The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Can anyone pronounce the title of Charlie Kaufman's new movie?

August 7, 2008 |  2:32 pm

Sony Pictures Classics had its first L.A. screening last night of "Synecdoche, New York," Charlie Kaufman's mysterious magnum opus about a man obsessed with his own mortality. The film is Kaufman's debut as a director after emerging as indie film's best known oddball screenwriter, having penned such surpassingly strange delights as "Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Kaufman I'll weigh in later today with a first take on the movie itself. But before the screening, a gang of us grungy media types lollygagged around, like a cut-rate version of NPR's "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me," trying to guess how to pronounce the movie's title, a play on Schenectady, N.Y. (The only person who seemed to truly have a clue was Christian Science Monitor critic Peter Rainer, but I think I spied a dictionary in his back pocket.)

Of course, this wasn't just an idle exercise. In a business that depends on word of mouth, how do you possibly market a movie with a title that no one can pronounce? Always a good sport, Sony Classics co-chief Tom Bernard laughed when I asked if he'd given Kaufman a list of other possible New York towns that might roll off the tongue a bit more mellifluously, like Rochester or Syracuse or even Ithaca.

"We're completely happy with the title," he says. "The whole idea is to brand it as a Charlie Kaufman film. So if it's an issue with anyone, people can just say it's the Charlie Kaufman movie. Maybe it will be a good thing. If people can't pronounce the title, that simply means they'll have to spend more time talking about it."

We'll see. But the title is a still a tonsil-twirling tongue-twister. When the film debuted at Cannes this spring, a clever videographer did man-in-the-street interviews, asking people how they would pronounce the film. The results are pretty funny--just see for yourself:

Photo of Charlie Kaufman by Sean Gallup / Getty Images

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