In preparation for this Thursday's release of Charlie Kaufman's latest movie, Anomalisa, I’ve been rewatching ALL THE FILMS (six films) written and directed by the critically acclaimed, eccentric screenwriter (and sometimes director). I saw most them in the theater as they came out, and felt okay about them—but this time, as I’m watching them, I’m noticing all this nuance I never saw before. Am I coming around to Charlie Kaufman? Am I just stoned? Of course I’m stoned. Weed is legal now.
So I’ve been watching the Kaufman films stoned and I love it. Have you guys tried this? I think I GET Charlie Kaufman in a way I never have before! All you Blogtowns are invited to smoke along with me and get into the comments your their similar insights/freakouts! Today we’ll start with:
This was on Amazon Prime for free! Finding out you can watch movies on Amazon Prime is like finding out someone has been paying for you to have health insurance. The whole time you’re backing slowly out of the room like, “Thank you. Thank you. I’m not paying for this.”
Adaptation (2002) is a real weird movie. It’s based on a real book, The Orchid Thief, and tells the story of a screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) dealing with his writer’s block because he can’t write a simple movie script and can only write largely fanciful, meta scripts. The Orchid Thief book is real. It exists. It's about orchids and the thieving of them and in 1994 Charlie Kaufman really was asked to write a screenplay about it. This is the screenplay he ended up with. It includes a fictitious twin brother (also played by Cage) and a character named Susan Orlean (the author of The Orchid Thief) hunting both of them through an alligator-filled swamp. I’m almost too stoned to really be telling you all this but I will come back and edit this post while sober.
It took a lot of negotiation to get the real Susan Orlean (who did not hunt anyone through an alligator-filled swamp) to allow this movie to be made. I think having Spike Jonze back in the director’s seat may have helped. I wonder if a movie about her book was ever properly made. Or someone else tried to do it and we ended up with Mud?
Stoned impressions: The movie begins with the history of life on Earth so far, as Kaufman tries to orient his story in causation. I immediately had to put a pillow over my face. Conceptualizing the eons freaks me out. I don’t know if I’m ever going to come to terms with it but I do worry that being bad at conceptualizing mortality makes me a bad feminist.
Let's address that I don't think Catherine Keener is famous even though everyone in this movie keeps talking about her like she is. What was she even in? She's probably a well-respected but underappreciated indie actress at best, like Parker Posey or Maggie Gyllenhaal. [Editor's note: Suzette, Catherine Keener starred in Being John Malkovich, which you JUST watched.]
Oh good, Maggie Gyllenhaal is in this movie. Maggie Gyllenhaal is like the dimpled marshmallow in a movie’s hot chocolate. (The hot chocolate is the movie itself.)
I couldn't tell if the Seminole character that talks to Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) while she's doing research for her book was just a terrible actor trying to affect stereotypical Native American mannerisms but it turned out he is a great actor affecting being stoned. He just tells her he’s behaving strangely because he’s Native American. This makes me like his character a ton because I pretend I’m too stoned when I want to get out of boring conversations.
I wonder who made these crazy bee-shaped orchids. That was someone’s job! Every time you see something that doesn’t exist in the world, in a film, someone who went to art school made that:
"What are you doing lately?"
"Oh, I’m working on this bee/orchid thing for a Spike Jonze movie."
"The skateboarding guy?"
"Yeah, but he makes movies now."
It’s important to realize that every writing technique in this movie that the Charlie Kaufman character hears about (even if he appears disdainful of it) exhibits itself by the end of the film. I think this is my favorite Kaufman script for that reason. I’m still looking for the continual visual motif he discusses halfway through. Does anyone see it?
CONFESSIONS OF DANGEROUS MIND
Now that I’ve seen Human Nature, I realize Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) is not, in fact, the most boring of all the Kaufman screenplays. I wonder if this is the kind of screenplay Kaufman was trying to write when he was working on The Orchid Thief—a straightforward narrative without too much existential shit. Confessions is his least fragmented piece to date, although theoretically it’s all hallucinated as former The Gong Show host Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) stands nude in front a television screen and his girlfriend Penny (Drew Barrymore) tries to talk him out of his hotel room.
Bryan Singer almost directed this film but decided to do X-Men 2 instead so this is George Clooney’s directorial debut. He also got Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore to work for less, because friendship!
Stoned impressions: Oh my god, the color filtering in this film. George Clooney, why? I’m trying to give it a shot. Chuck Barris was a notoriously unreliable narrator. He claimed to have been working as a CIA assassin at the same time that he was doing The Gong Show. I’m trying to figure out if the sepia and extreme color-filtered moments are related to the unreliable narration. I think that’s the only reason it would be acceptable (and even that is debatable).
Even though I am very stoned, the opening montage about women refusing to sleep with Chuck Barris is totally insufferable. I wish that society were at a place where we could admit that tricking someone into sleeping with you is fucked up. Everyone still thinks it’s funny. That guy tricked her! Har har. It’s so weirdly insidious. Is the point of this opening montage to paint Chuck Barris as a pathetic, manipulative person? I think this montage is too sympathetic, and the sympathy is difficult to excuse. Even stoned. Even while stoned.
My friend turns to me while I’m fuming and notes, “I love it when there’s an actual record scratch sound effect in a movie.” This movie employs the record scratch sound effect at multiple intervals.
This film is nostalgic for a bullshit era when television was mostly staffed by white men in suits. It so hard telling everyone apart. They may as well be Smurfs. We must encourage diversity if for no other reason than because a scene full of old white guys talking business isn’t visually interesting at all.
There’s always this opening shot of a Hollywood party that, to establish the extravagance of the party, takes place poolside with one or two women actually swimming in the pool. Logically though, this nostalgia is undoubtedly based on the drunkest women from Hollywood parties:
"Oh god, Diane’s in the pool again?"
So far the chronology of this experience has been one good film, one bad film. The friend that I watched Confessions with strongly disagrees that Confessions was bad. I may just not like it. It's highly possible I would never have liked any movie about Chuck Barris. I'm open to that.
TOMORROW! Come back, because I'll be getting stoned and watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind!