Charlie Kaufman has become an inspiration me of late. I have been a fan of his for a long time now and Adaptation is one of the two or three Nicholas Cage films I don’t hate. Yet it wasn’t until recently that I started to understand a bit more about Kaufman the person and how autobiographical his films tend to be.
It started with the screenplay for Being John Malkovich, bought for a penny on Amazon and which contained and introduction which the back cover promised “explains the genesis and gestation of this extraordinary, twisted and utterly hilarious fiction.”*
What it was instead appeared to be was a stream-of-consciousness ramble about his miserable life. There’s only one paragraph and a couple of lines spread against four pages that actually refer to the film or filmmaking in general. It is surreal, yet utterly compelling.
A few days later I checked out some interviews and prolonged Q&A sessions with him on YouTube and found the same. Self-deprecating, verging (and occasionally spilling into) self-hatred but in a disarming manner. You get the sense that this is really who he is.
Re-watching Adaptation in the light of this information makes it seem less of a Curb Your Enthusiasm style reinvention, but a confession. Yes it is humorous, but there is a real sense of discomfort and social awkwardness which seems to be a reflection of real life.
This is encouraging for it demonstrates that as long as you have the talent and the motivation to work for it you can work despite (though not necessarily get rid) of your demons and that they in turn can feed your work.
Kaufman’s films seem to be as much about the mundanity of life as the weird devices he uses to explore these themes. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he attempted to make a stippled back movie that was more in the stylings of Ingmar Berman.
*Why they felt the need to stress this was a work of fiction is beyond me. Can you even buy non-fiction screenplays?