I’ve just finished watching Man On The Moon, a biopic of the late comedian Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey. Several critics have asked why the film was made, commenting on the apparent emotional and psychological problems Kaufman had, and the nasty tricks he played on everyone, friends, family and audience included.
His girlfriend once said “Andy was the most psychologically sound person I ever met in my life. He had no neuroses. He didn’t have a personality disorder. He just had numerous personalities.” He had strong ideas about his art; which didn’t always live up to the ideals, it must be said. When he tried telling people he was terminally ill, no-one believed him – he had cried “Wolf!” too often in the past.
It’s not always clear, in the film, whether his art was accident or artifice, but the results as shown had a strong surrealist or situationist ethic to them. My favourite of these incidents was the college gig where people started calling out for the character he played on the sitcom Taxi. His response was to start reading The Great Gatsby in an English accent. When that fell on deaf ears, he put a record on; the same voice reading the same book! Finally, he came back out, and finished the book. By the end there were about four people in the audience, half of whom were asleep, and only one person “got” it.
I can always start watching a film, but since I finished this one, the question for me is not whether Andy Kaufman was a good person or a bad one, but whether or not he was interesting. And if Andy was interesting – which he was – it was because he did interesting things. If only half the scenes in this film were based on reality, then the justification for the film is right there on the screen.
I’ve just read about the press conference for the film, during which Jim Carrey was attacked by Tony Clifton – an alter ego of Andy Kaufman’s who makes several appearances in the film. Imagine the worst lounge singer in history, then throw in all the racist and sexist jokes you can think of, and you may get the idea. Never mind Dr. Freud; Dr. Spock might be better placed to review this one. Fascinating.
Still, if we’re going to start making biopics of dead comedians, where’s the Bill Hicks movie, eh?