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Chinese Democracy vs. Synecdoche, New York

December 8, 2008

Josh Modell   •  A.V CLub

“When are we going to get an audience in here? It’s been 17 years.”

Yesterday, completely by coincidence, I saw Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York for the first time and listened to Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy, also for the first time.

I’m guessing this parallel has been drawn by some sharp word-jockey already: SNY is a movie—a fantastic movie—about a guy who spends his whole life and inordinate amounts of money trying to create art that is “true” and “honest.”Chinese Democracy is an album made by a guy who didn’t seem to blink at the idea of spending more than a third of his life (read that again—a third of his life!) and untold millions to make it exactly the way he wanted to.

And while Chinese Democracy didn’t move me at all, I find it incredibly difficult to dismiss after watching the painful (and often painfully funny) Synecdoche. More than that, I find myself creating a new movie in my head, a sort of post-modern reality show following the creation of Chinese Democracy as seen from Axl’s eyes. The amazing review that Chuck Klosterman wrote for us theorizes a bit about Axl’s thought processes, but I want more—straight from the mind of a crazy guy so deep into the creation of something that it all seems fairly normal, as if there’s no other way to do it.

Maybe I got that with Synecdoche, a movie that describes the puzzling obsession of creativity (and, of course, existence itself—wouldn’t be a movie without that) in an incredibly exciting way. It was made by a guy, Charlie Kaufman, who’s clearly not just an observer: This is the inside of his brain, and while it might not make perfect sense to anyone outside that limited sphere, it does offer as good a translation as anyone is ever likely to make. It was hilariously funny and monumentally heartbreaking and repetitive and wondrous and insanely, insanely, insanely ambitious.

I can’t say the same about Chinese Democracy, but without having seen Synecdoche just after hearing it for the first time, I might have dismissed it altogether. Now I’ll just tell myself a tall tale about Axl building a giant studio within a studio and populating it with GNR look-alikes instead. Here’s the trailer, which includes the bit of dialogue quoted above: Note the number of years the actor has been waiting for the play to open—it’s also the span between the last two GNR records.

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