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Cobblers, New York

3 Apr 12 | Re: Film I didn’t like

I watched that film Synecdoche, New York the other day, and the moral of it seems to be: Don’t give a supposed auteur too much independence or he will come out with a load of old cobblers. That moral applies to the protagonist of the film, and also to its writer/director Charlie Kaufman. Oh wow, another layer of mind-blowing self-referentiality. My goodness, that is clever. If only he had done it 400 years earlier, he could nearly have scooped Miguel de Cervantes.

Billed as a comedy, this film also contains a lot of sadness. Neither works. Kaufman doesn’t seem to realise that it isn’t enough to have a freaky idea with some comic potential – a house that’s permanently on fire, say. You then have to think how to package it right, to make it into an actual joke. All the unfunnier moments of Big Train, or Chris Morris’s stuff, had this problem: they have the idea – often a very original, good idea – but they just chuck it onto the screen without doing the rest of the work. So it doesn’t work.

As for the sadness, the problem is that it’s not properly earned by the narrative. Misery is rained down on the poor arty man’s balding head, but without an underlying logic to why or how, you don’t think, “Oh, that poor man.” You think, “Why are you, the filmmaker, doing this to this poor character of yours?” All the worst moments of the second series of I’m Alan Partridge have this same problem: the things that befall him stop being self-inflicted and start being colossally implausible, mediocrely plotted bad luck, with the result that the viewer’s most likely reaction is to feel sorry for him, and maybe slightly uncomfortable about intruding on his personal misery. You can only do sadness if you have a story good enough to draw the viewer in. Otherwise, much like the comedy, you’re just asking, “Wouldn’t it be sad if this happened?” Well, yeah, maybe, but why would it happen?

As for the clever stuff, it really isn’t that clever. All the stuff about creating a city within a city, and then another city within that, doesn’t actually give endless multiple levels and layers. Either a city’s real or it isn’t, so after layer two there isn’t much of a return on pursuing the concept further. It’s all quite sub-Borgesian, not that Borges himself was ever so much cop in my opinion (briefly, his concepts were often half-baked, his logic was often flawed, and even his good ideas would have been better in the hands of a writer with a bit of humanity to flesh them out with). And what about the rank and file actors who have to spend years inside the project? The film might have been more interesting if told from one of their points of view, with the director as an initially remote presence whose bizarre story is gradually revealed. At least then, when the project finally collapses in on itself in some kind of bloody revolution or catastrophe, we could have seen how that unfolded instead of looking at a glum old guy pottering around a cupboard, which is literally what is on the screen while the story’s most interesting event takes place.

The actors are all very good, but even so, I wouldn’t bother.

Posted by RASKOLNIKOV at 00:38

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