Film: Charlie Kaufman Interview on LifeWithoutBuildings.net
Charlie Kaufman is now well-known as the writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he may soon be better known as the writer-director of Synecdoche, New York (say it out loud: sih-NECK-duh-kee). At least that’s the opinion of Curbed SF blogger Jimmy Stamp, who interviewed Kaufman a short while back for his architecture blog, LifeWithoutBuildings.net. Describing the film as “sublime” and “a piece of work so beautiful, yet so incredibly terrifying that it becomes even more beautiful,” he goes on to liken it to “the ocean seen from the edge of a cliff.” It’s about Caden Cotard (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 40-year-old local theater director in Schenectady, New York (say it out loud: skuh-NECK-tuh-dee) whose marriage and health are rapidly deteriorating. He fears that he will die before accomplishing anything important in his life. But then! He receives a MacArthur Grant, and uses the money to create a massive theater piece — an all-consuming Great Work that will rival life itself in its vastness, complexity, and heartbreaking truth.
Not surprisingly, the interview takes its most interesting turn when they begin discussing the architectural aspects of Kaufman’s work:
Stamp: In your movies, but especially in this one I think, there are these broader architectural and spatial ideas but then you also have these smaller set pieces—the burning house in Synecdoche, the 7 1/2 floor in Malkovich, the Montauk house in Eternal Sunshine. Are these just designed to convey a sense of place, or a mood, or do you always intend them to have deeper, metaphorical meaning?
Kaufman: Yeah. It’s all of that. I find myself really interested in spaces, actually. I tend to think about environment early on in writing. I’m doing it now, actually. I find myself going back to houses or buildings as environments environments for my stories — you know, odd buildings or very specific types of spaces. I don’t know why… a Jungian scholar was in here talking about houses being representations of the self. I think that’s what it was, anyway… you know, I tend to write intuitively and I don’t really know why I do certain things, but they resonate or they feel funny or they feel sad. Um, you know, I have my ideas about why Hazel lives in that house but I don’t really explain that because I want people to be able to bring their own metaphor to the experience. That’s kind of the biggest goal I have — to put something out there and let people individually interact with it. So I try not to say “this is what it means” or “this is not what it means” or “this is what it means to me.”
And check this out from later on:
Stamp: In [Paul Auster's] book, The Music of Chance, this eccentric millionaire hobbyist builds a model of what he calls ‘The City of the World.’ It’s a condensed depiction of his entire life that includes all the important places and pivotal events that made him the man he is— including the construction of the model. So in the model, he’s building himself building the model…
Kaufman: Wow. That sounds great, but I haven’t read that. It does remind me of an idea I had though. I wanted to build a casino in Las Vegas called Las Vegas, Las Vegas. Like the idea of Paris, Las Vegas (the real life casino) is that you don’t have to actually go there — their campaign is something like ‘all the best of Paris without the French people.’ So then (with Las Vegas, Las Vegas,) there’s the idea that you don’t actually have to go to Paris, Las Vegas either because there’s a replica of all of Vegas—including Paris, Las Vegas—within this other casino. So you get even more safe by not having to go out into the strip at all. I thought that would be a pretty successful resort.
Say, aren’t they already planning to do something like that in Dubai?
Synecdoche, New York opens November 7th at the Embarcadero, the Shattuck, and the Piedmont.