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Charlie Kaufman on 'Synechdoche, New York'

October 28, 2008 |  5:48 pm


Charlie Kaufman, some have said, is a literary writer who just happens to have a job writing screenplays. And now, directing them -- his directorial debut, "Synechdoche, New York," is open in limited release. The film inspires literary comparisons; Carina Chocano cited both Jorge Luis Borges and Jean Baudrillard in the first paragraph of her L.A. Times review.

Kaufman sat down with podcaster Ed Champion for his Bat Segundo Show and talked a little bit about literary forefathers; in response to a question about Beckett, he said although he'd read him, he wasn't familiar with the specific play Ed mentioned, making clear, "I don't intentionally write as an homage or reference other people's work."

He even revealed a little bit about his writing process, saying he's always trying to be honest, to "sort of get past what I would do to impress you." Which must be a lot of work, since the resulting films -- including "Eternal Sunsine of the Spotless Mind" and "Being John Malkovich" -- have been described as complex, off-putting, ambitious, surreal. But don't think he's all work; sometimes his writing is really just play. In the interview, Kaufman explained some of the film's clock imagery:

I once walked by a clock that was graffittied on a wall and I looked at it, and in my sort of haste and confusion, I thought I was late, based on what time it was on the clock on the wall. And I thoought that was really funny -- and stupid, but funny -- and so I decided ito put it in as a thing in the movie.

During the interview he even plays with Ed a little bit. Although he's interviewed Paul Auster, Ethan Canin, Cynthia Ozick, Tobias Wolff and hundreds of other authors, I don't know if Ed has ever encountered anyone who so effortlessly bends his carefully constructed questions into a simple convex mirror. At one point, Kaufman responds to a question by disagreeing, then saying, "So I’m trying to break down what you asked me.  And I don’t know.  How am I an idea man?  To turn this around.  On you, Ed."

Points to Ed for having the sense of humor to excerpt that exact Q&A on his site, where the audio is available to stream or download.

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: Evan Agostini / Associated Press