Skip to main content

I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
(2017)

Or, to give it its full subtitle, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Carrey’s in a contradictory place just now, on the one hand espousing his commitment to a spiritual path and enlightened/ing state, on the other being sued in respect of his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and accompanying allegations regarding his behaviour. That behaviour – in a professional context – and his place of consciousness are the focus of Jim & Andy, and an oft-repeated mantra (great for motivational speeches) that “I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love, so you may as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made”. The results are consequently necessarily contradictory, but always fascinating.


You can find much of the same proselytising in a speech Jim gave to the graduates of the Maharishi University of Management’s class of 2014, accompanied by just enough shtick to make the pill an easy swallow. Some have claimed Carrey’s been dabbling in DMT (to the extent that a fake movie with him playing Terence McKenna was announced), but it appears he’s merely a proponent of the Maharishi’s good old money-making Transcendental Meditation, a practice that mostly avoids a rocky ride thanks to some notable and vocal media advocates (the most famous being David Lynch). Andy Kaufman was also an ardent TM-er, having learned it at college in 1969, even training as a teacher a couple of years later. It’s a connection so loud and obvious, you wonder that the filmmakers didn’t at least mention it in passing…


Carrey’s clearly been on a very personal journey of questioning the status quo for a while, both internally and externally, in ways that have passed largely unnoticed (GM foods) or registered howls of media outrage (vaccinations), en route gradually disappearing off the map as a viable movie star. In Chris Smith’s documentary on the making of Man on the Moon, he comments “I have no ambition” (although not asked directly about his stalled career), but while his explanation for the transition is vague enough to be understood (It came “in the middle of confusion, disappointment, the fruition of all my dreams…. and being unhappy”), it’s evident his ambition is still there, and the need to be adored, if not to make money (look at it him talking about his painting during the MUM talk, essentially seeking the same audience approval he always has, and lapping up the rapturous responses). I don’t doubt his genuineness when he states (again to MUM) “I’ve often said, I wish people could receive all their dreams and wealth and fame so that they could see that it’s not going to be where you find your sense of completion” but the question is whether he’s an effective purveyor of that message; you’re in a dangerous and vulnerable place when you announce that you have answers, often setting yourself up to be torn down (as happened to Tom Cruise, who managed to weather the storm, ultimately by shutting the hell up).


With Carrey on a voyage of discovery – I’m assuming he doesn’t think he’s reached his destination – it’s valid to question the reasons for this documentary appearing now.  One might assume, given the rehearsed script he trots out, that it was a self-initiated platform, since he’s the guy with the footage, and that it merely confirms – one might offer in evidence his recent New York Fashion Week red carpet appearance – that he still feeds off and craves attention. Spike Jonze and Smith attest otherwise, that he made no stipulations, but there’s an inevitable sense that Carrey’s to-camera perspective moulds the doc, bringing in such areas as the trajectory of fame and life under the lens (The Truman Show is flashed up several times).


Carrey famously wrote himself a $10m cheque and gave himself five years to collect, and his creed on this, set out in both Jim & Andy and the MUM talk, is that when he was a kid – he cites how his father was a great comedian, eventually laid low by the need to forsake pursuing a talent for breadwinning in the sterile role of an accountant, and then even losing his that – he prayed for a bicycle and one turned up at the house (someone had entered his name in a raffle) and “From then, whenever I wanted something, I manifested it”. His technique (not detailed in the doc) is “letting the universe know what you want and are looking toward while letting go of how it comes to pass” (while throwing in such alluring aphorisms as hope being a beggar that walks through the fire while faith leaps over it).


And it’s this Noel Edmonds-like acumen for manifestation/ positive thinking/ cosmic ordering that led, by his account, to discovering the key to personal success, the realisation that the public want to be free from concern and “I’m gonna appear to be the guy that’s free from concern”. And behold, a star was born: “It’s as if I went into a fugue state, Hyde showed up… I have a Hyde inside me, that shows up when there are people watching”.


This ability was perfect for inhabiting the characters of Andy Kaufman, where the line between performance and reality was constantly blurred. Carrey has it that “Andy tapped me on the shoulder and said “Sit down, I’ll be doing my movie” with the consequence “And no one knew what was real and not real half the time. I didn’t know what was real and not real”. Individuals including Taxi co-stars Danny DeVito and Judd Hirsch, Paul Giamatti and beleaguered director Milos Forman, who called Carrey one night – the actor was in character most of the time, but I’m guessing not on the phone – complaining “I’m so exhausted you know” at having to deal with Kaufman and alter ego, boorish nightclub singer Tony Clifton, all day.


The latter’s antics included insulting Ron Meyer, showing up at Amblin (Spielberg was absent), and Kaufman’s long-time collaborator Bob Zmuda (Kaufman’s girlfriend Lynne Margulies was also present on the set of Man on the Moon, shooting the behind-the-scenes footage seen here) visiting the Playboy Mansion as Clifton and spending several hours there hoodwinking Heff before Carrey nonchalantly showed up.


Carrey’s both engaged and forthcoming as a talking head, but also vaguely aloof from the experience. Some have suggested he’s “totally obnoxious”, which I can’t say was my take (although he’d probably accept it if charged). He comments “On an anarchist level, it’s funny” of Clifton, who I can’t really get behind any more than Borat, but unlike, say Leto as the Joker, it seems to fit the bizarreness of Kaufman himself that Carrey should have been so disruptive, that, the performance aspect feels like a genuinely deserved comeuppance for the arrogance of thinking you could make a trouble-free Kaufman biopic (which no one was going to see anyway, even if it had received glowing reviews). You can accuse Carrey of going too far, but giving him the role was essentially an invitation. Wrestler Jerry Lawler’s protestations that he and Kaufman were good friends, which wasn’t how Carrey treated him, are really neither here nor there in terms of a mission statement to carry the anarchic baton (one of my favourite comments comes as “Tony” is told, that, when filming is finished, eight or nine people will sue for mental stress; “And that would be different than a regular production?” inquires Clifton, blasé).


There are odd moments, even in that take-no-prisoners context, though, such as Kaufman’s daughter, who never got to meet him before he passed away, spending an hour in conversation with Carrey as Andy on set, a recollection that brings a tear to his eye.  Kaufman’s family evidently felt Carrey was channelling something too, so you might understandably see the whole charade as a hugely inappropriate presumption on the comedian’s part, but from the footage it’s entirely plausible that, as he suggests, he and everyone else was caught up in something overwhelming and immersive. Carrey’s mantra was “How far would Andy take this?”, but he’s also clear that his being in situ for this doc and revealing the tricks of the trade is a sign that “I’m not the same personality as Andy. Andy would never tell you”.


You can entirely see that Carrey’s on to something when he says of the footage, “I often wish that had been part of the movie”; it would have better reflected the essence of what Kaufman was about, something Forman’s formal film could not hope to capture. Carrey had seized on recording footage as a reaction against electronic press kits, and reports how Universal didn’t want to allow any of it to surface “so that people wouldn’t think I was an asshole”: ‘We don’t want people to think that Jim’s an asshole’”. The doc still feels like a dare in that regard.


But, while the footage is fascinating, it’s Carrey’s current head space as refracted through its prism that is more so. Tremendous self-awareness doesn’t necessarily equate with being in an optimal place, and one wonders at a certain stagnancy that allows the same lines to be parroted describing his developed consciousness and mission three-to-four years apart. Is he really in a place, or is he clinging to the idea of it? Carrey comments that each of his roles has reflected an “absolute manifestation of my consciousness at that time” (the funniest account might be that of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, meeting with Michel Gondry at a point where he was heartbroken; Gondry told him “Oh my God, you’re so beautiful… right now. You’re so broken… I love this. Please don’t get well”. “That’s how fucked up this business is”, Carrey grins). Combine that with his belief that each of us is an avatar we create (“This isn’t real”), and his very TM statement “All we really yearn for is our own absence”, and it’s difficult not to see the “drug high” some recovering TM practisers have attested to before the come down. When he says, in closing, of his Kaufman transformation, “I wonder if I could do that with other people… what would happen if I decided just to be Jesus”, he’s only half being cheeky.


And there’s the problem too that, behind the wacky delivery, the Maharishi message is somewhat jaded currency (“Thought as an illusory thing”, his understanding “I was the universe, no longer a fragment of the universe” and that “I want to take as many people as I possibly can” along with him to that rapturous state). The key to a salesman for a system of self-awareness is whether you think you’d like to be where they are, and neither Carrey nor Lynch offer that kind of appeal (to me, at least). Jim mutters abstractly about “abstract structures” (the labels society and family attach to us), avowing “I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy”. But is he? Since his next lines are, however self-effacingly (this is a guy who made a movie about the number 23, so part of him buys it), that he’s “ready for the end times to occur and whatever the hell is going to happen. I’m just great”. You wonder if he is. Great. Are you just great, Jim?


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…