Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Charlie Kaufman analysed

In The LA Times, David L. Ulin looks at the work of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and the artistic status of screenwriters in general.
The notion that screenwriters are artistically legitimate is hardly a new one, although it's been out of vogue for quite a while. "I think it used to be more true," says novelist Steve Erickson, who edits the literary journal Black Clock and is the film critic for Los Angeles magazine. "People like Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges were known for the films they wrote. In fact, they became directors to protect their screenplays." Earlier this year, National Endowment for the Arts literature director David Kipen published a book titled "The Schreiber Theory," which argues that movies should be categorized by writer, not director. "Imagine a library of novels alphabetized by editor," he writes. To some extent, Kipen means to be provocative; the problem with looking at movies as writer-driven is that film is a profoundly collaborative art. "It's a very interesting situation," says Jonathan Lethem, whose novels, not unlike Kaufman's screenplays, use dark humor, pop culture and a touch of homegrown surrealism to get at deeper fascinations of his own. "I can understand the impulse to consider screenwriters as writers, but at the same time, the whole nature of screenwriting is to relinquish control. Even from the perspective of the audience, movies are different. You don't experience the story in the direct and intimate way a reader does on the page."
Thanks to Billy Mernit for the link - he has his own reflections on Kaufman's work.
I've hung out with Charlie on at least half a dozen occasions -- he and his wife are friendly with a couple near and dear to me -- but to say I "know" him with any great conviction would be to kid myself. He's famously difficult to get to know, a wary, guarded kind of fellow, and despite a number of conversations with the guy, he remains as mysterious to me as ever.

But I think I do know where he's coming from. It's not from trying to follow industry trends, or from how do I get an agent and sell my script for a million dollars? It's not from "what page is my first act turning point supposed to be on?" or from trying to second-guess What They're Looking For. He comes from, you know, a personal place.

Where the passion lives.

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