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A true original

By The Anarchist Kitten

CHARLIE Kaufman does not talk about himself. However, luckily for fans, many others do, and enough has been pieced about him together from his critics, peers and his movies. A film critic has labelled him “America's only intellectually provocative screenwriter,” and a “true original.” Premiere magazine included him on their list of the 100 most powerful people in Hollywood and Time named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Kaufman's influence continues to increase as he adds to his roster.

There is very little known about the man. And Charlie Kaufman isn't exactly a household name, despite his power and influence. However, one would certainly have seen, or have heard of one of his movies: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Synecdoche, New York etc.

In Variety's list of "Ten Scribes to Watch", Charlie Kaufman was the only screenwriter not pictured, and when Esquire staged a group portrait of top screenwriters, Kaufman's name was prominent but again, he declined to be photographed. Kaufman confesses, "I don't like talking about myself." However, his wild, surreal movies are in contrast to his personality. Kaufman longs for quiet time, and maybe he finds this writing his dark comedies. Maybe that alone can describe the larger than life nature of his movies.

Kaufman had a normal childhood: "I grew up in the equivalent of Levittown, that kind of post-World War II development" he says; as a child he staged plays at home for his parents and made short movies. As introverted then as he is now, Kaufman nonetheless was well-liked by those who knew him, though there's little doubt he felt like an outsider. Always very smart, he was a good student but not outstanding. School was never his priority, and he spent years in the TV Company (an elective for the study of TV production) and in the drama club. Kaufman always had a taste for comedy; "I always loved the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, and, when I was older, Lenny Bruce."

Kaufman himself performed in numerous school and community plays including "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." His big acting break came during his senior year when he landed the lead role in his high school's production of “Play It Again, Sam,” the Woody Allen play that first appeared on Broadway. He was involved with an improv-group called Upscene, in which Kaufman was a standout performer.

After graduating, Kaufman headed off for Boston University, hated it, and transferred to NYU where he studied film. Among his classmates was future film director Chris Columbus, but it was with student Paul Proch that Kaufman would form a lasting friendship. Possessed of the same skewed sense of humour, the pair wrote a multitude of unproduced scripts and plays. “When we wrote our first article and I want to say that the articles were 25 cents a word it was a lot of money. I remember that the first big check I got was a thousand-something. I Xeroxed it."

During the next few years Kaufman was in and out of jobs, often unemployed for prolonged periods of time. He wrote for sitcoms, most of which often got cancelled. At this point, while waiting for more work after one of the sitcoms he wrote for was cancelled, Kaufman started writing a film script that began as "a story about a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife." Sounds fairly basic, but it eventually evolved to incorporate whimsical elements and inventiveness. He included such quirky details as having his character be a puppeteer who finds work on the 7 1/2 floor of an office building, a malicious boss and eventually the actor John Malkovich. What started off as a joke, launched his career. "I thought that was as far as it was going to go. And it was, for a couple of years. Then it kind of came together." The screenplay created a buzz around Hollywood, but producers were too scared of the story's unusualness to actually make it. But the script was finally bought and Spike Jonze, previously known for only his music videos and TV commercials, signed on to direct the film. The cast, including Catherine Keener, John Cusack and Cameron Diaz, all got on board because of the originality of the material. Diaz described it, "they say in Hollywood there are only 14 scripts. Well this is number 15."

In 2002 Kaufman followed up with not one but three films. Human Nature, written the year after Malkovich after one of the shows he worked on was cancelled, again, was met with an indifferent reception, not helped by minimal publicity. Adaptation fared much better with critics and fans alike. Using Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief as a starting point, it blurs the line between fact and fiction in telling the parallel tales of Kaufman's own struggle to adapt Orlean's book, and the tale of Orlean herself, writing about orchid thief John Laroche. It resulted in a surreal comedy you can't quite put a finger on.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was an adaptation of Chuck Barris' autobiography, a real-life former game show host, claiming to have worked as a CIA assassin while simultaneously chaperoning Dating Game contestants around the world. Directed by George Clooney, starring Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts and Clooney himself, the star power and Barris' claims ensured the film was highly-anticipated. Unlike all the previous films, Kaufman didn't work with the director, and some rewrites were done by Clooney himself. The film annoyed Kaufman, who disliked what he called the "aren't-I-cute" tone of the movie.

2004 saw the wide release of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, an original script based on an idea given to Kaufman by a friend of the film's director Michel Gondry. This is the film that finally won Kaufman an Oscar, after previous nominations for Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. In Kaufman's words, the romantic comedy was "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." More serious in tone than Kaufman's previous work though still containing more subtle elements of his warped humour, Eternal Sunshine till date is his most commercially successful film, helped in no small way by the big-name cast including Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, Kirsten Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo.

Kaufman says, "I like to live in the confusion," explaining, "When you complicate things, that's when things are more interesting."

Kaufman is afraid to list his favourite writers, lest his work be compared to theirs; however, among those whose work he enjoys are authors ranging from Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Stanislaw Lem, Philip K. Dick and Stephen Dixon to Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith. Some of his favourite films include What Happened Was..., Naked, Safe, Ladybird Ladybird, Eraserhead and most of the Coen Brothers and David Lynch films.

His latest work is Synecdoche, New York, a "scary movie" that marked Kaufman's directorial debut. The film is about playwright Caden Cotard (reference to the psychological state that makes one believe they don't exist), and the convoluted relationships he shares with several women in his life. Caden attempts to create a work of "brutal honesty," building a scale replica of New York City in a warehouse and populating it with a cast of hundreds, some playing friends of Caden's, one playing Caden himself. The film is almost exclusively for viewers who are well versed in theatre and are extremely open to experimentation.

"I have no interest in making a genre horror movie," Kaufman says; "I keep trying to figure out what's really scary, not what's scary in movies because that is too easy. I was thinking about things that are really scary to me, not horror-movie scary… [The film is] about getting ill and dying, about time moving too quickly as you get older, and not feeling that you've accomplished what you've hoped for. There are issues of enormous relationship nightmares that I was thinking about. Losing his family. Losing the respect of his wife."

And that pretty much sums up the theme of any movie he has worked with: what is really scary to us, not what scares us in movies.

(References: IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, AskMen, Wikipedia, Being Charlie Kaufman)

Porto Grande

Two hot underground bands from Chittagong

By Musarrat Rahman

My 31st Demerit:
Very popular in Chittagong and gaining popularity in Dhaka, My 31st Demerit focuses on New-Age Progressive Rock, Metal and Alternative when it comes to covers, but when it comes to their original tracks, “its purely the heavier side of traditional rock” says the band, “It spoke for all of us, starting from meaningful lyrics to heavy music and just raw energy that made us all go crazy from the pure goodness of such music.” They credit their mixture of sub-metal/rock genres to the different tastes of individual band members: vocalist Mashfee Siddique is into goth/death music, Hasan Shahrear the drummer loves his heavy and thrash metal when it comes to skills but also has a passion for classic American punk, Tanshi Hossain on Lead Guitars is purely about heavy metal and Omar Reza on Riff Guitars comes from more of a speed metal/alternative background. The rest of the band members are Dhruba Chakma on Guitars, Anik Sheikh and Sayeef Jahed Reza on bass. Founding member Sahim Rashid passed away on December 2009.

My 31st Demerit started off with Hasan, Sahim, Sadman, Alex and Anik in 2007. They were all high school friends who dreamt of forming a band together. Like every underground band, the band faced a rocky start, they lacked the two most important things: experience and stage presence. However at that time, the underground music scenario was gathering much hype and there were plenty of concerts happening. My 31st Demerit's first ever actual public performance was at "The April Fest '07" which also featured other underground bands of Chittagong. A few months later MTd performed once again at the "New Skool Rockk" the first of the popular concert series held at the Chittagong Grammar School.

However there was a slight change in the line-up just before the day of the gig. Sadman left for Canada the day before the show but Alex managed to compensate for him. MTd pulled of the concert pretty well and that proved to be a turning point for the band as a fan base started forming.

Then came a dark period for the band. It began to split apart with the departure of band member Alex. But Sahim Rashid refused to give up and soon he met Omer at a friend's birthday party and instantly a connection was made.

Sahim invited Omer to play at the "Charity Concert" which surprisingly worked out very well, but it still lacked a lead vocalist. Soon enough, Mashfee joined the group filling the space of vocals. Within the next few months the band recruited Dhruba on backup guitars as well.

The Arockalypse, in which MTd opened for well-known bands, marked their official beginning.

The band draws inspiration from musicians Myles Kennedy, Mike Potnoy, Kirk Hammett, Mark Tremonti, John Paul Jones, John Myung, Alexi Laiho to name a few. They also love the bands Creed, Bullets For My Valentine, Godsmack, Korn, Iron Maiden, Trivium and locally, Warfaze, Aurthohin, Arcell, Black, Cryptic Fate and Nemesis. “The music they create just blows us away and inspire us more than anything.” they say.

The band has plans to release their first single this summer, so keep an eye out! You can check them out on their MySpace or Facebook pages for updates.

Effigy is not just another young underground band in Chittagong, but it's a band on the fast track to local fame. It started with three school friends from Little Jewels School performing for their annual function.

Now the band Effigy has Eshan Newaz on lead guitars, Syed Wadud on drums and Rakib Alam on lead vocals and guitar. Honorary members include bassist/ background vocalist Ayan Barua, who lives outside Chittagong, and guitarist/keyboardist Joshi Hilary stays in the States.

They started off as a heavy metal band covering Metallica, Iron Maiden, Killswitch Engage, Warfaze, Children of Bodom and Lamb of God, but then branched out into more softer rock with Alter Bridge, Hinder, 3 doors down, Nickelback, Guns and Roses, Maroon 5, Lifehouse and others. Since the audience responded more to their alter-rock covers, the band decided to pursue an experimental-alternative-rock genre.

When asked about influences, the band credits metal bands, like Metallica, Iron Maiden etc for getting them into music, but now the band members are more into the mellow side with alternative and rock.

Individually, the lead vocalist/guitarist are inspired by most of the bands from the 80's and 90's, as well as vocalists Sebastian Bach, Myles Kennedy, Scott Stapp and guitarists like Mark Tremonti, John Petrucci, Tom Morello, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert among others. He loves acoustic instrumental music, specially T-cophony, Andy McKee, Stephen Bennett, Don Ross, Dan Schwartz, and a lot others; while the drummer is inspired by John Bonham, Mike Portnoy, Steve Smith, Lars Ulrich, Dave Weckl, Chad Smith, and many others. The band collectively are motivated by local celebrities, Nemesis.

Effigy has become a fixture at local shows in Chittagong (Eid Rock Fest'08, Live Arockalypse, Metal Core, Rocka'Mania '09, Alterrock), and has even done shows in Dhaka (Wireless Session 4.3).

The band even has four singles so far! The first is a soft-mellow-rock song called “Shukher Sathe” and the next two heavy metal tracks are unnamed. They're debut track will be released soon in a mix tape called 'Aashor' and it is titled “Sahim's Song”, a song dedicated to Sahim Rashid from My 31st Demerit who passed away last December.

Every member pitches in during songwriting and they have help from fellow bands such as Blunderware's Rushnaf Wadud. Effigy would also like to encourage fans that are into poetry and composing lyrics to send in their stuff for them to check out in either English or Bengali.

You can check out this band and keep updated with their shows and song releases from their Facebook page!


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