Being John Malkovich, Blu-ray (1999/2012)
Cast: John Malkovich, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean
Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Studio: Universal/The Criterion Collection 611 [5/15/12]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: Audio commentary with filmmaker Michel Gondry, Behind-the-Scenes documentary by filmmaker Lance Bangs, Interview of John Malkovich by humorist John Hodgman, Spike Jonze discusses the film via stills of its production, Complete versions of two short films within the film: “7½ Floor Orientation” and “American Arts & Culture Presents John Horatio Malkovioch”; Documentary on the Art of Puppeteering by Lance Bangs, Theatrical trailer and TV spots, Printed booklet with conversation between Jonze and pop culture critic Perkus Tooth
Length: 113 minutes
This is one of the most off-the-wall film concepts ever, basically driven by the idea that many people really want to be someone else, and it takes that idea and runs with it to surrealistic lengths. Malkovich himself says in his interview extra here that the film is at bottom saying “Be Yourself” and not some other person. It is amazing that he agreed to do the film, considering some of the embarrassing situations in which his character is placed, but he actually was so impressed with the script by writer Kaufman that he made him restore some especially embarrassing scenes because he thought they were so hilarious. For example, in one quick scene Diaz is chasing Keener thru Malkovich’s subconscious and they run thru a room where Malkovich is sniffing some female panties he finds in a drawer.
For me the most hilarious part of the film is the concept of the 7½ floor in the anonymous office building where Cusack’s character – as a struggling arty puppeteer – goes for a paying job. There’s even a short orientation video shown new employees about how the 7½ floor came to be. Naturally, everybody has to walk around bent over, and Jonze shows tremendous control in saving a shot where somebody bumps their head until close to the end. Cusack is moving file cabinets around in the office and accidentally discovers a little door which leads to a tunnel. He crawls and slides down the tunnel, only to find himself actually inside the cerebral cortex of John Malkovich for 15 minutes, at which time he is unceremoniously dumped in a ditch next to the New Jersey Turnpike. It isn’t long before he and Catherine Keener’s character – a cutie amidst the office drudgery whom he lusts after unsuccessfully – have opened a surreptitious wee-hours business in which dozens of people who answered their newspaper classified have come to pay $200 to spend 15 minutes in John Malkovioch’s brain.
And that’s just the beginning! Throw in such elements as the puppeteer’s wife who works with animals and has a houseful of them – including a needy chimp, melancholy marionettes, non sequiturs, slapstick comedy, Freudian analysis, Malkovich learning what’s going on in his head and attempting to stop it, Cusack’s boss who has a whole roomful of elderly people waiting to live in someone else’s brain, and a very odd sexual relationship between the Keener character and Cusack’s wife which is taken to totally surrealistic levels. In this environment, the scene in which Malkovich slides down into his own head seems entirely logical and understandable. Too much! There’s never been a film just like this one and probably never will be. It’s also more pertinent today than it was in 1991 due to the complete transformation of the idea of personal privacy, due to the Internet.
The extras are excellent, as always with Criterion, and in the Malkovich interview you gain an understanding why some celebrities may be just a bit surly when people just walk up to them and, for example, ask what movies they’ve been in. The Blu-ray transfer looks great, and the DTS surround is especially effective when one travels down the portal.
This limited edition Record Store Day vinyl release transcends movie scores.