Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Among the many interesting things that the Thanksgiving week provided, a date in Pittsburgh with my daughter at a Squirrel Hill theater had us sitting in a sparsely filled projection room struggling through "Synecdoche, New York". To say that the movie and its involvement is "interesting" is to state that the current economic clockwise turn around the bowl of financial ruin is "concerning". Want to get your mind off of, well, off of anything? Then, go see this movie. Purported to be 2 hours and 4 minutes in length, I dare you to honestly tell me it did not feel as if you spent an entire weekend trapped in the multiple shades of meaning and of reality that Charlie Kaufman has concocted. "Synecdoche, New York" is similar to his other films in that the movie feels abnormally longer than more traditional films and there are points of ending that crop up at least 5 times during the movie...only to go on to the next possible ending point. One feels completely exhausted, puzzled, put off, exasperated, stupid (I know I missed most of the off-the-cuff references to theatrical points or written works. I'm sure if there were any theater types in the audience there would have been more laughter, although that laughter would have been at points in the movie where the rest of the audience sat puzzled and weary.)
The movie starts off slowly but distinctly in the Kaufmann method. Obituaries, green poop, a house of clutter and low-key mayhem all quickly set the mood for the mental heebie-jeebies you'll be scratching your head about. I'm not giving away anything to state that the movie's about a theater director, his miniature (as in VERY miniature) painting soon-to-be-departing spouse, and a daughter. The setting is mainly Schenectady, and this film does no touristy service to that city, and NYC. Schenectady and Synecdoche are close in pronunciation, but not comfortably so. As the few patrons lined up to buy tix for this movie, it was interesting to hear how many folks totally blew the pronunciation of the movie, including yours truly. The best course of ticket purchase was taken by an older woman behind us who had most probably heard all of the pronunciations of "synecdoche" possible before stepping up to the counter. "One ticket for that New York movie", she stated with full confidence that what she did say was of proper pronunciation. All the rest of us? Well, we were already feeling uncomfortable from the simple purchase of entrance, which was the starting point of our growing tumor of discomfort, as the movie unfolded. Wikipedia notes that "The use of synecdoche is a common way to emphasize an important aspect of a fictional character; for example, a character might be consistently described by a single body part, such as the eyes, which come to represent the character. This is often used when the main character does not know or care about the names of the characters that he/she is referring to." If a single "body" part is the synecdoche here, it has to be the ego of the main character, Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, excellent in his massiveness of purpose in regards to such a loser of a human being). If the synecdoche is something else, I beg you, my faithful readers, to enlighten me....
....and while you're at it, please, PLEASE explain to me what the heck that ever-burning house Hazel bought and blissfully lives in is supposed to mean? Are there moments of clarity and definity? Absolutely, but then the movie ebbs on, muddying the point (if there ever was one, one thinks) and throwing in an uncomfortable amount of funerals and body doubles and body triples. Confused? Go ahead. See the movie. And don't wuss out and wait until it comes out on DVD, so that you can play back sections over and over until you (may) understand.
No, be brave. See this movie in a theater where all is continual forward movement and feel your brain hurt from the jumps, sharp turns, and dead-stops that "Synecdoche, New York" puts you through.

Rare is the movie that stays with you long after the viewing. Rarer still is such a movie that also provides no temptation to see it again. Ever again.

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"Be brave"? Mmm -- I'm not sure I can do it. I see so few movies in the theatres as it is.

Your post reminds me, however, of movies that walloped me on the occasion. I remember LA Confidential surprising me. At the time the characters all seemed amoral enough to deserve a properly Nietzschean comeuppance. That claustrophobic final shoot-out had me on the edge of my seat.

Watching the DVD a year or so later, I realized the moral shades of gray were actually of a lighter hue than I'd originally perceived. But I'd watched the movie at a time when I needed exactly the escape it offered. Roger Ebert said it was a shame we couldn't watch Shrek for the first time all over again; this was something similar to that.

But I digress from your point ... carry on in your brave cinematic embarkations.
Hey WP,
.....Synecdoche..is still on my mind. Yes, it is now a (self-diagnosed) ohrwurm. "Would I see it again?", I'm asking myself.

Perhaps in a year or so, a DVD version would be in consideration. Kaufmann's done it to me again. He buries gold in so much verbal shit that I thought the effort of discovery would not be worth the uneasiness of wallowing in Auseinandersetzung. But, forging into the Future, I think I may have some free time to have another peak at his world.
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