Wednesday, April 11, 2018

it is a little kaufman-esque

Jim & Andy is entirely real. There is some debate. You probably haven't seen the movie so you'll have to trust me on this. Reviews mention it. There's at least a couple different Reddit threads about the possibility. Whether the in character bits are staged for this documentary or did Jim Carrey really remain in character so such a deliberately obnoxious degree two decades ago and we're only just hearing about it now--this is a question people have. In his review at rogerebert.com, Brian Tallerico puts it like this:

Reportedly, Universal then demanded that the footage be buried because they were worried Carrey would "come off as an asshole." They had reason to be concerned. Or did they? It will vary as to exactly when, but there will likely come a moment for each of you when you question exactly how much of "Jim and Andy" is 100% accurate. Did Carrey stay in character constantly, or just in these bits, filmed by Andy's ex and writing partner? The blurring of that line between performer, reality, and fiction adds another layer to "Jim and Andy" that Kaufman would have adored. And Carrey likely does too.

But, a few things are relevant here:

1. Interviewed on Charlie Rose, 21 December 1999, Danny DeVito talks about Jim coming to set in character.

2. Jerry Lawler talks about the same, in more detail, in this 2014 video (I can't figure out what the original source is, but this video was posted well before Jim & Andy showed up on Netflix.)

3. In this 2009 video, Carrey talks about Andy and Tony being on set, so he doesn't know director Milos Forman very well.

4. Who cares?

I mean, who goes into Jim & Andy wanting fact? I mean, versus wanting truth. The film is deliberately narrow in its presentation because it is telling a specific story about how Jim Carrey lost himself in Man on the Moon. Except, it's not like Jim Carrey disappeared from Hollywood in 1999. He's been involved in numerous films since then. He has remained a public figure. Carrey said in an... Actually, I don't know when it's from, or with whom, but he said in an interview (used as a clip at the start of this video) that he didn't feel exposed by Jim & Andy because "there is no me, no self. Jim Carrey is gone. Actually, never existed. And, I know that now. So, I'm able to take gigantic chances with this thing that people know as Jim Carrey." Scott Tobias, writing for NPR, describes a point in Jim & Andy:

Carrey gets emotional when asked about his father. Carrey remembers his dad as the funniest person in the room and a brilliant saxophonist who gave up his musical ambitions in order to care for his family. Then he lost his job as an accountant at 51 and it broke him. He hadn't just failed to achieve his dreams. He failed at the compromise. To Carrey, this was an argument for taking a leap into the unknown, because even failure would answer an essential question and perhaps open some doors in the process.

I just noticed as Jim & Andy gets to the point where we are told how it exists--Jim explains what an Electronic Press Kit (EPK) is and talks about how he doesn't like them, but Lynne Margulies (a filmmaker and Andy Kaufman's former girlfriend) and Bob Zmuda (Andy's creative partner and the other guy who was Tony Clifton all those years ago) were already around the set so he arranged for them to do the EPK footage--this is just over half an hour into Jim & Andy. In your usual, scripted film, this would be somewhere past plot point one, what Phil Dyer at Doctor My Script calls pinch one--"a major plot event... that complicates the protagonist's pursuit of his external goal. This event often reveals new information to the protagonist that will cause him to go in a new direction." Imagine Jim & Andy as entirely fictional (if not still truthful), and this fictional construct of a moment still fits. In this moment, we understand (or maybe present-day talking head Jim understands) what we are watching, how this madness was captured (or invented), and then what is the goal here? Is this moment the admission, through a deliberate lie, that all of these scenes on set of Jim as Andy, Jim as Tony, lost in character, drunk, passed out, belligerent, are inventions for this eventual exercise in documentary film rather than a measure of the reality on set?

Back to #4 above, does it matter?

The more important question regarding Jim & Andy is not whether or not it is entirely factual (just like Man on the Moon openly alters the events of Kaufman's life and announces as much, Jim & Andy can embody one of my favorite sayings from folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand: never let the truth get in the way of a good story (though in this case, Brunvand is using "truth" as I would use "fact" and the "good story" is the "truth" that surpasses the reality of the events within), does Jim & Andy tell the truth? Like Jim's truth in that story about his father: "I learned that you can fail at what you don't love, so you might as well do what you love."

And, structurally were at Dyer's mid-point here, I think, when Jim gets emotional and then we cut to Tony Clifton coming to set with Hell's Angels bikers as his entourage, and Bob Zmuda tells him that people in the production will sue him (Jim) for mental distress. Dyer explains that one of the options at the mid-point is that "the protagonist and antagonist will change roles so that the character who was more passive now becomes the aggressor." We learn more about Tony Clifton and how Kaufman would schedule appearances and not even show; instead Zmuda would show up in the guise of Clifton. We see a scene in which Jim as Tony abuses Giamatti (within the context of shooting Man on the Moon, not his off set antics, but the line there is blurred, too) and Giamatti isn't as famous then as he is now, he's just a "day player" so extras think Jim is going too far. We see Zmuda arriving as Clifton at the Playboy Mansion, being embraced by people who think it is Carrey, until Carrey arrives. The madness of these personalities have taken over the film. This is not just a nice little documentary about getting into character, but a cautionary tale about how it could go too far. Dan Zak, writing for The Washington Post says The Truman Show and Man on the Moon

are the tent poles of the documentary [Jim & Andy and they] are also the keys to the artistry and celebrity of Jim Carrey, who lately seems to be auditioning for the role of a 21st-century philosopher we didn't know we needed--one who applies the lessons of fame to a society drowning in fiction, distractions, advertisement and self-imaging.

I was too young to ever enjoy Andy Kaufman at the time. I only learned about him later (and mostly around the time Man on the Moon was made, to be honest). I don't know, necessarily, what comedy was like when Andy injected his strange brand into it. I know of the ridiculous, but innocuous, humor of folks like Steve Martin, Chevy Chase. Andy Kaufman feels like comedy's id. Or, that's how people talk about him. That's how Jim talks about him. That's how Man on the Moon and Jim & Andy talk about him. Unafraid to go too far. Similarly, long before he would portray Andy in (and around) Man on the Moon, Jim felt something like the same. If anything, Jim feels like a more energetic version of whatever Andy was.

Just over an hour into Jim & Andy, Jim admits that he doesn't take things as far as Andy, though. He let his own injury wrestling with Jerry Lawler for the production of Man on the Moon make it onto the nightly news--even though it wasn't real--but says that Andy would not have admitted as much. Indeed, when Andy and Lawler wrestled, they appeared on Letterman (a scene reenacted for Man on the Moon, and both versions are seen in Jim & Andy) to reconcile and it just got worse. Lawler talks about how he and Andy were actually friends and the whole thing was part of the act, and Jim actually embodies Andy as seen in footage, seen in character as Andy Kaufman, public figure, not Andy as he really was.

Dyer's plot point 2 description has

the antagonist expos[ing] the protagonist's internal flaw for the world to see. It should appear at this point that the antagonist has won the battle and that it is now possible for the protagonist to overcome his internal flaw and achieve his external goal.

Here, in Jim & Andy, we go form the Andy and Jerry Lawler feud to The Truman Show, to stepping "through the door." And, he cites the experience of being Truman Burbank--

The door is the realization that this--us--is Seaside [though Seaside was the real-world filming location for Seahaven, putting a (probably) accidental extra layer into the blur of reality and fiction]. It's the dome. This is the dome. This isn't real. You know? This is a story.

Dyer's pinch two says that the protagonist's "mentor" "usually dies at the end of this section of the script, or perhaps in the next section." Here, Jim & Andy, no longer real, no longer fake, moves into the territory of retelling the retelling of Andy's dying from cancer.

So, no, it doesn't matter if what we see in Jim & Andy is strictly speaking factual, or staged, or a mix of the two, because structurally, the film is just like any other. And, in terms of saying something, expressing some truth, objective facts don't matter as much as the subjective experiences here, and mostly those of Jim, who we have seen here go from up-and-coming comedian to bearded thinker. He is still who he has always been, but he is also everyone he has ever pretended to be, everyone he has ever claimed to be. 

And, Jim as Andy succumbs to cancer, and we see no footage (and maybe there just isn't any) of Andy in this same period, only the reproduction from 1999. And, structurally, meaningfully, this is absolutely deliberate. This is the death of Jim Carrey, not just the death of Andy Kaufman. Hell, it's not even the death of Andy Kaufman at all. It is the death of Jim as Andy, in cinematic terms, and the death of Jim as Jim in some deeper, psychologically troubling and psychologically freeing terms.

And, as Tony, Jim even gets to say a sort of eulogy for himself.

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