Saturday, January 30, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "BEING JOHN MALKOVICH"

BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

Director: Spike Jonze
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman



After reading the script for “Being John Malkovich,” Catherine Keener reportedly called her agent and asked “Who the fuck is Charlie Kaufman and what the fuck is wrong with him.” (I have no idea what John Malkovich did after reading it.) Now, with “Adaptation,” “Human Nature,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” the Oscar-winning “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and his masterful directorial debut “Synedoche, New York,” and his latest feature, “Anomalisa” we now know who Charlie Kaufman is, although we still have no idea what the fuck is wrong with him. Thank god we don’t by the way. His name only occasionally comes up among the best screenwriters around, The common links in his scripts involve such aspects as the inner workings of the human mind, and the need to blend fantastical and surrealistic comedic elements within a presumptive reality, and the reality itself will usually have surrealistic elements. He also peppers his films with surprising elaborate background details and lines that have greater meanings on multiple viewings. If nothing else, “Being John Malkovich,” distinguishes itself for being the first of his films, making it’s audacity and uniqueness fresh upon it’s original release, even in a year that included “Magnolia,” “American Beauty,” and “Three Kings,” “Being John Malkovich,” stood out as the most original film in decades.

The film begins with a fledgling puppeteer Craig, (John Cusack) who at the urging of his wife a pet shop owner named Lotte, (A nearly unrecognizable Cameron Diaz) gets a job as a speed filer on the 7 ½ floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building, where he quickly falls in unrequited love with Maxine (Oscar-nominated Keener). This is about a half-hour into the film when Craig finds the elusive portal that makes you become John Malkovich (Himself, essentially) for fifteen minutes, before you’re thrown off onto the side of the Jersey turnpike. I fear revealing much more of the film for ruining the wonderful surprises Kaufman has planned for us. He’s noted for not following many of the rules of the typical Hollywood screenplay, which gives his films a more deconstructionist pattern, revealing the journey of the film to be bigger than the film itself. You can’t predict just what will happen next, or if anything will happen next in his films, and that’s just fine with Kaufman. It’s one thing when Lotte goes through Malkovich’s portal and realizes she a transsexual, it’s another when Malkovich goes through his own portal and…, well let’s not reveal too much. The film earned Spike Jonze a Best Director Oscar-nomination, who at the time, and to some extent since, had remained mostly noted as a music video and short film director and has only rarely found his way into feature films, although his second collaboration with Charlie Kaufman, “Adaptation,” is truly a masterpiece, and he won an Oscar for writing his most recent feature, “Her”, which definitely feels as though it was at least, somewhat inspired by Charlie Kaufman’s ideas of human behavior.

Watching “Being John Malkovich” now, I realize the minor details of the film that make it funnier the more you watch, and for the incredible acting, particularly by John Malkovich, who in reality is playing many different characters, and all of them well. It’s a brave performance to a certain extent, having to not only play himself, (And yes, the name was in the script before he signed on, it wasn’t added later) but other characters in his own body. It’s a performance that is truly multi-layered in a film that’s about the many layers of John Malkovich.  Wait....?
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