of things might be revealed. In one of the strangest sequences in his body of work, Kaufman addresses the existential musings at the start of "Adaptation" (Why am I here? How did I get here?) by taking us back to the beginning of time. "Hollywood, California," a title reads, "Four billion and forty years earlier"—and then we're in the planetary gene pool, watching as volcanoes yield to the emergence of life and the development of human beings and cities, all sped up and culminating in the birth of a baby, who, we are left to assume, is Kaufman himself. I can't think of another screenwriter—hell, of another writer—who'd be willing to go there, to expose the naked, bawling ego at the center of his imagination, at the center of the universe.

The knock on Kaufman is that it's all a gimmick, that this is not art but manipulation, an elaborate cerebral exercise. To be fair, there's some truth to that; his most autobiographical effort, "Adaptation," portrays him as neurotic, compulsively self-doubting, unable to function, all of which is clearly an exaggeration, because otherwise he could not possibly get his movies made. And yet what else is film or literature—or any art, for that matter—if not a way of sorting out the chaos to re-create our lives? "People talk about Charlie's work as funny and crazy and goofy and weird," says Orlean, "but there's a poignancy to it also. At the heart of his writing is someone asking: Who are we? Why are we the way we are? What is the meaning of life?" For Lethem it's a kind of calculated solipsism, in which the obsessive self-absorption of the protagonist (be it Kaufman or one of his fictional alter egos) leads to a more fundamental meditation on the self. When Kaufman invents an imaginary twin, what he's really doing is deconstructing the puzzle of his own identity, splitting the atom of himself. The same is true of Joel, who rebels against the strip-mining of his memory by spiraling into the furthest reaches of his psyche. Nowhere is this more vivid than in "Being John Malkovich," where Malkovich—who is, fittingly, played by Malkovich—goes through a portal into his own consciousness only to find himself in the bottomless pit of his imagination, where everyone looks just like him. "This is purely metaphoric writing," Lethem suggests, "in the same way as Calvino, Cortázar, Borges or Pirandello. Very few writers have successfully imported that methodology. There ought to be a word for fiction that feels like allegory."

Twenty-some years ago, in the introduction to "Slow Learner," a collection of his early short stories, Thomas Pynchon (another American allegorist) reflected on what makes fiction resonate. "When we speak of 'seriousness' in fiction," he wrote, "ultimately we are talking about an attitude toward death—how characters may act in its presence, for example, or how they handle it when it isn't so immediate." It's a good point, but it overlooks the corollary, which is that at the heart of our attitude toward death is our attitude toward life. For Kaufman, life is chaos, and we have no choice but to make sense of it as best we can. Sometimes that means looking for metaphors. Sometimes that means looking at yourself. And sometimes that means looking in the most unlikely places for inspiration. As Kaufman asks in "Adaptation": "Why can't there be a movie simply about flowers?"

A movie simply about flowers. This is a defining statement, a distillation of the very way of thinking that makes Kaufman's work great. It describes an open-ended, process-oriented approach to writing, in which one poses questions as opposed to answers, which is, unfortunately, something too few movies do. Hollywood, after all, thrives on formula—now more than ever—and movies, even good ones, are made and sold as products rather than expressions of the self. This is partly the result of the collaborative nature of the medium, but even more it has to do with film as a business, as a mass-market juggernaut. "The question," Erickson asks of Kaufman, "is how did he ever get this far? Was it just a matter of 'Being John Malkovich' getting into the right hands?" Certainly, Erickson continues, Spike Jonze (who directed "Being John Malkovich" and, later, "Adaptation") was "a hot commodity," but Kaufman is still the exception that proves the rule. He has far more in common with novelists than with screenwriters. "Writing a novel," Erickson says, "is an obsessive pursuit. A novelist is essentially a control freak, trying to create the world." Such a quality defines Erickson's own work, with its relentless plumbing of the subconscious, its ability to encompass past and present and future all at once, as well as that of, say, Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace, both of whom spin intricate digressions from the simplest interactions, teasing out the complexities of even the most mundane event. Kaufman's work, says Erickson, "is all about the obsessiveness of writing. You can see it in Nick Cage's performance in 'Adaptation,' the way the writing eats him up."

The object of Kaufman's obsession is what we might call the intrinsic self, the elusive inner life. This is as true of his invented characters as it is of his autobiographical alter ego; it's hard to imagine protagonists more obsessively self-reflective than Joel, or Craig Schwartz, the puppeteer protagonist of "Being John Malkovich," whose interior reality is so pervasive that it takes over the narrative of the film. Again, this is more a literary construct than a cinematic one; the self is what contemporary literature is all about. From James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus ("History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake") to Philip Roth's Portnoy ("Look, am I exaggerating to think it's practically miraculous that I'm ambulatory? The hysteria and the superstition! The watch-its and the be-carefuls! You mustn't do this, you can't do that—hold it! don't! you're breaking an important law!"), this is the modernist impulse, the solipsism Lethem cites. Yet Kaufman amps the whole thing up by fusing inner and outer: His characters aren't just questioning the nature of identity but of reality itself. When, partway through "Being John Malkovich," Craig wonders, "What happens when a man climbs through his own portal?," this is no idle abstraction, but the essence of the film. When Joel fights back against the erasure of his memory, he's really battling time, forgetting, the inevitable loss that is encoded into our existence, like dissociative DNA. Even Kaufman's version of Chuck Barris touches on this in an opening monologue as concise and ruthless as anything in his oeuvre. "When you're young," Barris croaks, "your potential is infinite. You might do anything, really. You might be Einstein. You might be DiMaggio. Then you get to an age where what you might be gives way to what you have been. You weren't Einstein. You weren't anything. That's a bad moment."

So where does this put Kaufman in relation to his contemporaries? In his appropriation of certain pop culture tropes—such as fantasy, or even science fiction—Kaufman is very much in line with Erickson and Lethem, or, for that matter, George Saunders and the woefully under-recognized Cynthia Kadohata, who, in her evocative 1992 novel "In the Heart of the Valley of Love," imagines a 21st century Los Angeles to reflect back the dislocations of the present. There are traces of other writers too, older writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, whose fingerprints seem to be all over "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Vonnegut was misread when he was younger, labeled a science-fiction writer because his work took place in the future or involved speculative realities, when in fact this was just a strategy to address his themes. And then there's Harvey Pekar, who not only invokes the strategies of popular culture but works from deep inside them, using the immediacy of comics in much the same way Kaufman uses the immediacy of film to ask those eternal questions: Why am I here? How did I get here?

None of this would resonate, of course, were it not for structure, which is Kaufman's greatest strength. It's a commonplace that the most effective structure is that of which the reader (or audience) is least aware. But in Kaufman's work, the structure is the story, not only shaping it but informing it, giving it meaning. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" starts at the end and works backward not because it's a neat device—although it is—but because it's essential to the plot, which is about Joel's slow reawakening to all that he soon learns he almost lost. How else could one tell this story? How else to depict the Gordian knot of love and loss? It's an integrated sensibility, and without it, the movie's metaphoric and emotional power would be lost.

The same is true of "Adaptation," which ultimately becomes an action caper, albeit an action caper of a particularly postmodern sort. Here, Lethem argues, Kaufman may have "won the battle but lost the war"—a reference to the third act, which unravels what has been a story of a writer for a more metafictional inquiry into the nature of story and structure, as well as a commentary on Hollywood itself. Yet "Adaptation" is a film that deepens the more you interact with it, like (to push the metaphor) a much-loved book. The first time I saw it, I had a reaction similar to Lethem's; "Worst third act in history," I remember saying to a friend. But then I watched it again, and again, and I got what Kaufman was doing, recognized the structural integrity of the piece. The tip-off comes in the film's first five minutes, during a meeting between Kaufman and a producer, played by Tilda Swinton, in which they discuss the form the movie ought to take. That's a postmodernist turn right there, but Kaufman quickly pushes the construct even further. "I'd want to let the movie exist," his character suggests, "rather than be artificially plot driven," and when the producer asks him to elaborate, here is what he says:

Oh. I'm . . . I'm not sure I know what that means, either. Y'know, I just don't want to ruin it by making it a Hollywood thing. You know? Like an orchid heist movie or something, or, y'know, changing the orchids into poppies and turning it into a movie about drug running, you know?

He continues:

. . . I'm saying, it's, like, I don't want to cram in sex or guns or car chases. You know? Or characters learning profound life lessons. . . . Or growing, or coming to like each other, or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end. You know? I mean, the book isn't like that, and life isn't like that. It just isn't.

(beat, weakly)

I feel very strongly about this.

It's a funny scene, and it's played as comedy, with Nicolas Cage, hunched and haunted, literally wiping the sweat from his brow. Yet it's also a template, not just for the ending of the movie (which follows Kaufman's list of "don't wants" almost to the letter) but for thinking about what stories tell us and how they get told. It frames the narrative and comments on it at once. And in terms of the relationship between structure and meaning, it's as good as any piece of writing any writer, anywhere, in any form or genre, has ever done.

Here are some facts about Charlie Kaufman: He was born in 1958. He went to Boston University, then transferred to NYU, where he studied film. He wrote for the Chris Elliot sitcom "Get a Life" in 1990 and "The Dana Carvey Show" in 1996. Beginning in 1999, he wrote five movies in five years, including "Human Nature" (2001), which I've never seen. Last year his "sound play" "Hope Leaves the Theater" was performed for two nights at UCLA. At the moment he is at work on "a new project," which is all anyone will say about it. He is very private about his personal life. He is very private about his public life, too, and I wasn't surprised that he refused my requests for an interview. But really, that's just as it should be. Everything we need to know about him is on the screen.

What's important is that Kaufman takes risks, which is what all great writers aspire to do in their work. That's the real message of "Adaptation," which, Kaufman admits, was initially inspired by the apparent unsuitability of "The Orchid Thief" for the screen. "I liked it very much—I wanted to adapt it," he said in an interview published with the screenplay. "It seemed not to be a movie, which intrigued me. I liked the book and it wasn't the kind of thing that I was being sent—I was getting sent the weird stuff because I'm the weirdo. But, this was a straightforward book—very well written. I was learning things; it was about flowers—there was very little drama in it. It seemed, 'Well, it's interesting as a book, why can't it be interesting as a movie?' "

The same could be said of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," which, in re-creating Barris' story of his (purported) double life as game show host and CIA hit man, plays the gag so close to the line that we're never quite sure what the filmmakers are thinking, whether they're trying to be ironic or taking Barris at his word. In the end, this is the point entirely—that we'll never know, that perhaps Barris himself doesn't know. In that sense, Barris is a quintessential Kaufman character, less concerned with fitting into the world than in reconstructing it until it fits into him. It's a running theme in Kaufman's movies, the notion that we define our experience and not the other way around. In "Being John Malkovich," Craig seeks to inhabit Malkovich because he thinks this will make him more like the actor—confident, desirable, cool. The joke's on him, though, for the opposite happens: Malkovich becomes like Craig. In "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Clementine urges Joel to hide her deeper, but given that the landscape of the movie is his memory, who can this Clementine be if not a projection of Joel himself? If you think about this too much, it makes your head hurt . . . or, perhaps I should say, if you think about it in the wrong way. But if you go with it a little, you end up in a whole new territory, where subjectivity becomes a kind of freedom. Here we have the great theme of both modernist and postmodernist writing, and it's no stretch to argue that these are the traditions in which Kaufman belongs. That he's working in film, rather than in literature, only offers more proof of his standing, because what else do such traditions tell us than that form and genre are irrelevant, that they are arbitrary constructs?

This is a subjective era, when every story is fluid, every truth—political, personal, cultural, historical—is up for grabs. We're no longer certain even of the line between fact and fiction, actual and imaginary. For Kaufman, this is a defining issue. From John Malkovich to Susan Orlean to (yes) Charlie Kaufman, his films are full of real people in unreal situations, which raises fundamental questions about the nature of reality itself. Is it a lie to create a fictional twin and give him half a screenplay credit, as he did with Donald Kaufman, who is listed as co-author—and, indeed, was co-nominated for an Oscar—for his work on "Adaptation"? What about Kaufman's rendering of Orlean, which, among other things, suggests she had an affair with a journalism subject, when in fact she did no such thing? "It's interesting that he likes to interweave fact and fiction," Orlean says, "but it's also a very modern issue, since we live in a culture where we seem to have some confusion about what is truth and what is invention, where you can invent yourself in any number of ways."

To some extent, it's all an elaborate ruse, an expression of the postmodern sensibility, not to mention contemporary life. Still, deep within the loops of his ego and imagination, Kaufman is as serious as his subject. Why am I here? How did I get here? These are the questions to which we constantly return. Along, of course, with just one other:

Catherine Keener's in my house?

sábado, mayo 13, 2006

Coppola regresa y rejuvenece

Coppola regresa. En rigor, los dos Coppola. Sofia Coppola estará en Cannes con Marie Antoinette, con Kirsten Dunst, como la célebre reina; pero lo más sorprendente es que Francis Ford Coppola también. El rodaje ya terminó (filmó en Rumania y Bulgaria) y ahora Walter Murch está editando en San Francisco.

aqui va una nota que apareció en EL PAIS hace unos meses, cuando rodaban. Pero lo mejor son las palabras y reflexiones que hace Coppola en su "diario de rodaje" en la página web de Zoetrope. La cinta se llama Juventud sin juventud, pero lo que le interesa a Coppola es volver a fojas cero y experimentar y no "andar tan cargado": nueve años después de un film de encargo como The Rainmaker, Coppola retorna pero con algo chico.

Lo de EL PAIS:

El regreso de Coppola a los orígenes
El cineasta estadounidense inicia en Rumania el rodaje de su nueva película, 'Youth without youth', un filme de bajo presupuesto protagonizado por Tim Roth

EL PAÍS - 11-11-2005

"Yo sólo sé que en cierto momento uno tiene que regresar al principio". Ese regreso a los orígenes le ha llegado a Francis Ford Coppola a los 66 años. El director de El Padrino rueda desde hace unas semanas en Rumania y Bulgaria Youth without youth (Juventud sin juventud), una película de bajo presupuesto protagonizada por Tim Roth. "Lo mejor para mí a estas alturas de mi vida es volver a ser estudiante y hacer cine con los ojos de entonces", ha dicho el cineasta.

A través de un comunicado que emitió su productora, American Zoetrope, y de las declaraciones que el director ha realizado a la agencia Associated Press y a algún medio rumano, se sabe que con Youth without youth Coppola pretende volver a su cine más personal. La película está basada en la novela homónima del rumano Mircea Eliade. Editada en 1988 pocos años después de la muerte de su autor, la obra está ambientada en los años anteriores a la II Guerra Mundial y narra la historia de un profesor cuya vida sufre un cambio extraordinario, un cambio que atraerá la curiosidad de los nazis. "Es una parábola, una fábula, es casi una versión intelectual de Twilight zone", ha dicho Coppola. "En cierto modo, es una película de Hitchcock en la que Tim Roth sería el equivalente a Jimmy Stewart, un tipo normal que se topa con algo fascinante y grande. Me sedujo el descubrir en esta historia los temas claves que yo trato de entender mejor: el tiempo, la conciencia y la base fantástica de la realidad".

Coppola se mantenía alejado de las cámaras desde hacía ocho años. Concentrado en sus negocios de hoteles y viñedos, o en la producción de las dos películas de su hija Sofia (Lost in translation y María Antonieta), su último trabajo como director fue Legitima defensa de John Grisham (The rainmaker), de 1997. Desde entonces, el director de Golpe al corazón ha intentado sin éxito poner en pie proyectos que por una u otra razón se han quedado aparcados o en el camino. El más conocido, Megalópolis, era una superproducción de ciencia ficción situada en el Nueva York del futuro. Coppola también compró los derechos de la biblia de la generación beat, On the road, pero el proyecto de trasladar a la pantalla él mismo la novela de Jack Kerouac finalmente ha quedado en manos del brasileño Walter Salles.

El legendario cineasta asegura que regresa con una película con la que pretende limpiar su mirada. En junio, cuando viajó a Bucarest para ultimar las localizaciones, confesó ante un grupo de universitarios: "He venido aquí para redescubrirme como artista".

aqui van las palabras del propio Coppola, en su diario. Todo lo que dice es fascinante y te reflexionar sobre las carreras de mucha gente, de escritores a cineastas. Una duda personal: ¿por qué Scorsese no puede filmar algo barato?

Without what? What is missing? What could be the reason that the same person, later in life, is unable to compete with himself as a younger artist? Is anything missing at all, or is the answer simpler — that each person is given only one or two truly worthy ideas, like a couple of arrows in a quiver. When such ideas come on the scene in an exciting work of art, it appears like magic; it's news. Critics and journalists require fresh blood for their own professions, and so it's understandable that a new artist with a new idea is seized up and catapulted into fame . This is true, also, for a series of works from one artist: a trilogy or tetralogy. Aren't the fourth books of The Alexandria Quartet or Mishima's The Sea of Tranquility the weakest of the group? Could it be that the ideas and innovations of the first or second book have already been demonstrated and are played out by time the last are written? Originally, I didn't intend to make more than one Godfather film; yet economic forces at the studio were insistent: "Francis, you have the formula for Coca-Cola; are you not going to make more?" But the first film expended most of the arrows in my quiver or, more aptly, the slugs in my revolver. So, the second film had to stretch into new and more ambitious territory to show a few more; otherwise, it would have been weaker than the first. By the time the third arrived, the basic ideas that made the first fresh and excited were all but used up.

New artists sometimes arrive on the scene later in life, and with their one or two ideas burst into celebrity in their fifties with an intensity equal to that of newcomers in their twenties. Such an occurrence is rare, because usually talent of that quality is more commonly discovered early. I think of the novelist William Kennedy as an example, and I am sure there are many more.

Without conscience? The successful artist has to contend with economic issues and questions of fame that the younger artist can only fantasize about. Should I do it to make the big money or because it will make me even more famous? Those are very dangerous questions not often compatible with doing great work. Especially when there are several ex-wives and children needing to be supported by the alimony check. This is usually not a factor that the younger artist thinks much about. So is the difference between mere mortals and the pantheon of the greats I mentioned earlier, Shakespeare, Verdi, Kurosawa merely that the latter were given more than the customary one or two ideas? Or the issues of money, luxury and family were not so all-consuming? More on this subject will come soon...

I've begun to think that the only sensible way to deal with this dilemma is to become young again, to forget everything I know and try to have the mind of a student. To re-invent myself by forgetting I ever had any film career at all, and instead to dream about having one.

Certainly one advantage of 'youth' in the arts is ignorance, to know so little as to be fearless. To not grasp that certain things one may dream up are actually impossible to do. When I finished Apocalypse Now I of course thought 'If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have even tried..." Certainly old age brings 'experience' and that is not to be discounted, but in the arts, fearlessness is a more desirable genie than experience. Fearlessness is cousin to innovation, whereas experience can be the parent of fear. Once you've fallen out of the tree a few times; felt the pain of those bruised knees and suffered the embarrassment of the inevitable ridicule —it's much more difficult to be as daring in what you do, or even what you attempt to do.

So, for myself at any rate, I've decided the best course is to become an amateur and accept that I know next to nothing and love almost everything. Recently I realized that the favorite decade of my life was 50, a wonderful age for a man — at—he peak of his health and experience, yet flexible enough to enjoy and also temper it. So reluctant was I to give up being in my fifties, that I began to call myself 'fifty-ten' or 'fifty-eleven '. Now I'm 'fiftysixteen'. And so today, like some inflated East European currency that gets two zeros lopped off, I've decided to lose the '50' and just be sixteen. Next year I'll be seventeen, which is exactly the age that I was when I very seriously began to direct plays.

viernes, mayo 12, 2006

Cosas que hacen que la vida valga la pena...

Sigo recordando escenas y momentos de Allen-- ando con Allen en la cabeza:

Woody Allen en su sillón, con un grabador, y trata de seguir con su novela:

Um, tsch -- it's, uh ... well, it has to be optimistic. Well, all right, why is life worth living? That's a very good question. Um. Well, there are certain things I -- I guess that make it worthwhile. Uh, like what? Okay. Um, for me ... oh, I would say ... what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing ... uh ummmm and Willie Mays, and um, uh, the second movement of the Jupiter Symphony, and ummmm ... Louie Armstrong's recording of "Potatohead Blues" ... umm, Swedish movies, naturally ... _Sentimental Education_ by Flaubert ... uh, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra ... ummm, those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne ... uh, the crabs at Sam Wo's ... tsch, uh, Tracy's face ...

Isaac Davis : Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion - er, no, make that: he - he romanticized it all out of proportion. - Yes. - To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. - Er, tsch, no, missed out something. - Chapter One. He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on the hustle bustle of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful women and street-smart guys who seemed to know all the ankles. - No, no, corny, too corny for a man of my taste. Can we ... can we try and make it more profound? - Chapter One. He adored New York City. To him, it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams in ... - no, that's a little bit too preachy. I mean, you know, let's face it, I want to sell some books here. - Chapter One. He adored New York City, although to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud music, television, crime, garbage ... - Too angry. I don't want to be angry. - Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. - I love this. - New York was his town, and it always would be...

Tracy : Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.

Match Point

“The man who said ‘I’d rather be lucky than good’ saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net and, for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward and you win … or maybe it doesn’t and you lose.”

el comienzo de MATCH POINT, la nva de Woody Allen-- la fase inglesa-europea de Allen.
MATCH POINT, Woody regresa y gana 6-0, 6-0, 6-0

Windsor EF Light Condensed-- la tipografia de un idolo

nada-- ayer hablé con Woody Allen x fono. GRAN día. GRAN DIA. En rigor, lo entrevisté; el artículo será para el próximo WIKEN. Más pronto... pero le pregunté por su tipografía.

Casi todas las cintas, a partir de LOVE AND DEATH, es decir, La última noche de Boris Grushenko, han partido con la tipografia WIndoor EF Light Condensed... excepto Manhattan que no tiene créditos sino una gloriosa secuencia al son de Gershwin. Todas sus cintas terminan con los mismos créditos, blanco sobre negro, con esa misma tipografía.

domingo, mayo 07, 2006

Herzog opina sobre Herzog

"Poor filmmakers will often move the camera about unnecesarily and use flashy tricks and an excess of cuts because they know their material is not strong enough to sustain a passive camera"

Herzog on Herzog
editado por Paul Cronin