Sunday, September 9, 2012

Charlie Kaufman and Richard Kelly

Remaining immersed in various forms of art is a good idea for any writer or artist.  As I've said before, I think, a writer cannot hope to create anything worthwhile, or at least anything fulfilling his potential, if he writes in a vacuum.  A writer needs external stimulation so that his skill and imagination constantly receive new content.  Writing always will assure that a writer's skill and imagination do not rust, but the external stimulation assure that his writing does not repeat the same boring formulations over and over again.  I wish I could insert a footnote here because repeating is not necessarily a bad thing: if a writer has a core principle, belief, creed, or whatever, every word will be a repetition despite new themes and characters and ideas, and that is good; but repetition otherwise is the worst.  Boring repetition produces one-hit wonders, or worse, no-hit-wonders-that-weren't-actually-ever-wonderful. 

Some of my posts have been about the things that I read for that stimulation but I have yet to discuss what I watch for that stimulation.  Like with everything I do, I much prefer stimulation that won't also dumb me down.  Pure entertainment is good every now and then, but a) I do my best not to make it a habit and, b) there are plenty of sources of pure entertainment that are also clever, or at least not ridiculous in some way.  So Twilight, or anything similar, is out because it's silly and encourages silly notions and behavior, especially in romantic relationships; most reality shows are also out because they aren't interesting, at least not anymore when the whole world seems occupied by "reality" shows, often subject you to various levels of stupidity, and prey on the listlessness and typical American desire to be unthinking, lazy, obnoxious, and self-serving; and anything that contains too much violence, especially comedies where violence has no place (violence is NOT funny, yet the trend nowadays is to include violence as often as possible in comedy films), usually shut me off.

What, then, do I watch?  Well, I'll point you to two film writers/directors whose films should be seen and enjoyed by all.

First of all, I think that Scorsese is the best director out there right now.  I can't comment on Kubrick or Hitchcock or any other American director working primarily before 1980 because, honestly, I have not seen many American films prior to that date.  I'm only 25, for goodness sakes.  I'm working on it, but still, so far most films made prior to 1980 that I've seen are foreign.  Don't ask me why that is, but that's been my habit heretofore.

Ok, Richard Kelly.  Based on the rules of good literature I should mention Kaufman first because I listed him first in the title, but I decided that I'd rather leave him for last because he's so brilliant.  Richard Kelly is perhaps most famous for Donnie Darko.  As with all his films, he both wrote and directed the film with the scary bunny on the cover.  Without question Donnie Darko is my favorite movie of all-time and may always be for its themes developed in a mind-bending way.  Other films you might know him by are The Box and Southland Tales.  Each film is much like the others in that Kelly likes to play with your head, create a sense of mystery, and throw in a bunch of symbols and things that he himself admits he doesn't know the meaning of.  I think of the poet Dylan Thomas saying that he wrote poetry by placing words together that sounded good with the others and worried about the meaning later.  That's the type of poetry I love most and I guess it's also the kind of film that I love most.  I am thrilled with entertaining images but my mind is always working making connections or simply allowing itself to be provoked.

Charlie Kaufman is perhaps the most brilliant writer to enter the film industry.  Usually the director deserves most of the credit, if not all, for the quality of a film, but Kaufman reverses that trend by only screenwriting.  You might know him for a lot of films: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (which includes one of my favorite actors as the main character, Sam Rockwell).  But his best films, in my humble opinion, that absolutely must be seen are Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York.  I can't really describe these films except to say that they are equally entertaining as the other films but far more intellectual, unique, and just plain brilliant.  Really I can't urge the viewing of these latter two films enough, particularly Adaptation.  Watch all his films, though, and your life will never be the same.  Seriously.  Kaufman's writing is so creative that you, like the characters in his films, will not be able to think of reality the same way again.  Indeed, all of his films question what makes up reality, what makes up our identity, what is the meaning of life, without ever asking any of these questions as in one of those totally uninteresting films whose sole purpose is to ask some lofty question but lacks any aesthetic qualities.  No, Kaufman is like a philosopher who writes novels: rocking your mind and you don't even know it.  You are too caught up in the characters and story and what will happen next to realize that the texture of life is being re-molded. 

Of course, you can watch a Kaufman or Kelly film and simply think afterward, "Wow, that was good," or simply, "That was good, I liked it," and move on.  Or you might ask some questions about the film hoping that you can make sense of it, and then either make sense of it and move on or conclude that it doesn't make sense and that's stupid.  Well, for one thing, I don't think it's stupid to include symbols left and right that don't necessarily have a singular focus, as long as it's not overdone or too obvious or doesn't go anywhere.  Therefore I don't think we should simply "make sense" of a piece of art or demand that art make sense.  If the art is art, then it is art.  Easy as pie.  And if the art is art, then all you can ask of it is that it brings you aesthetic joy or mental provocation.  Both of these, but particularly mental provocation, are what I look for in the things that I watch.

Obviously, being a huge Boston sports fan (in the case of college sports, I'm a Big East fan, NOT a Boston College fan), so I watch a lot of sports.  Otherwise, though, most of what I watch is intended to experience art that is art that can stimulate my mind for better writing.  Even if I weren't a writer, however, my tastes would be the same because I hate the prospect of a dumbed-down society like that in Wall-E, which unfortunately seems inevitable, even with my great genius entering the world.

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