Sunday, 26 November 2017


51. “Andy felt it was necessary to stay in the character.”


To get an angle on what you are about to see in Chris Kelly’s documentary, the full title of which is “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton,” the three films that you need to be aware of are Casey Affleck’s film “I’m Still Here,” documenting an unhinged Joaquin Phoenix playing himself, in real life, turning from an actor into a rapper; Errol Morris’s documentary “The Thin Blue Line,” a film that argued, successfully, that a man had been wrongly convicted of murder, helped by witnesses looking directly at the camera; and Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe’s “Lost in La Mancha,” which depicted the crisis around Terry Gilliam’s aborted attempt to film “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” a film that finally entered post-production fifteen years later.

My list of these films came about as a result of truing to make sense of what I had seen when watching “Jim & Andy,” which is a very intense experience, but one that we have seen glimpses elsewhere – far from a simple case of method acting, Jim Carrey felt it necessary to subsume himself in the personality, mannerisms and attitude of absurdist “song and dance man” Andy Kaufman, to the extent that Kaufman’s real-life sister felt she could have a conversation with her brother, who had died fifteen years earlier.

The bulk of “Jim & Andy” comes from video footage intended for a documentary that would follow Carrey as he played Kaufman in the 1999 biopic “Man on the Moon,” and it is clear why Universal Pictures had prevented the footage from being released at the time, except their reasoning, that Carrey would have just been “perceived as an asshole,” would not have been enough. Right from the start, the 2017 Carrey, interviewed facing the camera, filling the screen, and with a beard that makes him look like a cross between Jeff Bridges and Kris Kristofferson, tells you that this was a spiritual experience, with Carrey essentially opening himself up to a departed being, so they could tell their life story – it is no surprise that Milos Forman, director of finely drawn characters in “Amadeus” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” is shown to be having a hard time balancing his need to make a film, with no longer being able to talk to his own star.

One stand-out section of the film is Carrey, as Kaufman’s lounge entertainer character Tony Clifton, a cross between Vic Reeves’s Kinky John Fowler and Sir Les Patterson, gate-crashing the headquarters of Steven Spielberg’s company, Amblin Entertainment, which is on the Universal Studios lot – your patience is tried by watching the footage,  let alone having actually be there, showing how much of a vehicle Clifton had been for Kaufman himself to do whatever he wanted without consequence, as much as it could be for Carrey.

The Zen-like 2017 Jim Carrey wants you to understand the reasons for his inhabiting Andy Kaufman were spiritual, and that it was an ordeal to return to his own life, after not having to lead it for an extended period. It is a state of being that few people could ever just subject themselves, and more than any actor would reasonably submit themselves. Carrey clearly believes he needed to do it, and this documentary is only the latest part of his dealing with the experience.

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