Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor (2007, Koji Yamamura)

Yamamura made Mt. Head, which I saw a bunch of times when it came out and now don’t remember so well anymore. When a choir starts narrating in song it is clear that this isn’t a great Kafka story adaptation, but the design and animation are very cool. Heads keep deforming, voices keep double-tracking, while hairy loops and bubbly blobs float over the image.

Jefferson Circus Songs (1973, Suzan Pitt)

There is some kind of human stop-motion here, kids (all the actors are kids) dressing in fancy doll clothes and moving like robots or Svankmajer creatures – insane and dreamlike, not always in a good way. No idea what this meant, it’s completely out of the blue – even the credits don’t make sense. Apparently made in Minneapolis, the kids created their own roles, and even the distributor calls it “a string of puzzling little episodes.”

Flo Rounds a Corner (1999, Ken Jacobs)

Extremely Arnoldized clip of a girl in pink rounding a corner, the picture strobing and the frame sometimes splintering into sections that Arnoldize at their own separate pace. Had I known it was going to be silent, I would’ve thrown on “Light’s New Measure” by Black Duck.

Jackals & Fireflies (2023, Charlie Kaufman)

Like a music video for a poet. Eva HD’s work also appeared in I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and she is a fan of David Berman and Nico. Kinda works as “overheard in new york: the movie” – I’ll bet the movie plays better if you enjoy the voiceover poem and its delivery.

Does it become a horror movie when the parents show up, or was it always one? Toni Collette kinda launches the whole thing into outer space. My own parents would’ve ditched before this point – very confused by the coworker who said she’s watching this with her whole family. Seeing all your own paintings and poetry as plagiarized, hmmmm. Buckley hard to get a handle on, Collette and David Thewlis leaping through different times of their lives/ages. This would be worth watching again now that I’ve read the theory that the school janitor is Plemons imagining his own past, real and fantasized. I know Buckley from Wild Rose, and I’ll always think of Plemons as the young master from The Master.

Customer service expert Michael stays at a hotel named after a paranoid delusion in which all people appear to be the same person in different disguises. I didn’t know this until after the movie, but it works anyway because everyone except Michael has the same face and voice (Tom Noonan, paterfamilias of The House of the Devil). Michael is dreamily British-accented but erratic-acting David Thewlis, and life’s the same old drab nightmare for him until he meets someone with a unique voice: Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). His awkward affair with her lasts one night, after which she becomes Noonan-voiced and Michael leaves her, runs home to his Noonan-family.

Full of small pleasures in dialogue and puppet movement, and larger, weirder wonders (Michael’s subterranean gay-panic dream, Japanese automaton from sex shop, stop-motion recreation of a My Man Godfrey scene). Surely need to watch again – need to watch all Kaufman’s movies again.

Opened in Venice with A Bigger Splash, Francofonia and The Clan, winning what appears to be second place to From Afar. Award shows mostly considered it in animation categories, where it universally lost to Inside Out. Made the top-ten in the Skandies anyway, along with acting and screenplay mentions.

R. Porton in Cinema Scope:

The superb deployment of puppets and stop-motion animation in the work of Jan Svankmajer and the Quay Brothers highlight the vicissitudes of the macabre and the fantastic. Kaufman and Johnson’s film, although superficially more prosaic, manages to make the banalities of a business trip as chilling as anything in Alice or Street of Crocodiles. Towards the end of Anomalisa, Michael concludes that the real lesson of his visit to Cincinnati is “there’s no lesson at all,” a fitting coda to a movie which refuses to offer its audience glib bromides or anything more than cold comfort.

This demands to be seen two or three times in order to piece together all the meanings and layers and characters. Unfortunately, with Milk and Ashes of Time in theaters, I don’t really feel like watching this again…

Charlie Kaufman directs his own script, presumably to have total control over his most complex scenario yet. Anyone would have to say he does a fine job with it, using effects and sets and makeup very well, and getting super performances out of his actors – anyone who hadn’t seen the Jonze and Gondry adaptations of Kaufman’s previous scripts, that is. Adaptation, Malkovich, Human Nature and Eternal Sunshine all had their share of the sad, dark grunginess that pervades this movie, but they also had amazing visual stylists as directors, who could add delirious highs to all those Kaufman-depressive lows through their staging and casting (note that the more successful films, Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine, put comedy actors in the dramatic roles). Synecdoche ends up being a movie I enjoy discussing with Katy, an admirable film, but not something I feel I can love.

Phil Hoffman is Caden, a Schenectady theater director – yes, Kaufman is doing it again. After screenwriting a movie about a screenwriter, he’s directing a movie about a director. Anyhow, Hoffman is married to Catherine Keener, a more ambitious artist than himself. Friend/nanny(?) Jennifer Jason Leigh is Maria, who watches over their young daughter Olive. Keener leaves Caden, takes the kid and moves to Berlin, which prompts a psychic break in Caden, so when he wins a grant to produce a play in NYC, he makes it a SYNECDOCHE (noun, the part which stands in for the whole) for his life. Eventually, as the play-Caden starts to produce his own play with its own play-Caden, Caden’s life may be becoming a synecdoche for the play! I think!

Anyhow, play-Caden is an interesting guy named Sammy (Tom Noonan). Emily Watson and Samantha Morton, two actresses I’ve admired who I always thought looked similar, finally appear in a movie together playing the same-ish role… bravo for that. Morton is Hazel, a girl who has long had a crush on Hoffman, and Watson is the girl hired to play Hazel. Hazel does get to be with Caden for one day before dying of smoke inhalation in her long-burning house. Hope Davis plays an unhelpful family therapist. And Dianne Wiest (do I only know her from Edward Scissorhands?) is hired as Caden at the end, and told to “direct” the real Caden, which she does, to his death.

Meanwhile there’s stuff about Caden’s daughter growing up in Berlin, falling in love with Maria and dying of a skin disease, never forgiving Caden for ruining his marriage with his secret gay life (not otherwise referenced, as far as I know – unless Caden “being” Dianne Wiest is a reference). Sammy commits suicide (referencing an attempted-suicide of Caden). There’s lots, lots more that I’m sure I have forgotten.

Kaufman’s real strength here are his collapsing of time, and strangely simultaneous expanding of time (see the burning house) – more haunting than his collapsing/expanding of reality – and all the philosophy on human existence he crams into such a short movie. I’m sure he’s aware that there’s no warmth in his movie, but is he aware that we would’ve liked some?