Which arrow flies for ever? The arrow that has hit its mark.
Life is precious, every minute
And more precious with you in it.
Music: Little Person
Written by Charlie Kaufman and Jon Brion
Performed by Deanna Story
Synecdoche, New York (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2008)
The word “genius” is passed around rather generously, isn’t it? At least in English, because its Russian counterpart, geniy, is a term brimming with a sort of throaty awe and is used only in the case of a very small number of writers…Genius still means to me, in my Russian fastidiousness and pride of phrase, a unique, dazzling gift.
Vladimir Nabokov, interview, 1969
Charlie Kaufman is (say it with a sort of throaty awe) a geniy.
Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman
Music by Carter Burwell
Cast (listed alphabetically):
Hope Davis: Pat Nixon, The Mouse, Esther, Sailor #2, Rose, Miss Alison Finnigan, Traitor, Voice, Magistrate, Becky, Woman by Side of Road, Choir of Angels
Peter Dinklage: Reed, Oscar, Sheldrake, Boy #1, Tragic Monster, Man in Car, The Puppeteer, Sir Isaac Newton, Ben, William of Essex, Sailor #3. Wolf, Jan Wenner
Meryl Streep: Sally, Kelly, Jane, The Empress of Japan, Mrs. Finnigan, Boy #2, Joan of Arc, Daisy, Teresa D’Urseau, Radio Man, Sailor #1, The Killer, Broken Katie
Scene One: Elevator
Scene Two: Elevator, ten minutes later
Scene Three: Joe’s Living Room
Scene Four: The “Kitchen,” later that day
Scene Five: Offices of Rolling Stone magazine, 1969
Scene Six: Engine room of an Argentinian freighter, 1943
Scene Seven: The Void, Thursday, 6:53 EST
Scene Eight: Elevator, exactly thirty years later
Scene Nine: Joe’s living room, midnight of the same day
Scene Ten: The Void, early morning
Scene Eleven: The eye of a hurricane, Easter Island, now
Scene Twelve: Elevator, one thousand years later
Scene Thirteen: A field of marigolds
Photograph of Charlie Kaufman by Brigitte Lacombe
You might know Carter Burwell’s music but not his name. He wrote music for nearly all of the Coen Brothers’ movies (e.g. Fargo, True Grit), much of the Twilight series (‘Bella’s Lullaby’), and many other films.
Mr. Burwell first hit my radar in 2002, when I purchased the DVDs for Being John Malkovich and The Man Who Wasn’t There on the same day. The menu-loop music for both DVDs was jaw-droppingly beautiful. I checked the credits and found that both pieces were by the same composer. I sought out the soundtrack albums and loved them. Burwell’s soundtracks are now permanent fixtures on my iPhone music player.
You shall know a man by his works. What we know about Carter Burwell is that he has a lot of soul.
Music by Carter Burwell (four favorites out of many):
Malkovich Shrine and Embarcation, from Being John Malkovich (1999):
I Met Doris Blind, from The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001):
SeDuctIon, from Fur (2006):
Opening, from Moving Gracefully Toward the Exit (2006):
Photo of Carter Burwell (2001) by Chianan Yen
Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge, all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. Because there is nothing else. No thing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.
Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia
That Sunday morning, at half past ten,
Two cars crossed the creek and entered the glen.
In the first was Art Longwood, a local florist,
With his children and wife (now Mrs. Deforest).
In the one that followed, a ranger saw
Art’s father, stepfather and father-in-law.
The three old men walked off to the cove.
Through tinkling weeds Art slowly drove.
Fair was the morning, with bright clouds afar.
Children and comics emerged from the car.
Silent Art, who could stare at a thing all day,
Watched a bug climb a stalk and fly away.
Pauline had asthma, Paul used a crutch.
They were cute little rascals but could not run much.
“I wish,” said his mother to crippled Paul,
“Some man would teach you to pitch that ball.”
Silent Art took the ball and tossed it high.
It stuck in a tree that was passing by.
And the grave green pilgrim turned and stopped.
The children waited, but no ball dropped.
“I never climbed trees in my timid prime,”
Thought Art; and forthwith started to climb.
Now and then his elbow or knee could be seen
In a jigsaw puzzle of blue and green.
Up and up Art Longwood swarmed and shinned,
And the leaves said yes to the questioning wind.
What tiaras of gardens! What torrents of light!
How accessible ether! How easy flight!
His family circled the tree all day.
Pauline concluded: “Dad climbed away.”
None saw the delirious celestial crowds
Greet the hero from earth in the snow of the clouds.
Mrs. Longwood was getting a little concerned.
He never came down. He never returned.
She found some change at the foot of the tree.
The children grew bored. Paul was stung by a bee.
The old men walked over and stood looking up,
Each holding five cards and a paper cup.
Cars on the highway stopped, backed, and then
Up a rutted road waddled into the glen.
And the tree was suddenly full of noise,
Conventioners, fishermen, freckled boys.
Anacondas and pumas were mentioned by some,
And all kinds of humans continued to come:
Tree surgeons, detectives, the fire brigade.
An ambulance parked in the dancing shade.
A drunken rogue with a rope and a gun
Arrived on the scene to see justice done.
Explorers, dendrologists – all were there;
And a strange pale girl with gypsy hair.
And from Cape Fear to Cape Flattery
Every paper had: Man Lost in Tree.
And the sky-bound oak (where owls had perched
And the moon dripped gold) was felled and searched.
They discovered some inchworms, a red-cheeked gall,
And an ancient nest with a new-laid ball.
They varnished the stump, put up railings and signs.
Restrooms nestled in roses and vines.
Mrs. Longwood, retouched, when the children died,
Became a photographer’s dreamy bride.
And now the Deforests, with four old men,
Like regular tourists visit the glen;
Munch their lunches, look up and down,
Wash their hands, and drive back to town.
Click here to hear Nabokov read the work (4:43)
Photo: Vladimir Nabokov with butterfly doodles by the author (1920s)
It does not matter whether a thing is old or new as long as it is true.