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and then suddenly he receives a MacArthur “genius” grant

with one comment

!!!!

Synecdoche, N.Y. Well, yes. And there’s lots for me to say about it, I think, but most of it’s still working its way out. And, look, I understand that there’s a certain (hohoho) degree of identification that’s at work in how I watched the thing.

But one thing for now.

One thing that is amazing is how hard Kaufman goes at, among so many others but in particular, Lars Von Trier and David Lynch. With Von Trier: Kaufman enframes the gesture of staging the epical theatrical work on the unfinished floor of the unfinished studio space, in effect thematizing and really psycho/aesthetico-pathologizing the primary formal conceit of LVT’s semi-completed, seemingly-halted two part triology. All of these actors carrying on daily life insanely in an unmarked, inapproriate production space in SNY slips into what it perhaps always was: not just a Brechtian estrangement technique, but more pressingly a seriously belated estrangement technique that slides over into directorial sadism verging on the pervvy interest in making people perform ordinary actions as if unobserved and in inappropriate locales. (The bit where Cotard [spoiler!] sees his daughter performing behind glass would be the underscoring echo here…)

I even wonder if the little tiny traumwitz about the set of twins with three names isn’t a sort of crosshanded smack at Von Trier and the fact that the third part of USA – Land of Opportunities trilogy has a name but no substantial presence. Three names for two films. And throwing Emily Watson into film – who’s never quite lived up to her early performance in Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves – only underscores what Kaufman is working through here….

With Lynch: Kaufman appropriates the movie-as-screen-fantasy-for-inappropriate-desire and relegates it to the status of just one of many possibilities for the ultimate “meaning” of the film. Further, it is distinctly a “relegation” because repressed or not-quite repressed homosexuality of the protagonist is perhaps the least interesting possibility of the many on offer. When (spoiler, I guess) Cotard’s daughter asks him for an apology for running off to have “anal sex” with his homosexual lover, we feel that we’ve arrived at a place where reductive resolution to the questions on offer in the film has been offered to us, and we’re glad when the film moves past it. In short, Synecdoche exposes the ultimate reductive simplicity of Mulholland Drive (lost Hollywood, yes, fucked up love affair, yes, broken career, sure) – which is an incredibly ballsy and unexpected bit of meta-critique, and incredibly effective for its ballsiness and unexpectedness.

(Oh, and the old lady in the hall outside his ex-wife’s apartment is the lady from Mulholland Drive, Coco, right? Sorry – I have crap for internet tonight, so my research opps are a bit crimped…)

He hits these two very, very hard, I think, while at the same time swiping enough from them that the entire film comes to seem to be something paradoxically like a retaliatory homage, a devastating genuflection. There’s lots of other meta-theatrical and cinematic work to talk about, ranging from the small but lovely joke about Harold Pinter at the start of the thing to the amazing homage to Samuel Beckett at the end.

Truly, the metatextual stuff is the easiest thing to talk about – there are way better things to take up. Not the least of which is Kaufman’s presentation of the particular sort of mental / spiritual illness whose primary symptom is having a career that teeters between miserable local productions (whether staged at the Schenectady community playhouse or they feature Nicholas Cage) and impossible ambition bent (but distractedly so) on nothing less than world encompassing hypermimesis (there’s 17 million people in the world and each one of them…) that nonetheless resolves down to death and dating. And further, CK’s contextualization of this malady in turn as a symptom of a particular sort of white male early middle-agedness and early-middle-aged life-situation is, well, similar at least to one of the barely but all-too-visible subthemes of this blog, among many, many other things.

Trying to work this shit out while living in a dying old company town upstate is at once something I’m intimately familar with (I’ve heard the local academics talking seasonal poetry on NPR, yes I have) and a consumately American theme that touches on the less-than-volatile relationship between intellectual and material production in the era of diminishing returns, returns that just keep diminishing and on all fronts at once.

Oh, and how all that there relates to an unstinting preoccupation with dystopian collapse. Yep, that’s there too. Jesus.

More when I can.

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 23, 2008 at 8:00 pm

One Response

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  1. It’s not Coco; Mulholland Drive was that actresses’ final screen role.

    Your Lynch-related comments seem a stretch to me at the moment – but Lars (von) Trier is a definite and purposeful target/reference.

    Today I read an essay that included a section on the history of beauty in art, and the intrusion of the not-beautiful into art during the 20th century. This not-beauty aims at a laying bare of certain conditions that cannot be laid bare by beauty alone (I’m relying at least partially on Heidegger’s aesthetics here). What’s most interesting to me about Synecdoche is the way Kaufman calls out other artists and art-making in general for some combination of disingenousness and/or failure – while also indicting himself, and his very project that is doing the calling out.

    Dave

    December 24, 2008 at 5:44 am


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