A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

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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