Learning from Las Vegas (ad infinitum): An Interview With Charlie Kaufman

Jimmy Stamp

I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. Among other things, we discussed the role of architecture and urbanism in his movies, the loss of craft in the arts, and his idea for a infinitely repeating Las Vegas Casino:

"I wanted to build a casino in Las Vegas called Las Vegas, Las Vegas. Like the idea of Paris, Las Vegas (the real life casino) is that you don’t have to actually go there — their campaign is something like ‘all the best of Paris without the French people.’ So then (with Las Vegas, Las Vegas,) there’s the idea that you don’t actually have to go to Paris, Las Vegas either because there’s a replica of all of Vegas—including Paris, Las Vegas—within this other casino. So you get even more safe by not having to go out into the strip at all. I thought that would be a pretty successful resort."

The rest of the conversation wasn't quite so recursive! If your're interested, the entire interview can be read on Life Without Buildings.

Oct 14, 08 1:30 pm
brian buchalski

this thread deserves a blue ribbon

Oct 14, 08 1:51 pm

cool! you should post this also in the news section

Oct 14, 08 2:14 pm
liberty bell

Stephen Wright's joke comes to mind: You can't have everything. Where would you put it?

There is some resonance in the interview with the current thread here about the Louisville symposium. SHoP's Chris Sharples said, as paraphrased by Steven Ward examples of brunelleschi's management of a variety of brick shapes that had to be selected and installed as part of the puzzle that added up to the duomo, or gaudi's work, or labrouste's suspended vaults, sharples argued that it was actually the change in practice - the introduction of standardization during/after the industrial revolution - that made this earlier complex work harder to realize.

Kaufman waxes on the beauty of an object labored over by a wood carver for 25 years, but he is also talking about his movies being hand-crafted, as opposed to an industrial production of "standardized" studio releases, yes?

I think a movie, or a book or song, can be crafted as much as any 3d object can be.

Great interview, Jimmy, and I can't wait to see the movie too.

Oct 14, 08 3:45 pm
Jimmy Stamp

Thanks Liberty. I'll have to find that Lousiville Symposium thread. Sounds interesting.

In discussing craft, Kaufman is definitely talking about his approach to making Synecdoche, but like he said, at some point you have to just let go and move on to the next thing. That being said, the movie is INCREDIBLY labored over. It is very, very intricate -so many moving parts and concepts - and without a doubt a fine piece of craft by a very talented newly-minted auteur/craftsman.

Oct 14, 08 3:58 pm
liberty bell

Sorry, Jimmy - here's the link.

Oct 14, 08 4:30 pm

Kaufmann's movies are endlessy fascinating, I really like them. Can't wait to see this one.

I do disagree with one of his comments in the interview:

"It really is sad. You go to Europe and you look at some old building that took centuries to build. And you can’t do anything like that anymore. Even stuff from the 30’s here, the detail on these old buildings, it seems like we can’t do it."

If he means there is no will to do it, then I would agree, but the ability to physically do those details has not disappeared (there's stone carvers working on Washington Cathedral even now, and there's countless other examples). No, the work can be done, but it's just outrageously expensive to have the person-hours of craft put into a building now that were put into, say, a cathedral it's the will to do it and the putting-your-money-where-your-mouth-is that are missing.

Oct 14, 08 7:59 pm

And that Vegas, Vegas idea is brilliant...and more than a bit frightening.

Oct 14, 08 8:01 pm
"If you extrapolate [the] current situation and current trends and the way architecture is evolving, it's maybe slightly too strong to say that ultimately everything will be embedded in a casino."

--Rem Koolhaas on The Charlie Rose Show March 25, 2002

42 minutes into the show

excerpt from "Bilocation Syndrome"

Oct 14, 08 8:35 pm
liberty bell

Bump. BUMP. BUMP!!!

Just saw the film. Holy crap! It's amazing. Please, everyone who has seen it, weigh in with your reviews.

Admission: one third of the way through the film I was annoyed beyond enjoyment and was just ready for it to end. "More on the self-absorbed angst of middle aged men afraid of death" I thought. But then it slowly (there's no big "ah ha!" moment anywhere) became wonderful. Honestly, the story has everything, ev-er-ee-thing.

It's coincidental, too, that while driving past a house today I saw a dog sniffing something in the yard and then a guy raking leaves and I had one of those moments when i realized that that guy was just going about his life and his dog was just going about his life and we intersected for this moment when I realized his thoughts were as central to him as mine are to me (this is not the first I've realized this, obviously, I'm just reminded of it on occasion).

Then, and I have to brag/exclaim about this, when we first saw Adele's paintings in the movie my husband leaned over and told me he thought the paintings were really beautiful. So of course we stayed to watch the credits (which we always do anyway) to see if the artist was credited. Paintings were by Alex Kanevsy and...score! I own an Alex Kanevsky wahoo!!! He's a great painter I saw in Philly years ago when he did these gorgeous paintings of boxing matches; I was gifted one for my wedding after I raved about his work to a friend who knew him. Those tiny interconnected moments we humans share.

Just beautiful. Self-involved, yes, but that's how we all are and can even love it in one another.

Nov 29, 08 10:19 pm

All the best art is self-involved don't you think?
At least in the sense that it is at creation based on the viewpoint, feelings and aesthetics of the creator solely.

Nov 30, 08 2:43 am

since i'm reading a book about goethe right now (but haven't seen this movie or lb's painting) i'll simply chime in to confirm that goethe fully believed that it is only by conveying the most intimately personal thoughts did an artist has the opportunity to touch something universally resonant. so self-involve away!

Nov 30, 08 8:02 am

I wanted to say thanks for sharing your enthusiasm.
I really must see this movie.
I have been slacking with my movie watching lately.

Nov 30, 08 10:31 am

After reading "that goethe fully believed that it is only by conveying the most intimately personal thoughts did an artist have the opportunity to touch something universally resonant" I thought, "that sounds like sexual repression."

Funny, that.

Nov 30, 08 10:58 am

if you need it to be about sex, that's ok i guess. since you thought it, it must be true.

seems self-involvement - or art based on the very personal - could spring from either repression OR its opposite, just as likely.

Nov 30, 08 3:23 pm

I didn't think it was necessarily true, rather, as I already noted, I thought it was funny.

Nov 30, 08 4:12 pm

i thought western culture in general was about sexual repression....

Nov 30, 08 5:43 pm


be afrued, be very afreud...

Nov 30, 08 5:47 pm

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