A Cataloging of Prejudices

Live-tweeting, by its very nature, is about the here-and-now, this-very-moment-- it's about chronicling the experience as it is happening. What has come before is not really kosher to the spirit of the event. Preformed opinions and long-held prejudices have no real currency in such a space.

And so it is, in anticipation of tomorrow's live-tweet of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that I'm putting those opinions and prejudices into this space, so that they won't get in the way. Thusly segregated, I'll be able to approach the film afresh. This will result in one of two outcomes.

  1. I will hate the film and remain a crotchety curmudgeon, railing about hipsters and post-modernism.
  2. I will fall unabashedly in love with the film.

And # 2 certainly is a distinct possibility. To illustrate: the first time I saw P. T. Anderson's Magnolia, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of being in agreement with Kevin Smith. The second time did not shake my assertion of its awfulness; the third time, I realized what a fool I had been and what an incredible operatic masterpiece it was. Repeated viewings since then have not changed that opinion.

A less dramatic version of this conversion concerns the film O; at the time, I derided it with a monologue skit I'd do for friends, in which William Shakespeare's greatest ambition is to have one of his plays turned into a movie about high school basketball. But going into it without that prejudice, I came to see what a strong and remarkable bit of adaptation it really was.

So, the idea that I might come out of my third viewing of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as a believer is not without precedence. And that provides another reason for the following catalogue of grievances, aesthetic predilections, and prejudices-- namely, it makes that hypothetical conversion, unfolding in real time at the speed of 140 characters per tweet!, all the more dramatic.

And so, here goes:

  • Top of my list, the most recent addition and actually the least consequential, is Jim Carrey. It is a sign of cinematic maturity to be able to separate an actor from his craft, to appreciate the art even if the artist is somewhat unsavory. In many cases (cf. Cruise, Tom) I am perfectly capable of doing so. In others, I am not. Jim Carrey is one of those cases. There's just something about the way he and his professional ditz of a partner gallivant about with Oprah dispensing medical advice that has no basis in fact and results in the death of children that's hard for me to set aside. But, I promise, I will try, internets. I will try to forget about dead children.
  • More consequential is my general apathy towards high concepts in film. And "trying to hold onto memories as they're being erased" does, indeed, qualify as a high concept. Granted, Kaufman's high concepts are a damn slight more clever than most (even in the world of the "art" film) and thus I derive more enjoyment from them.
  • Which brings me to my general apathy towards Kaufman. Of course I liked Being John Malkovich. Of course I was entertained by Adaptation. But I never understood the accolades being heaped upon them and Sunshine. To my mind, they were showy and lacked the depth and heft being ascribed to them. "Oh, once McKee says not to use voice-over narration, the voice-over never appears again! Oh, snap, how clever and post-modern!" I was fully-armed with this, if not anti-Kaufman, than not-quite-pro-Kaufman prejudice when I sat down to watch Synecdoche, New York on the recommendation of Andrew Grant. And Synecdoche is, to be frank, a masterpiece. The intellectual depth that I had found lacking in Malkovich,Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine was there in spades. And though aspects of it border on "high concept" (the years-long theater piece), it abandoned cleverness-for-its-own-sake (they're inside... John Malkovich!; he can't adapt the book, so he writes about adapting it!) and went much, much deeper. It's quite possible that on revisiting his earlier films, I'll find that I was took bothered by the cleverness to really engage with the work. Or it could be that Kaufman is simply the best director for his own material.
  • Which brings us to Gondry. I liked Malkovich and Adaptation, which were brought to the screen by Spike Jonze. Eternal Sunshine, of course, was helmed by Michel Gondry. It was his second Kaufman script; I've yet to see that film, Human Nature, but I have seen Gondry's Science of Sleep and Be Kind, Rewind. And, um, they were terrible. Well, okay: Be Kind, Rewind was fun in parts, though I kind of wished Gondry had just shot a bunch of "Sweded" versions of films and released those on DVD. But as a feature, as a complete whole, it was woefully incomplete. Science of Sleep was the very definition of "twee". I say this, of course, as a big Wes Anderson booster.
  • Elijah Wood.
  • No, I didn't forget something with that last one. Just Elijah Wood.
  • Bad break-ups and bitter romance hold no interest for me. None what-so-ever. It's just not something that has ever figured into my own life experience. It's not that I don't "identify" with it; it's that the participants in said romances annoy the living fuck out of me. Like Sharon Stone in Casino. (The difference is, she's supposed to raise your hackles. Gondry and Kaufman intend for me to care about these stupid children who think they're adults.)

Harsh stuff, to be sure. And, while I'll give it my best, I can't guarantee that I'll be able to set it all aside when I watch the movie tomorrow. I may still be the grouchy old man, shaking his fist at the air. Or, with the help of my fellow tweeple, I might be able to see this through their eyes (Being Alejandro Adams-- now that'd be scary).

I guess we'll find out tomorrow.
Posted on 7/21/2009 02:43:00 PM by Tom Russell and filed under | 9 Comments »


Brian said... @ July 21, 2009 at 5:26 PM

"Bad break-ups and bitter romance hold no interest for me. None what-so-ever. It's just not something that has ever figured into my own life experience."

So, um, have you been married since age 14 or something? Or are you perhaps asexual? Because I thought this was about as universal a subject as they come.

Tom Russell said... @ July 21, 2009 at 7:31 PM


Been married since I was 21. I dated before that, though not extensively, and even the worst of my break-ups was quite amicable.

Romance may be universal, but bitterness and petulance isn't.

Tom Russell said... @ July 21, 2009 at 8:03 PM

Not to be all double-commenty, but since "bitter romance" and/or adultery and/or the artistic process are recurring themes in Kaufman's work and all themes I could care less about, it might also explain why, before the extraordinary SYNECDOCHE, I was somewhat cool to his work.

Alejandro Adams said... @ July 21, 2009 at 8:56 PM

I read "preformed opinions" as "performed opinions."

Being John Malkovich is like Pulp Fiction: I dare anyone to like it five years later.

Human Nature is one of the worst films ever made.

Science of Sleep is one of those cases in which I avoided a film after seeing its trailer.

I wasn't compelled to pay attention to Be Kind Rewind, though I didn't turn it off. Probably one of those cases where I thought, "I'll just check my email," and then never put the laptop down. I don't recall anything about the film.

I don't know what the terms "twee" or "hipster" mean but I see both used frequently.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is more than I've ever asked a film to be--more, in fact, than I imagined a film could be. I find it almost disgustingly poignant. In its depiction of I-hate-you-I-can't-live-without-you relationships, it is accurate beyond my ability to quantify. Its monumental cleverness, its desultory subplots, its brain-teasing special effects are brusquely shoved aside so that Joel's sickness of heart may be sharply evoked. Nearly ceasing to be an act of cinema, it inclines toward the ancient power of literature. In such moments this film may as well be a James Salter novel.

The line about leaving hair coiled around the bar of soap--short stories, novels, entire decades of my life have been played in that key.

Tom Russell said... @ July 21, 2009 at 9:45 PM

Should note that my use of "hipsters" and "twee" were facetious.

Tom Russell said... @ July 22, 2009 at 9:20 AM

"I dated before that, though not extensively, and even the worst of my break-ups was quite amicable."

I have been reminded by My Amazing Wife that my very first girlfriend literally* tried to murder me upon the final termination of that relationship. I guess amicability is in the eye of the beholder.

*-- Yes, literally. Not figuratively.

Tassoula said... @ July 22, 2009 at 11:01 AM

I look forward to hearing what your third viewing result turns out to be.

And I agree with pretty much everything Alejandro said (except I did like Pulp Fiction 5 years later, and for the record, still do).

Patrick said... @ July 22, 2009 at 1:12 PM

Re: Carrey. I think I understand, but what if I find much of his art unsavory. #duckingthepointcompletely #WHOOSH

If I made a comment about the phrase "twee", I'm positive it would come off precisely that way.

Okay, so now I need to hear a story about Dom DeLuise and Tom's first girlfriend. I'm a glutton for a good tease.

AA, I'll give you that SUNSHINE is ambitious. Like Tom, I'm hoping (on viewing #2.5) to be convinced it's actually good.

Patrick said... @ July 22, 2009 at 1:16 PM

Also, though it'll kill my hipster status, I agree with nearly everything said about SCIENCE OF SLEEP/BE KIND REWIND.

Have tried to watch HUMAN NATURE and couldn't figure out the rules.

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