March 24th, 2003


Adaptation review

I'm a sucker for artworks that are about their own medium. Songs about musicians, books about writing, comics about comics, films about the film world. I love the slightly hallucinogenic feeling of being trapped inside a hall of mirrors where the narrative reality of the story is itself aware of the limits that constrain it and can therefore wilfully violate them.

You'd never guess that some of my friends were Film & Media students back in the good old days, would you?

By all rights I should have loved Adaptation. It should be up there on my IMDB scoreboard with a big fat 10. I should be eagerly checking to find out when I can order the DVD and praying for lashings of extras to go with it.

But I didn’t and it isn’t and I’m not.

It’s certainly well made. And it’s interesting. And it’s obviously the result of tortured intelligence cutting it’s own Gordian knot in an unorthodox manner. But it just didn’t work for me.

Sure, bits of it were hilariously funny and bits of it were poignant, but you always got the impression that the writer didn’t mean them, that they were in there for effect and that the whole film was an elaborate joke. Which in some ways it is – the setup is excellent and the payoff is nicely disguised (well enough hidden for some people to miss it, I suspect), but it’s all so over-intellectualised that I found myself not caring.

The plot follows Charlie Kaufman (the writer of the film and also Being John Malkovich) as he tries to adapt a book with no plot. Charlie obviously hates all the clichés of moviemaking, he’s studied them at length and knows exactly how to avoid them. The problem is that by getting rid of the clichés, he’s thrown out the things those clichés represent – any kind of learning, growing or changing experience. In order to adapt the book without putting any of this in, he’d be better off shooting a documentary rather than a film.

The plot ends up following him through his attempts at the adaptation, intermingled with the adaptation itself. We see him resort to putting himself into the film and I certainly got the feeling that showing his inability to write a straightforward adaptation was his apology and explanation to the audience for his transgressions against film structure.

He tries to show us why he avoids the clichés by inventing his twin brother Donald whose writing embodies them all. Donald pumps his thriller manuscript full of clichés and impossible plot twists and then sells it for a fortune while Charlie still languishes into his self-created Hell. Sadly, I ended up with more respect for Donald than Charlie. Donald at least wanted to create something people could enjoy, while Charlie longs to create something that’s “different” even if that means alienating it from his audience.

We see the plots intertwine as Charlie becomes obsessed with the life of the book’s writer and then gets sucked into it (although not so literally as in Being John Malkovich), the plot turning topsy-turvy at this point as Donald takes control.

I certainly enjoyed Adaptation up to a point – but the enjoyment was very much an intellectual amusement rather than a visceral thrill. Except for the bit with the alligator.

Score: 6/10

Charlie Kaufman: I don't want to cram in sex or guns or car chases or characters learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcome obstacles to succeed in the end. The book isn't like that, and life isn't like that, it just isn't.
Donald Kaufman: The killer, the girl, and the cop all have split-personalities!
Donald Kaufman: I'm putting in a chase sequence. So the killer flees on horseback with the girl, the cop's after them on a motorcycle and it's like a battle between motors and horses, like technology vs. horse.
Charlie Kaufman: And they're still all one person, right?

From Aesops Fables

The Wolf and the Lamb Once upon a time a Wolf was lapping at a spring on a hillside, when, looking up, what should he see but a Lamb just beginning to drink a little lower down. "There's my supper," thought he, "if only I can find some excuse to seize it." Then he called out to the Lamb, "How dare you muddle the water from which I am drinking?"

Nay, master, nay," said Lambikin; "if the water be muddy up there, I cannot be the cause of it, for it runs down from you to me."

"Well, then," said the Wolf, "why did you call me bad names this time last year?"

"That cannot be," said the Lamb; "I am only six months old."

"I don't care," snarled the Wolf; "if it was not you it was your father;" and with that he rushed upon the poor little Lamb and ate her all up. But before she died she gasped out "Any excuse will serve a tyrant."


As I'm sure some of you know I'm not a huge fan of the Onion. I find it occasionally hilarious, but generally I've grown bored of it's formula.

However, the 9/11 issue was spot-on for me, so when I saw this entry on Rollick's journal about the one coming out on Wednesday, I got pretty darned excited.

Head Hurty

Last Monday I started taking bottles of dilutable blackcurrant to work. I also took in my own glass (as the plastic cups in the cending machine are teeny). This meant I was drinking a lot more fluid as I didn't have to go to the vending achine every time I fancied a drink.

I took Tuesday off as I had a terrible headache and felt nauseous.

On Wednesday I put these two things together and decided that the water was poisoning me. So I bought 2 litres of water from Sainsburies for 55p and that lasted me through Wednesday and Thursday and Friday morning. I didn't have any headaches and I just didn't drink on Friday afternoon.

I chatted to Hugh about this, and he told me he had a headache too, the day after I visited him, and that he had a sore throat too. So I thought that maybe the headache/water connection was coincidence.

Today I completely forgot about it and just drank from the vending machine water (hI didn't even remember until lunchtime that I wasn't supposed to).

Guess who has a headache now?

I reported this to my rep last week, but apparently it'll just come down the chain as "The water has been tested, it's fine" as it always does.

Angry. Very Angry

If you don't read Bob the Angry Flower, you should.

Here's a nice piece of prose:
As I write this, US tanks charge north towards Baghdad, but the much-awaited mass-mudering hellfire of missiles has yet to flutter like gentle snowflakes across the city, bestowing the sweet kiss of democracy and transition to a better world for every fellow or lass lucky enough to be underneath.

Oh, and the solution to world peace