Charlie Kaufman’s Defense of Movie

B, the storyteller of Charlie Kaufman’s book Antkind, is B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, a bald, middle-aged film critic with bottle-top glasses and a streaming Whitmanesque beard, who goes just by his lone preliminary so as “not to wield my maleness as a weapon.” B is the worst sort of performative white male culture critic, knowing what to state openly and trashing those who do not, all while tortuously trying to hide his own archly regressive character. He lets most Black individuals he meets understand immediately that he has had a Black sweetheart, however just as quickly dismisses any concept you might have that he’s Jewish. He rails about hazardous masculinity in the films of Pee-wee Herman, however leaves snipy, argumentative comments– anonymously, obviously– on his estranged child’s blog.


by Charlie Kaufman

Random Home, 720 pp., $3000

It’s these wild swings in attitude that notify B’s unhinged film criticism, where he provides an outsize sense of competitive superiority to filmmakers and just sees what flatters his ego as acceptable. Even just deciding about where to get coffee activates him:

Starbucks is the clever coffee for dumb people. It’s the Christopher Nolan of coffee. Dunkin’ Donuts is lowbrow, genuine. It is the simple, real satisfaction of a Judd Apatow motion picture. Not showing off. Actual. Human. Do not compete with me, Christopher Nolan. You will always lose. I know who you are, and I know I am the smarter people.

B feels similarly exceptional to his readers and audiences. At one point, he discusses the 7 various types of viewings he needs of a film prior to discussing it. He describes the first phase as seeing it without the help of his vast cinematic knowledge, as a typical spectator would, which he calls, “the Anonymous Ape Experience.”

Besides a love of Judd Apatow films, B’s other cinematic passion is his abiding hatred for the films of Charlie Kaufman. B considers Kaufman a pompous, condescending intellectual poser who cares nothing for the commoner (not unlike B himself). He calls his Kaufman lecture, “I Vote With My Feet When It Concerns Kaufman.” He finds Synecdoche, New York “a tortuous, tortuous yawn,” and calls Kaufman “a beast, plain and easy, however a monster uninformed of his staggering ineptitude.”

These indictments of Charlie Kaufman are not a huge surprise in a Charlie Kaufman story, as they take us into the self-reflexive area main to a lot of his writing. B’s rants about Kaufman are usually stressed by slapstick: birds defecating on him, B getting whacked on the side of the head with slabs of wood brought by awkward Laurel and Hardy– like workers who all of a sudden reverse, or B repeatedly falling into any close-by open manhole (” personhole,” as he calls them) into rivers of human waste. Disasters occur so often that even B thinks he has a tormentor, some hidden force that keeps him from happiness– maybe Kaufman himself. That’s because, ultimately, Antkind is an argument in between B and Kaufman about art and funny.

Charlie Kaufman is best known as the author of Being John Malkovich, Adjustment, co-author of Eternal Sunlight of the Clean Mind(for which he won an Oscar), writer-director of Synecdoche, New York, and co-director of the animated feature movie, Anomalisa Kaufman’s movies are not populated by slick, polished individuals. He focuses on males like B, a type James Thurber called “the beat male.” Smart, upset, socially inefficient, semi-talented, they constantly stay tantalizingly near success. Kaufman examines their lives in self-reflexive realities and double identities, like John Cusack magically seeing the world through the ubersuccessful John Malkovich’s eyes or Nicholas Cage, as the annoyed screenwriter in Adaptation, challenged by his pleasant dope of a twin brother, who turns out to be a wildly effective studio film writer.

B is entirely unknown, however in Antkind he lastly comes across his chance at reaching the top of the important world. On a visit to a Florida Everglades film organization, he discovers that his next-door neighbor, a 120- year-old African American filmmaker named Ingo Cuthbert, has actually independently finished a decades-long production of a stop-motion puppet movie with a running time of three months– and B is the only person to have actually ever seen it. He immediately recognizes Ingo’s life’s work as an opportunity for himself. “This is too good to be real: ancient, reclusive, eccentric, most likely psychotic African-American filmmaker. Outsider art, unquestionably. I have stumbled onto something magnificent. Visions of Darger dance in my head,” B thinks. “I can spin this into anthropological gold. I can dine out on this for the rest of my life. Lastly I can pry open the prudish legs of Cahiers du Cinema.

B enjoys the film, but quickly after he views it, Ingo passes away. B loads the more than 10,00 0-reel print onto a U-Haul, along with all of Ingo’s notebooks and puppets, and heads north, imagining the glory that awaits him in “New york city’s famed Film Criticism District (7th between 25 th and the middle of the block facing prosperous, east side of the street).” Regrettably, Ingo’s only print is on extremely flammable nitrate film stock, and B’s truck bursts into flames. 3 months later, B wakes from his horrible injuries and medically induced coma and now can’t even remember Ingo’s movie, much less present it to the world. It’s in his trying to reconstruct Ingo’s work of art, from a single surviving frame, via hypnosis-induced recuperated memories and his waking, and dreaming life, and its multiple variations of truth, that the unique becomes clearly Kaufman.

Charlie Kaufman did not begin his career as a filmmaker but as a comedy author for the National Lampoon, then on 1990 s sitcoms like Get a Life and Ned & Stacey, up until Being John Malkovich introduced his movie career. Comedy– Kaufman’s meaning of it, Apatow’s, its usages, and B’s hatred of it– is a big part of the discussion of Antkind. Kaufman steeps the book with recommendations to unknown comedy like the 3 Stooges’ foil Vernon Damage, a functioning comedy hotel based upon the one in Roscoe Arbuckle’s The Bell Kid, Olsen and Johnson movies, Walter Mitty, Viola Spolin, Allen Funt, Joe Besser, Floyd Norman, and Ike Barinholtz, and B’s proprietor is Sid Fields, Abbott and Costello’s property owner on their tv program. Lou Costello himself includes plainly in B’s memory of Ingo’s movie, which portrays Costello as a ruthless killer who bumps off any and all up-and-coming funny groups who threaten Abbott and Costello’s ticket office dominance.

B loathes comedy (particularly Kaufman’s), which is why Kaufman has damned him to this pratfall Hell. Of Ingo’s masterpiece, B gushes, “[I] t’s a funny about the headache that is humor– a critique of comedy, if you will. It postulates the coming end of comedy, the need for its abolition, the need for us to find out empathy, to never laugh at others.” B’s complaint is not the usual “funny has gotten too P.C.” or punching up/punching down debates we see so frequently. It’s the thing that irritates numerous, that illuminate social media nearly daily, the very fact that somebody, something, anything, is ridiculed at all: “The truth I have actually become that we require to laugh, as long as absolutely nothing is the object of that laughter, as long as no one is hurt.” “Funny is a lie,” B tells us:

It sits Godlike in its judgment and by meaning is the reverse of compassion. Comedy rests on its throne and states, “You are absurd. You are pitiful. You are stupid. Your pain entertains me. Essential, I am not you.”

Fittingly for a film critic, B is a master of projection, as he’s just explaining himself, as so many of those outraged by jokes do when dragging the joker. Kaufman isn’t dismissing all critics or criticism. B is a particular big-headed type. B thinks about Manohla Dargis (a passionate Kaufman fan) his enemy and Richard Roeper to be Christopher Nolan’s “swimming pool young boy.” Among the few critics B estimates admiringly is The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, particularly from his review of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom: “It’s not enough to like a movie– it is very important to enjoy it for the right factors.”

B believes that, too, and that’s his terrific defect as a critic. Kaufman is not concealing B’s physical and ideological similarity to Brody. They share those trademark beards and the exact same initials. Each fell for movie theater as freshman Ivy Leaguers after a seeing a Godard movie (and then wrote books about Godard). Brody has actually specifically dismissed Kaufman in the very same language that B uses. He has likewise written rapturous reviews of Apatow’s Knocked Up, This is 40(only grumbling that it wasn’t long enough), and Funny People. Like B, he regularly offers Apatow spots on his “Best of” lists. Brody compares Apatow positively to Ernst Lubitsch and John Cassavetes, and both he and B shrug Kaufman off as a third-rate Pirandello. In a review titled “ The Condescending Empathy of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa,” he calls Kaufman’s Oscar-winner “the off-Hollywood equivalent of Entourage.” Although B himself leaks self-satisfied superiority, his major issue with modern-day funny is that it’s too knowing: “Who I do not honor are the comedians who condescend. The Charlie Kaufmans, the Pee Wee Hermans, the Robert Downey, Seniors (Junior is genius).”

Certainly, B’s life and Brody’s differ in considerable methods. Richard Brody is hardly an unknown critic, and he unquestionably has better luck navigating New york city City personholes, but the radically different views Brody and Kaufman have about comedy notify much of B’s narration. B’s insistence we not simply enjoy movies, however for the ideal factors, sustain his objective to recover Ingo’s movie from his memory. For when, only his analysis of the movie will exist, not even the movie. Then Ingo’s masterpiece changes B’s life. He has lastly fulfilled the artwork, the filmmaker, that overwhelms him. After seeing it he calls his editor to quit movie criticism entirely. “The days of flag-planting, of declaring ownership are done. From here on in, I will send to great art.” There are more twists for B after that, but in that moment you see the type of anti-art criticism that has actually specified B’s profession, and which ruins him as a critic.

There are lots of detours and diversions in Antkind: the prolonged descriptions of Ingo’s comedy headache set in the world of Hollywood comedy teams and two-reelers, Brainio (the device that beams movies merged with your ideas into your head), fulfilling President Donald J. Trunk, B taking a task at a clown shoe factory, his fetish for clown sex, and the moment he encounters his effective doppelgänger. It’s easy to get lost in Kaufman’s unwieldy multiplex of stories, however it’s never ever not amusing.

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