Charlie Kaufman is the screenwriter
behind the surreal
film Being John Malkovich
. Kaufman prefers to keep his own life and background private, while letting his work speak for itself. Still, some details have slipped out. He was born in 1958 (despite several articles which list him as being in his 30s) in Massapequa, Long Island and his family eventually moved to Connecticut where he was raised and schooled. Though he did well in high school, he didn't consider it a priority (he was "anti-establishment"). A graduate of NYU
's film school (he tried Boston University, but hated it and transferred), Kaufman caught a break in 1991 when he was hired as a staff writer on the quirky Chris Elliott
sitcom "Get a Life
!" In the next few years, he continued to write for television, all the while cultivating elements of the surreal which would come to be Kaufman's trademark.
During this same time, he began work on the script
for what would eventually become Being John Malkovich
. Kaufman reportedly (and understandably) ran into some difficulty getting John Malkovich
to give permission to use his name, but Malkovich eventually warmed to the idea and even agreed to play himself in the movie! Once he agreed, the project moved quickly. An instant positive buzz
surrounded the film, and Kaufman's writing came into demand. In the years following, several of his already written scripts became hot properties and were produced. Results vary, but all of the films are interesting to say the least.
Being John Malkovich: A file clerk/puppeteer discovers a portal that takes you literally inside John Malkovich's head for fifteen minutes, then drops you off on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Sound absurd? Well, it's even more absurd than it sounds and that's what's so great about it! This was a fantastic and wildly popular film, and it marked the turning point of Kaufman's career. Things have been going well ever since.
Human Nature: The plot of which is described by Variety as: "a woman plagued by body hair, a scientist obsessed with saving the world by teaching mice table manners and a seemingly perfect French lab assistant, all of whom have designs on a young man who was raised in the wild as an ape" Sounds like a winner, though it recieved a mixed reception when released on May 18, 2001. It is worth a watch, but I'd say it is overshadowed by Kaufman's other works...
- Adaptation: Kaufman was asked to write a commerically viable screenplay for Susan Orlean's novel The Orchid Thief (which is about a plant dealer who clones rare orchids then sells them to collectors.) Instead of adapting the novel, Kaufman writes a screenplay about his troubles and self-doubt adapting The Orchid Thief (hence the title "Adaptation"). This film also reunites Kaufman with Malkovich director Spike Jonze. This film has received a very limited release, but I finally saw it and I thought it was a fantastic, multi-layered, thought-provoking film (computer scientists would also use the term recursive to describe it).
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: By day, game show host. By night, special operative for the CIA. That was the life (or so he's saying) of TV game show host Chuck Barris. Directed by George Clooney, the film was released on December 31, 2002. Though it featured a brilliant performance by Sam Rockwell in the lead role, the film was generally given mediocre reviews. I found it entertaining enough, though I thought it lacked the spark of some of Kaufman's other films.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: To quote Charlie, "It's about this guy who finds out that his girlfriend of two years has had this surgical procedure which has erased him from her memory. So he's freaked out and trying to live with it and he can't, so he decides to have the same procedure. Most of the movie takes place in his brain as she's being erased, and you see their whole relationship, moment-by-moment, backwards from this sort of bad end to the better beginning. Halfway through, as the memories start getting better, he decides he doesn't want the procedure." Directed by Michel Gondry (of Human Nature) and starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, this film was released on March 19, 2004 to popular acclaim.
Sources: Various interviews that I can no longer find, Corona Coming Attractions (http://corona.bc.ca/films/mainFramed.html), and the ever helpful IMDB
12.10.02 I am going to refresh this w/u when I get a chance. Human Nature was released in theaters, but I don't think it did so well... Adaptation is currently in theaters, but apparently none near me (yet)! Hopefully a wider realease is forthcoming...
12.27.02 Ok, added some info regarding Charlie's new script and some more biographical info. More info coming...
3/24/04 Tweaked the writeup a bit to mention which films have been released. Haven't seen Eternal Sunshine yet, but will update again when I do:) Looking into future projects...