To my loyal readers,
Thanks so much for your patience with my rather infrequent blog posts of late and kind words of encouragement in e-mail, as I try to finish this film project that took up WAY more time than expected.
But on to the subject at hand! To this day, I get curious e-mails referencing my script review of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York and politely wondering if I’ve finally seen the film.
Yes, I’ve seen it. God help me, I’ve seen it.
I kept putting it off. I finally had to ask myself, “Why are you so scared to watch this film?” So I tried to articulate the reasons: because the script was the most deeply excruciating read of my entire life; because I felt emotionally tortured by all of those constant deaths and suicides; because there were many scenes I didn’t want to see, like all the various shades and colors of Caden’s shit, like the moment in the script when Hazel hits a dog with her car, runs over to it, and we are forced to see the bloody, gory mess of that poor dog, which was still alive and whimpering, or like the moment with the Salvation Army Santa spastically clawing at his own beard and revealing a tortured blue face right before he gasps and dies.
And then I thought, “ya know, those are damn good reasons.”
I sucked it up. I cracked open an Evan Williams single barrel straight bourbon whiskey bottle, the black label, and drank my way through it.
1) Reading a screenplay is always a much more intimate experience than watching a movie. Don’t you think? You have the words of the script dancing in your head and you’re participating more in the experience of the story as you’re visualizing what’s on the page. I think you’re more deeply affected by reading a story than watching it.
2) Interesting how your feelings about a character can change when you put a quality actor in that role. On the page, I hated Caden with every fiber of my being. He was passive to the point of extremes. He let the things that are important in life slip through his hands. As a man, he offends me. He is the poster child for everything an artist (or a man) should not do, what not to say, and how not to live your life. Yet, I love watching Philip Seymour Hoffman. So what’s the result of this weird combination? Caden wasn’t as unbearable on the screen as he was on the page. At times, I almost felt for the big oaf, but mostly, I wanted to give him a swift kick in the ass. I guess, for me, there is value in watching the film if you view Caden as a tragic figure and walk away feeling that you don’t want to make the same mistakes he made.
To Kaufman’s credit, much of the finished film was different than what I read in his 152-page emotional lobotomy of a screenplay to the point where many of my complaints were actually addressed. There were fewer death scenes, only one or two shots of Caden’s shit, no dead dog, and no blue-faced Santa clawing at his beard. Whew! Without a doubt, there were isolated scenes of brilliance, but the story as a whole left me... less depressed than when I read the script.
Ebert gave the film four stars. He said, “This is a film with the richness of great fiction. Like Suttree, the Cormac McCarthy novel I'm always mentioning, it's not that you have to return to understand it. It's that you have to return to realize how fine it really is. The surface may daunt you. The depths enfold you. The whole reveals itself, and then you may return to it like a talisman.”
Another critic I enjoy reading, James Berardinelli, said of the film, “I walked out of Synecdoche, New York feeling frustrated and a little cheated. If I look hard enough, I'm sure I could find something meaningful in the wreckage, but I don't feel compelled to dig through the detritus. Kaufman is inviting meaning-seekers to enjoy his masturbatory ride. He has sacrificed plot, character, and logic on the altar of self-aggrandizement. Yes, parts of the film work. Individual scenes are funny, or poignant, or thought-provoking. But the picture as a whole is a mess. Some will call this art. I'll content myself with thinking of it as an ambitious misstep by a creative individual who failed to realize what he was trying to represent.”
All I know is that I will read or listen to anything anyone has to say about the film, but I hope to never see it again.