A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)

John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich
Craig Schwartz: John Cusack
John Horatio Malkovich: John Malkovich
Lotte Schwartz: Cameron Diaz
Maxine Lund: Catherine Keener
Dr. Lester: Orson Bean
Floris: Mary Kay Place
Charlie: Charlie Sheen

Director: Spike Jonze
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman
Cinematography: Lance Acord
Production design: K.K. Barrett
Music: Carter Burwell

I find it interesting that David Fincher has a cameo -- as the critic Christopher Bing in the documentary about Malkovich's puppeteering career -- in Being John Malkovich, because Fincher and Spike Jonze seem to me to represent two distinct career paths in contemporary filmmaking. Both came out of the heyday of music videos, with their quirky and extravagant special effects and camera tricks, but Fincher has followed a more "commercial" direction with adaptations of bestselling novels like Gone Girl (2014) and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011). His films are fine ones, with professional polish and careful attention to storytelling. He seems to me a major director who subsumes himself into the material, the way such classic studio-era directors as William Wyler and George Cukor did. Jonze, however, has steered a steady course into the offbeat and personal through his four features. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation (2002), Where the Wild Things Are (2009), and Her (2013) are all marked by an irrepressibly eccentric imagination, an ability to think things not often thought, to imagine the impossible and make it plausible. The collaboration with the similar sensibility of Charlie Kaufman on the first two films suggested that the writer had the imagination and the director the skill to visualize it, but Jonze's later films show him to be a great assimilator, able to merge the ideas of his writers and the interpretations of his actors into a special and unique whole. Being John Malkovich plays with its themes of power and sexuality brilliantly. Jonze and Kaufman affirm the value of a hungry imagination with their special insights into the way we are all striving to transcend the limitations imposed by consciousness confined in a body. We probably wouldn't choose to be John Malkovich, but the possibility of escaping into someone else, even for only 15 minutes, tantalizes us.

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