Sunday, October 3, 2010


Needing a break last night, I watched a movie I'd DVRd a couple weeks ago. Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. I'd loved it when it first came out in 2002, a time when I was deeply engaged in, nearly obsessed with, writing my first novel, but felt frustrated at having no other writers to discuss it with. This time--I loved it again! And I'll discuss it with you!

Briefly, because I have a busy day ahead and also because I can't claim to know anything about film as an art form; my reaction to this movie is all about one aspect, the aspect that seems to me to be central but I don't know if I'm right.

Anyway, to me this is a gloriously slant movie about creativity. About the impossible terror and horror of creating art. The story itself, all about "Charlie Kaufman"'s excruciating efforts to write a screenplay adaptation of New Yorker writer Susan Orlean's bestselling nonfiction book The Orchid Thief, all the while being driven up the wall by his doofus freeloading hack of a twin brother's concomitant effort to write his own derivative action-thriller-drivel screenplay, is hilarious and strangely touching. The scenes with Charlie berating himself in voiceovers about his failures as a writer, a few passages of which I'll share below, are priceless. I think any writer would probably react as I did, loving, recognizing, wallowing along with Charlie in the torture of art. And there's the question of how or whether to "adapt"; the movie teases out multiple meanings of that word, all of them fascinating. Ultimately, there's a brilliant turn as the plot plays out the alternative against which Charlie had struggled for the first two-thirds of the film, taking the road he wanted so desperately not to take, the road he'd tried so hard to turn away from in his quest to strike out in an original direction and find some new means of creative expression. So that the movie ends as a full-on satire of--or, you might say, a full-on ironic plunge into--all that is commercial, trite, lowest-common-denominator-shallow about Hollywood's product. With that, with Charlie and his movie becoming all he'd never wanted himself or his art to be but what Hollywood rewards with money and fame, with this adaptation to the way of the world, the movie ultimately becomes a profound meditation on what it is (and is not) to be an artist. What it means to stay true to your vision, or not.

I'll note here that I've had mixed feelings about other Charlie Kaufman movies I've seen. The other one that I loved was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which has as much to say about love, and in as new a way, as Adaptation has to say about art. On the other hand, I found Being John Malkovich misogynist. And I can't even begin to list my objections to the abysmal mess that is Synecdoche, New York.

Never mind that, let me finish with this, some lines from Adaptation. All are in voiceover, from the mind of the character Charlie Kaufman as he's trying to write the screenplay. The first is as he first sits down at the keyboard to begin.
Begin. How to start? I'm hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me, I think. I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. OK. So I need to establish the themes. Maybe banana nut. That's a good muffin. [He writes four or five sentences.] I need a break.
OMG--this is so me! Every time I sit down to write!

Later, as he stares at another blank page:
I have no understanding of anything else but my own panic and self-loathing and pathetic little existence. It's like the only thing I'm actually qualified to write about is myself.
Who hasn't felt this way? Finally, with my long, ongoing failure to get my first novel published, I can't help but relate to this.
My jaunt into the abyss brought me nothing. Well, isn't that just the risk one takes for attempting something new?
That's the spirit! That's the ticket! We carry on. As we must.

I won't be blogging again until at least late this week, possibly not till next week. I'll be on the couch eating bonbons for a couple days after taking care of a minor medical matter and then once I'm back at work it's back to the couch each evening, legs up, no computer. Till then, then, toodles.