May 15, 2006


Kit Stolz

I too thought Ulin's piece was spectacular; incredibly well-read and smart, but in an unpretentious, common sense-making way.

But here's a question: If Charlie Kaufman's such a great writer, why the heck did the artist draw him to look like Satan?



Not only do I agree that the article was great, I have to agree with the content as well. Kaufman is one of those writers whose work is utterly confounding to me, in the way in which it makes sense when you experience it, but you have no clue how he did it.

I did wonder whether Lethem was trying to get a little dig in with his comment: "I can understand the impulse to consider screenwriters as writers, but at the same time, the whole nature of screenwriting is to relinquish control. Even from the perspective of the audience, movies are different. You don't experience the story in the direct and intimate way a reader does on the page."

Now, Lethem is probably a writer whom I admire as much as I admire Kaufman, but the whole point of article is the miracle that in the end, Charlie Kaufman movies feel like Charlie Kaufman movies. It doesn't matter what the words looked like on the script page, he's still the author of the movie.

Jim Ruland

Kit, I couldn't agree more with your assessment. The few tmes I've heard Ulin speak he was the same way: saying profound things in a plainspoken way while sounding cheerful and earnest. For a first-person piece, he has a remarkably light touch. Apparently, the image has been used a number of times in Kaufman pieces.

Ken, (this is Jim filling in for Mark) I love that Ulin left that in there because the rebuttal is the centerpiece of his argument.



Nice to see you here. I really like your work.

And I agree, the quote worked well in the piece. I guess I was just a little disappointed in Lethem for sounding so provincial. Maybe the quote is out of context?

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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