Charlie, Donald, and All Us Kaufmans

Charlie KaufmanOn or about this day in 1786, Carl Maria von Weber was born. He was one of the founders of the Romantic period of classical music. As you all know, not one of my favorite periods of music. But the early Romantic period stuff isn’t so bad. Von Weber is known primarily for his operas, but here is the first movement of his Clarinet Concerto No 1, which will give you a brief and clear idea of his music:

Other birthdays: French painter Eustache Le Sueur (1617); bandleader Tommy Dorsey (1905); business theorist Peter Drucker (1909); Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1917); two talk show hosts: one mediocre, Larry King (80); and one great, Dick Cavett (77); businessman Ted Turner (75); actor Meg Ryan (52); and actor Jodie Foster (51).

The day, however, belongs to the great screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who is 55 today. I don’t really know anything about his life and I don’t especially want to know anything. He has written some of the best films in the last decade and a half: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Synecdoche, New York, which he also directed. I don’t want to overstate it, because a lot of writers are only ever allowed to write crap. But there is no doubt that most screenwriters seem to think that crap is all that is worth writing. And Kaufman has a unique style that would stand out even if Hollywood hadn’t become the animation arm of Marvel Comics.

Here is the best scene from Adaptation. The whole film is great way to deal with those awful internal dialogues that we all have. All of us are both Charlie and Donald:

Happy birthday Charlie Kaufman!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Charlie, Donald, and All Us Kaufmans

  1. Well, since you said you don’t want to know anything about Mr. Kaufman’s personal business, I won’t share. He lived in this area for a while, and I know some people who . . . let’s just say the paralyzing self-doubt he writes about ain’t an act. Also I think Spike Jonze contributed more to "Adaptation" than he is generally credited for.

    Still, that movie might have one of my favorite scripts ever written. It’s pretty impressive when you can pull off a double-meaning to your title. "Adaptation" actually has a triple meaning; adapting a book, evolutionary adaptation, and the kind we all have to go through — adapting ourselves to what we experience.

    And the performances! Cage, Swinton, Cooper, Streep, Brian Cox as the screenwriting guru, Judy Greer as the pie waitress . . . I think the movie wan’t more successful because, despite all that’s going on in a meta way, people who wanted another quirky "Malkovich"-style movie (and missed what was more than quirky in that) were a bit baffled by how seemingly straightforward "Adaptation" was.

  2. @JMF – It isn’t that I don’t want to know about him. It just doesn’t matter to me. The work is the main thing. I’ve seen him interviewed and I definitely get that he is socially awkward.

    I think [i]Adaptation[/i] is probably his most creative script. It is postmodern in the best sense of the word. But what is best about him is the emotional core that is always there. I think there is great depth of feeling in his work, especially in [i]Synecdoche, New York[/i].

  3. The work is the main thing. I avoid biographies (or biopics) about writers I like for this reason. The only exception is when their work has a definite political bent.

    For example, it was fun to read in "To End All Wars" that Bertrand Russell conducted several simultaneous loving, respectful sexual affairs from prison. And the courage of Tom Paine’s writing gets even sharper once you read that his political views were always getting him into real-life trouble.

    Which gets back to the "who do you trust" issue we’d discussed before. When it comes to politics, I trust my experience with a certain style of writing (more about the argument than about self-promotion), and nothing I’ve read about the actual lives of political writers I admire suggests that they were hypocrites. Most actually were more conservative in their writing than they were in their activism.

  4. @JMF – Paine was great. He managed to offend just about everyone in his lifetime. He’s the greatest of the founding fathers and the least remembered. If you get a chance, you might skim through Glenn Beck’s "Common Sense." As far as I could tell, he had never read Paine. He just seemed to think he was a man in a tri-corner hat. That’s pretty much true of the country as a whole. But then, when Paine came back to America, he was hated here. Of course, that was because of his religious views.

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