I briefly entertained the idea of going to Cannes this year, and then I remembered that ever since I moved to LA my bank account has been losing weight the way I only wish I could. For a while I thought I wouldn’t be missing much, and then the ‘long version’ of Soderbergh’s Che films played. And if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that the Cannes cut of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY will never play in the United States. The movie, which divided and baffled critics in France, ran 124 minutes, but it looks more and more likely that the film will be trimmed down in an effort to get picked up for US distrubution, and as Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere explains, these could be more than just trims, but in fact wholesale replacement of scenes and a complete change of the narrative structure (Note: Wells himself is quoting Gregg Goldstein’s Hollywood Reporter piece about possible trims. Wells saw the film in Cannes).

Potential distributors eyeballing Synecdoche, New York in
Cannes “were concerned about its length, especially the fragmented,
inscrutable, increasingly fast-paced segments near its conclusion,”
Goldstein writes. “In fact, those sequences could potentially be slotted any number of ways,
replaced with cut scenes or even excised without affecting the film’s
overall impact. A narrative thread doesn’t exist after a certain point
in the movie, anyway.”

This is the sharpest point made in the piece. A meditative, dream-like quality does
eventually overtake the film, becoming more psychological or
analytical, and certainly less of a traditional-type “story.” It is,
finally, what it is. And it seems on some level a little unkind to try
and shoehorn a movie like Synecdoche, New York into a linear narrative form. You could, I suppose, shorten it somewhat — down from 124 minutes to 105 or 110 minutes.

“Kaufman explained that after the film was cut to three hours, there
was more than one version he assembled with different scenes to whittle
it to its 124-minute length,” Goldstein continues. “And despite his
reputation for an uncompromising vision, he said he’d be amenable to
further editing depending on which distributor picks up the film for
North America.”

Obviously I’d like to see Kaufman’s film reflecting his own personal vision, but I also understand the demands of a commercial marketplace, even for a cheap film (probaly costing 20 million or under). In these kinds of situations you have to hope for the best, and if that doesn’t happen, a good DVD release. I am getting the feeling that Synecdoche, NY may not entirely work in any form, but I think that’s okay. It’s a movie that was a head scratcher from the minute we heard the synopsis – a playwright stages a full-size recreation of his own life in a massive warehouse (says the Oxford University Press Literary Dictionary: synecdoche [si‐nek‐dŏki], a common figure of speech (or trope) by which something is referred to indirectly, either by naming only some part or constituent of it (e.g. ‘hands’ for manual labourers) or—less often—by naming some more comprehensive entity of which it is a part (e.g. ‘the law’ for a police officer). Usually regarded as a special kind of metonymy, synecdoche occurs frequently in political journalism (e.g.‘Moscow’ for the Russian government) and sports commentary (e.g. ‘Liverpool’ for one of that city’s football teams), but also has literary uses like Dickens’s habitual play with bodily parts: the character of Mrs Merdle in Little Dorrit is referred to as ‘the Bosom.’ It’s worth noting that the word also sounds like the upstate New York city of Schenectady) – and knowing how Kaufman works, it’s no surprise that this is his most inscrutable piece yet. But it’s his piece, and I want to see it the way that best expresses his thoughts.

It’s the endless problem of filmmaking – as a novel or even a play, Kaufman could make this story as odd and convoluted and mind-fucking as he likes, since the overhead costs are so much smaller. But when you’re playing with 20 million bucks – which is obviously a tiny movie budget – you have to make sure you’re getting enough asses in seats to recoup that investment. And while that translates to a small audience, it remains a lot of asses that need to get in seats.