Hello again The Explainer. Explainer me this: Who or what is a Charlie Kaufman?
Charlie Kaufman is very much a Who; a writer, director and producer of oddball movie films such as this week’s magical, excellent Anomalisa.
A Gnome, Elisa?
No, cloth ears, Anomalisa. I’m not explaining the title to you now; you’ll have to watch the film.
Righto. Is it a case of crazy title, crazy film?
Well it’s not like anything else you’ve seen, put it that way. It’s a stop-motion animated story about the angst of feeling alone and finding that special someone, and is already infamous for containing some pretty graphic puppet nookie.
I say! Like an R-rated Muppets?
No, thank God, but that’s exactly the kind of film Kaufman could write. His perpendicular worldview has produced unconventional films like Being John Malkovich Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York.
Quite the fan of hard-to-pronounce titles, isn’t he?
He just likes to do things differently, and we should salute him for it. Few people would think to set a film inside John Malkovich’s head, or write a film about themselves and their fictional twin struggling to write a film, as Kaufman did with metatextual noodle-baker Adaptation. Basically if it’s crippling alienation, existential anxiety and brain-frying self-reflexivity you’re after, Charlie’s your (Kauf)man.
You’re making my head hurt. Isn’t this all a bit too weird?
Well, while Kaufman’s films enjoy enormous popularity among critics and lovers of cult films, they certainly don’t attract the box office of your average superhero blockbuster. Synecdoche, New York grossed three million dollars in the US from a 20 million dollar budget, perhaps because its fractal storytelling was a little too “out there” for many people.
Also, presumably, because punters couldn’t say the title out loud when they were buying tickets.
Quite possibly. But the upshot was that Kaufman stayed away from filmmaking for the best part of seven years, and initially relied on Kickstarter to get Anomalisa made.
Oh dear. Did he do a paper round and wash a few neighbours’ cars too?
Not as far as I’m aware, although he has given the odd lecture on screenwriting, which is as funny and self-deprecating as you’d expect. Not sure that pays enough to finance an entire motion picture though.
So how do I bluff my way as a hardcore Kauf-fan?
You could pretentiously claim to have seen Anomalisa on the stage, a production which starred the same cast as the film (David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan) but did not feature any puppet rumpy-pumpy. Or you could hunt down the 2001 film Human Nature, which he wrote for Michel Gondry to direct. It’s about a psychologist, an overly-hirsute lady and a man who thinks he’s an ape.
This sounds a lot like that R-rated Muppets movie. Is it any good?
Not really, no.
So what’s next for the C-Kauf?
Don’t call him that. It’s safe to assume he’s got a few more scripts in his pocket: we know of one called Frank And Francis, a musical about a screenwriter and his internet-based, hate-spewing nemesis. It sounds amazing and was meant to be his post-Synecdoche, New York project, but that film’s failure scuppered it for the time being. Other than that he has a TV pilot called How And Why, which he’s trying to sell if you have a few quid lying around?
Wait, are you even listening to me?
Sorry, I’m still thinking about an R-rated Muppets.
Anomalisa is released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th March.
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