"If I think about the future of cinema as art, I shiver" (Y. Ozu, 1959)

INTERZONE - Antkind (Charlie Kaufman)

Sunday, 14 March 2021 14:00

John Mariner

An ant is an ant is an ant is an ant

Are we really sure that in a magazine called "film parlato" we want to talk about the pathetic figure of those jugglers of words and thieves of other people's images who - for work, passion, fetishism or loneliness - are convinced, even though they have never shot a film in their lives, that they are the directors of the films they write about and often only dream about: the film critics?

If it weren't for the fact that images - let’s say cinema - are always mutating and that, once running around the world, they have the marvelous and unique ability to bring together the mystery of the impersonal and the beauty of the universal (for it’s true: when the film is made, when the book is written, they are no longer just your film and your book, they don't belong to you anymore), it is likely that the screenwriter/filmmaker/writer Charlie Kaufman would see in the opening of this article a typical excusatio non petita of the film critic (it doesn’t matter if it is me), the pathetic attempt to overturn the accusation against the author of the work to review.

It is not possible to get out of the vicious circle of which, since the title, the first novel of Mr. Kaufman is a clear testimony: an ant is an ant is an ant is an ant. Mr. Kaufman himself enjoys by using his name as a negative example, as a term of obscene comparison, the true enemy of cinema against which to fight when our ant-hero (anti-hero!) B. Rosenberger Rosenberg (“But I’m not Jewish” he protests throughout the book, with typical Jewish humor) has to point his cinema heroes: Anderson, Apatow... Godard (snobbery and confusion are the basis of the game). In this way Antkind is a critique of a critique of a critique of a critique...

Antkind (Charlie Kaufman)Although we are not sure that we want to participate fully in this game of massacre, it is better in the meantime to distance ourselves from those who, having been hit where it hurts, have chosen the ambiguous (pathetic) defense: Mr. Kaufman would certainly be a great wordsmith, or a master of language but the word writer is never used (and to be honest B. spends sometime to define himself a “novelizer” or “at best a ‘quote’ writer”). Mr. Kaufman is “obsessive and compulsive” (someone wrote this) like the characters in the films he has scripted and directed, he is so good, indeed so very good, as to be unbearable. ‘Exhausting’ is the word that recurs most in the reviews, together with the belief that Antkind - assuming that you reach the end of the more than seven hundred pages (this is their other favorite refrain, together with words like ‘metafiction’) - would have needed a more solid editor than the one who 'obviously' failed to manage the abnormal personality of this great obsessive and compulsive wordsmith who is so too good to be unbearable (note here my slyness in parodying the obsessive and compulsive linguistic method used by Mr. Kaufman to outline his protagonist: obstinacy, repetition, paranoia, stream of consciousness).

After that, they move on to tell the plot (so to speak). Partly because that’s how a good film critic does, partly because in this case the plot is so original and funny and incredible, that telling it is a bit like rewriting it, a bit like feeling like a writer (since you already feel like a filmmaker).

No, we’re not going to tell the plot, and the ironic tone of this article is because we think it likely that one of the underlying ideas of Mr. Kaufman’s novel is precisely that of seeking an escape from the planetary swamp in which we are all sinking and which has reduced reflection on art, the exchange of opinions, every kind of conflict, the experience of the other (I know, I know, today we 'must' say the experience of diversity), the reckless use of words, or the joy of a rigorous language, the very serious game of interpretation and the time dedicated to reading, watching and studying - all this reduced to a purely ideological and moralistic pressure that relies on the stuttering and vulgarity of the so-called global network to divide, pauperize people. So, the figure of B. Rosenberger Rosenberg, almost burned alive for the sake of cinema, mocked and misunderstood and underappreciated, who devotes himself, after surviving a coma, to trying to remember a film that only he has seen (if he has seen it, which he doubts) and forgotten, a film three months long and shot over ninety years by an even more unknown African American amateur filmmaker named Ingo Cutbirth (pills of the plot, but only to tell you that, among other things, in this novel we laugh out loud), it would be fairer if he became our hero (okay, okay, if you are tolerant with his mean sex instincts of submission, or at least those that today, “in the age of toxic masculinity” - because, before what age was it? - are considered mean instincts; and if you can tolerate his declared homophobia and his ill-concealed misogyny, which, as is typical, reaches its peak just when B., scandalized, claims to be completely, devoutly feminist). Why should B. be our hero? Because he’s right, that’s all we do: rewrite, and try to remember. Films are the place where the labyrinth we call memory is best drawn (in this issue of “film parlato” you will find, not by chance, three texts committed to reflecting on Proust’s idea of temps retrouvé).

The beauty, and perhaps the greatness, of Mr. Kaufman’s novel is that he is both strategic (through a studied mixture of sarcasm and cynicism) and fragile, ne never forgets how much fragility there is in believing oneself omnipotent. So Antkind is really full of intuitions and sublime pages and at the same time of uncontrolled digressions, which however always remain coherent with the general plan and with the psychosis of the character, like in a long Beckettian monologue (also strategically declared by Mr. Kaufman in his continuous - and, this yes, really paranoid - criticism of criticism: Molloy...).

And, as in Beckett, whatever happens, what is really important burns off-screen. Hundreds of things happen on every single page, a real hellzapoppin’ (I think this has also already been written). B. is constantly in the state of the projectionist who loses his mind over a girl in the cinema and starts madly mixing up movie pizzas: inventing movies and directors, changing names of well-known ones, adding imaginary titles to filmographies, seeing miniature drones in insects, falling down manholes in New York, fetishizing everything, eventually considering the hypothesis that this theater of the absurd is reality. But again, the truth is in the off-screen, the forgotten film exists only in the parallel dimension created for B. by a hypnotist named Barassini (who, I now realize, also begins with B, and therefore may not exist, it’s an invention of B.’s unconscious to save B…), where B. wanders around reduced - or passed away - in two giant eyes that move like a caméra. And the film itself has an internal secret zone in which life-size puppets ‘live’ as unframed extras, thousands of puppets of all ages and gender that the unknown genius Ingo has built over the years as the main element of the film and that no one, except B. in the hypnosis sessions, will ever see (some, before the big fire, B. finds buried in Ingo’s garden). Even banal to note how all of Mr. Kaufman’s work to date could be titled - à la Bergman - from the lives of the marionettes. We are all puppets, but without the grace of puppets.

Beyond the most hilarious gags and linguistic virtuosity, this is the aspect of Ankind most moving. A great, extreme melancholy from which it seems impossible to escape and in which anyone who reads the book can easily recognize himself. Humanity is told as a ultimate storm of pain and no one is allowed to navigate more peaceful waters. The writer himself is in danger and perhaps he writes only to leave a testimony, fearing that this try too will be lost.



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