Monthly Archives: March 2010

Screwball Existentialism

Don’t ask me why I went and looked at my own dormant myspace page, for the first time in several years. Long ago, in 2005, in fact, I posted this there; seems worthy of replication on this under-nourished blog, so here goes:

Yeah, so I just want to put this out there so that 40 years from now, when people are trying to define and codify and write lots of vague, boring stuff about the films that exemplify (-fied) the millennial transition we’re even now struggling through, I’ll get credit for coining the genre term they overuse. How serious am I about all of this? Nowhere near as serious as a heart attack. We’ll call the genre “screwball existentialism” and include willfully strange, almost-slapstick, highly original movies that deal intensely with the nature of being, memory, and identity. Here are the big ones:

Being John Malkovich
Donnie Darko
Human Nature
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
I Heart Huckabees
Mulholland Drive
Waking Life

A few that I’d say kinda fit much more loosely into the genre:

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Cast Away
Groundhog Day
Flirting With Disaster (big on the “searching for one’s own identity” tip)
• Altman’s 3 Women (again with identity thing, easy on the slapstick/screwball)

Maybe, need to see again:

About Schmidt
Fight Club

I’ll edit this and add more as they come to me. And, hey, suggest obvious ones I’ve missed. I was in a hurry, OK, I’m trying to coin a genre term here, not spell the whole thing out for you. Jeez.

“But, hey,” I can hear you asking, “why don’t you just call it ‘The Charlie Kaufman Genre,’ I mean he wrote like half of ’em?” Do not make me stop this car, do you hear me? If I have to even consider pulling over, so help me, you will not enjoy the results, mister.

By the way, if we ever get this to become a “household term” and people, like, refer to their favorite directors and, hell, even themselves as “screwball existentialists” that’d be fine by me, because I know lots of people whose personal philosophies I’d say fit the bill (I may even go so far as to say those are my favorite “kinds” of people), and, yeah, I’d like to think I more often than not fall darn nicely into that category along with them. I got a monumentally good Reuben sandwich today from a deli in a dying strip mall.

Biggest addition to the genre since I wrote this way back when? Probably Where the Wild Things Are. Yes, it’s another Spike Jonze movie, but it’s so this genre. Max discovers a fantasy land in which he’s both king and heel, an amalgam of several fragments of his current and future selves, his family, his homelife, and his distant emotions. You laugh and cry with him about who everyone thinks they were as a kid and might eclipse as a grown-up but never did.

Actually, no. Biggest Recent Addition to the Genre is Synecdoche, New York. I don’t even know where to begin with that one. Everyone is reflected in a broken mirror of themselves. It’s a great movie, one I kind of hated on the first go-round. I swung and missed at the Screwball elements and was initially hurt and betrayed by the harrowing Existentialism. I’m better now.

Seems now that the dead-center of this genre happened when, in I Heart Huckabees, Brad, played by Jude Law, repeatedly asks “How am I not myself?” Screwball Existentialist movies address this question by trying to make us laugh at our own fractured identities.

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