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Just Between Frames

Our Take On: "Being John Malkovich"

Being John Malkovich graphic

After much anticipation, JBF got to see Being John Malkovich – originally scheduled to be part of our exploration of films with “magical realism”. We referred to Wikipedia’s entries on magical realism as being “a style of fiction that pains a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements… fiction and literature in particular with magic of the supernatural presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting.” This second description had been applied specifically to magical realism in films as well.

We all agreed there couldn’t be a much stronger example of this style than a film where people – for a fee – can spend time inside John Malkovich’s head, see through his eyes and like the fly on the wall experience whatever he is up to. John Cusack’s character takes this even further by using his skills as a puppeteer to actually control John’s physical body and what he says – making him a literal puppet. His wife, played by Carmen Diaz, also uses John for her own purposes, while Catherine Keener’s character manipulates both the puppeteer and his wife. Everyone found their performances – and the real John Malkovich’s – to be believable and well-done. We also got a huge kick out of the idea that the “visitors” ended up being spewed out onto a highway in Jersey.

We talked about the director, Spike Jones, and how his being married to Sofia Coppola, led to his first time as a director, making this film. The writer, Charlie Kaufman (writer for Adaptation as well), had been trying for years to get people interested in his script for the movie. He sent the screenplay to Francis Ford Coppola after he wrote it. Coppola liked it very much, and showed it to his son-in-law, Spike Jones he approached Kaufman about directing the film. John Cusack read the script after he had asked his agent to present him with the “craziest, most unproduced-able script you can find”. Kaufman had no backup actors in mind to play themselves in the title role if John Malkovich couldn’t appear in the film, and every time somebody offered to produce this film on the condition that a different actor be used, Kaufman adamantly refused – even when John Malkovich suggested using someone else! Members were floored by the fact that someone wanted it to be Tom Cruise!

We also discussed the impressive puppet work that was done in the film – particularly the amazing ballet done with a life-sized puppet and professional ballet company. We thought it was hilarious that one “John” decided to devote himself to puppeteering instead of acting, other actors (including Sean Penn) bemoaned not making the same decision, and how they to, wanted to become puppeteers!

In the end, members agreed that they were glad we finally got a chance to see this together – though one member found he’d enjoyed seeing it more the first time around.

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