Game On! and the World According to Kaufmans

Kaufman versus Kaufman

A brilliant mind, with hair to match
A brilliant mind, with hair to match

Glad to hear you’re starting to feel your fighting spirit coming back, Kim. I knew all along that it would only take your reading a few of my mean-spirited, antagonizing, disrespectful, misogynistic, hate-filled, spot-on, totally correct, elegantly worded, brilliantly argued entries before you were overcome with the desire to punch back. I look forward to a solid four days of reading slanderous comments about my family and my religion.

Now, on to day two.

For the next 24 hours, Kim and I will be arguing the relative virtues of the great old-school playwright and screenwriter George S. Kaufman (You Can’t Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, A Night at the Opera) vs. those of the decidedly new-school screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the soon-to-play-at-the-Austin-Film-Festival Synecdoche, NY). I will be defending George; Kim will fight for Charlie. I will stand on the side of the Greatest Generation; Kim will slouch to wallow in the mire of our own. I will argue the virtues of a time defined by self-sacrifice, high wit, narrative sophistication, and Franklin D. Roosevelt; Kim will try her best to defend a time defined by dick jokes, methamphetamine use, global terrorism, and George W. Bush.

So, since you’re in a fighting mood, Kim, I believe I’ll come out swinging:

The films of Charlie Kaufman are willfully obtuse, painfully clever exercises in narrative incomprehensibility, designed to confuse viewers with flashy intellectual pyrotechnics and time-bending trickery in order to distract them from the fact that his world is a cold, cerebral place where characters aren’t humans but rather pieces in an elaborate puzzle no one can understand.

George S. Kaufman, on the other hand, is the warmest, most human of comedy writers, constructing dialogue and scenarios that manage to speak to both the best and worst tendencies of the human species (well, maybe not the absolute worst; you’d be hard-pressed to find drug-abuse or child-molestation subplots in Animal Crackers) while never shying away from the philosophy that stories are, first and foremost, designed to entertain. They are rapid-fire, quick-witted trifles on the surface, but they’re filled with social concern and moral ambivalence for those who choose to look deeper. In other words, they are perfect for the pictures.

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