took root at composer, Carter Burwell's, Theatre of the New Ear - a series consisting of one-acts that could also be described as "sound plays". The evening was intended to feature three aural theatre experiences from Charlie Kaufman, the Coen Brothers and a third artist, but when one dropped out, leaving the evening one act short, Kaufman penned a second sound play under the pseudonym Francis Fregoli. This was the birth of Anomalisa
. Those who have already had the privilege of seeing the film adaptation may recognize 'Fregoli' as the name of the film's fictitious psychosis in which sufferers of the condition struggle to distinguish people from one another.
Kaufman's story surrounds Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a travelling lecturer in the midst of a Fregolian crisis. In the sound play, everyone but the leading actors sound identical because they're all voiced by Tom Noonan. In the film, the background players are given the same face in addition to the same voice, also provided by Noonan. Life is becoming drastically bleak for Michael, as he encounters more and more indistinguishable faces. Then he meets, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a fan with a beautifully distinct voice. Smitten by her singularity, the two embark on a night of quiet, clumsy romance resulting in a far realer depiction of sex than most live action films I've seen this year. This is mostly because Kaufman conveys a quiet sadness in their intimacy. Lonely togetherness.
In initially accepting Burwell's experiment - his aural challenge - Kaufman's mission was to find a theme in which the medium served its message. His answer came from the disconnection inherent in the process of separating sound from instrument, mind from body. The adaptation Kaufman co-directs with Duke Johnson, a stop-motion artist who helped guide Kaufman through the animated wilderness, is a seamless extension of Theatre of the New Ear's mission to serve the message with an expressionistically apt medium. In the play, the actors sit on opposite sides of the stage, providing the soundscape with two disembodied personas. In the film, the characters' bodies may stand in close proximity to one another, but their voices come from a faraway world called reality. Whether Michael's body likes it or not, it is a slave to the powers animating and voicing him.
Starburns Industries, the animation studio that housed the production, generously invited ScreenAnarchy for a visit to see the figurines and their background sets firsthand. It's a surreal experience to have the veil lifted on such a full world after you've already lived in it as a viewer. Walking from set to set I couldn't help but mourn the lifelessness of it all.
Along with the tour, I also had the privilege of sitting down with Kaufman and Johnson for a brief chat.
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