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In honour of the great great great P.S. Hoffman, here is a repost of my notes after seeing this strange masterpiece. What I find characteristic in these notes: I did not  single out Hoffman, did not even mention him. Despite his larger-than-life-ness and his ability to steal scenes (how much better did the latest Hunger Games film get as soon as he entered the scene!), most of the time his presence and skill was serving the greater cause of the story, and Synechdoche, New York may be his prime achievement in this respect. He is omnipresent, and yet he is subjected to the script, he plays a vain and God-like theatre director, and does not show any vanity in doing so. The actor Hoffman does not seek to dominate the story, but allows it to push him about as needed. Ah, what a loss!    

An acclaimed director sets his mind on the development of a new play. A lifetime later, he has found out a lot of things about life, universe, himself, and the nature of the beast.

I was wondering what to do with my own stupid decision of placing a plot summary at the beginning of every single movie review for a while … no, it’s not reviews in the first place, it’s comments and remarks and things to remind me of what the film was about when I come back to think about it years later. So: no review, but a plot summary – and that for “Synecdoche, New York”…. way to go. What I will remember about this film – or the aspects about it that will help me remember, are:

  • Every character comes up a couple of times, being replaced with their respective older iteration, while a replacement for the younger one comes in.
  • The set of the stage play is a massive brick complex in New York, sitting like a fat walrus in the middle of what looks like Brooklyn – and that building takes on a life of its own, growing with the play, getting modified according to the ever evolving script, new walls coming in and down.
  • Which leads to the script: the director uses his life as a model for the play, reenacting the cornerstones word by word.
  • His assistant and love of his life, running around each other for what seems to be a decade.

“Charlie Kaufman is one of the few truly important writers to make screenplays his medium. David Mamet is another. That is not the same as a great writer (Faulkner, Pinter, Cocteau) who writes screenplays. Kaufman is writing in the upper reaches with Bergman.” This is quite a sentence by Roger Ebert, not just because of the praise it involves, but in particular because of the appreciation of screen-writing as art, as truly artistic authorship. And how many screen writers are well-known, stars in their own right even? Not too many, William Goldman comes to mind, but the one superstar is Charlie Kaufman, so maybe he has defined a new segment of artistry.

The amazing thing about “Synecdoche” is that I indulged in what I felt to be an absolutely fantastic movie experience without having a clue why I thought so. I have my troubles following plot lines and character interrelations under the best of circumstances, I am the worst possible audience for all those mafia setups where you have three generations of family links wrapped in an international drug trading plot – because I just do not remember the names and faces quickly enough to realise that the woman I see sleeping with the family doyen is the one I just five minutes ago saw getting married to the Japanese yakuza warrior… so imagine how helpless I am with all those overlapping time layers and doubling and tripling of characters through bent time-space continua? In the words of the South Park experts: just AWESOME!

Who gives a damn where and when we are, whether it is reality we are observing, or reality’s replay as written into the script, or the reliving of the script reality by life itself? I don’t. I let the magnificence of the scenery and the richness of this life overwhelm me, trust the author-director not to mock me without need, and feel that I am somehow witnessing cinema at its largest.
Read somebody competent trying to explain the movie’s greatness here (Ebert) and here (NYT).

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  1. By Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman 2015) | thomas4cinema on 05 Jan 2016 at 11:30 am

    […] a pleasure to see what Charlie Kaufman comes up with. Whether the result is utterly genius (like “Synechdoche”) or a brilliant slight (like “John Malkovich”), there is hardly anybody who pushes the art of […]

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