Synecdoche, New York: Like The Burning Plain, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut showcases a screenwriter who, freed from the influence of collaborators, indulges all his thematic quirks like a dieting matron lunging at a box of bonbons. Whereas Guillermo Arriaga overdoses in piety, self-fondling morbidity proves to be Kaufman’s choice of drug from the moment the filmmaker’s avatar, a playwright named Caden (Philip Seymour Hoffman), announces, “I think I’m dying.” The opening 40 minutes or so, as Hoffman’s slumped sad-sack is abandoned by his wife (Catherine Keener) and fumbles with a box-office worker (Samantha Morton), are promising despite the militant moroseness that plagues even the film’s most whimsical flights of fancy. But when the Chinese boxes start to proliferate—Caden turns his life into a crumbling theatrical show, complete with lookalike performers—the viewer is reminded of what dead-ends brilliant screenwriting conceits can be when left by themselves on the screen. Kaufman may see Caden’s rants (“I won’t settle for anything less than the brutal truth”) as confessional, but in the context of what is arguably cinema’s least joyous depiction of an artistic mind at work, a shot of the character looking for blood in his stools seems more telling.
2. “Here’s Why The New York Times’ Television Criticism Is So Bad” How a decades-long blind spot culminated in the “Angry Black Woman.”
“As [Mo] Ryan, now head television critic for the Huffington Post, told me about [Alessandra] Stanley: ’I have never gotten the sense that she has any enthusiasm for television as an art form.’ Clearly she watches the shows she reviews, but does she actually watch, and understand, the whole equation of contemporary television? Does she write about it as her antecedents did—as an entertaining diversion—or does she approach television as the confluence of industry, artistry, and audience? But Stanley doesn’t exist in a vacuum. According to several Times staffers, the paper’s secondary critic, former copy editor Neil Genzlinger, was appointed to his job after then-Culture Editor Jonathan Landman promised him that the next critic position that came open—whether books, TV, or any other field in which Genzlinger had dabbled—was his. (Landman declined to comment on this story.)”
3. “Why my video essay about All That Jazz is not on the Criterion Blu-ray.” Matt Zoller Seitz explains why, then gives you the chance to see it.
“Criterion wanted to be extra careful about that last part on the All That Jazz disc, even though in theory they were working by Fair Use principles. The last time I did a video essay for them—back in 2010, for the Blu-ray of The Darjeeling Limited—they nixed my idea to do a Fair Use-style essay incorporating a lot of different clips, a la my Wes Anderson series ’The Substance of Style,’ because they preferred to officially clear each and every clip; this was, they believed, the only way to guard against getting pressed by lawyers into having to recall discs and re-edit or delete the supplement. A lot of filmmakers and distributors have that concern: that even if you’re legally in the right regarding Fair Use-appropriated clips, intellectual property rights-holders might still come after you, and try to bully you into removing clips rather than spend money defending your legal right to use them. That’s a hill pretty much nobody wants to die on.”
4. “All Atwitter.” Jonathan Lethem on David Cronenberg’s Consumed.
“Whether to your taste or not, it really shouldn’t be shocking. In fact, such particulars are most likely routinely matched, or surpassed, in the work of thriller and horror writers in the post-Thomas Harris era, when monsters must trump Hannibal Lecter or else go home. What’s vertiginous in Cronenberg’s book is that such matters are presented in the absence of a reliably bourgeois moral framework. Instead, Cronenberg details them with a clinical curiosity. Try this: ’When a slim-hipped naked young man entered the frame, Naomi immediately knew it was Hervé, even before he walked around the side of the table to place his hooked penis in Célestine’s coolly accommodating mouth. He brought with him something metallic that looked like a ray gun from a 1950s sci-fi movie, pale-blue and silver and trailing a black cable behind it….The naked young woman who entered from frame right, however, she did not immediately recognize, even after the woman had knelt at the head of the table in order to kiss and lick Célestine’s mastectomy scar.’ Or this: ’Nathan zoomed into the photo in front of them. That was ecstasy on her face as she cut herself, not self-pity, not masochistic pleasure….Nathan was shaping the article as he reacted. He would have liked to record these thoughts, just say them to GarageBand so that he wouldn’t forget them, but he was not yet comfortable enough with Roiphe to collaborate in that intimate way, to leave himself vulnerable to the old man’s sarcasm and irony.’”
5. ”Wire creator David Simon: Corporations ’the cancer’ that are slowly killing American middle-class.” In a chat with The Observer’s John Mulholland, Simon discusses how money corrupts US politics, the erosion of the working class, why it’s a crime to be poor in America—and why he likes to argue.
“Simon is not sanguine about what it will take for corporate and political America (increasingly one and the same) to recognise that if the story continues in this vein it will not end well. ’I think in some ways the cancer is going to have to go a little higher. It’s going to start crawling up above the knee and people are going to have to start looking around and thinking ’I thought I was exempt. I didn’t know they were coming for me.’ It’s happened to the manufacturing class, it’s happened to the poor. Now it’s happening to reporters and schoolteachers and firefighters and cops and social workers and state employees and even certain levels of academics. And that’s new. That’s not the American dream.’”
Video of the Day: So, in the year 10,535, Aphex Twin will ostensibly be providing the titles for all episodes of The Simpsons:
Links for the Day: A collection of links to items that we hope will spark discussion. We encourage our readers to submit candidates for consideration to firstname.lastname@example.org and to converse in the comments section.