I’m In You: Director Spike Jonze and Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman Talk Being John Malkovich.

Filmmaker Magazine | 7/7/2019 | Scott Macaulay
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by Scott Macaulay

In Spike Jonze’s future, you will be famous for 15 minutes. The catch? You will only be famous as John Malkovich. Confused? Don’t be. Being John Malkovich, Jonze’s devious debut feature, creates from our schizophrenic celebrity culture an original comedy that is as affecting as it is absurd. Scott Macaulay ponders the meaning of it all with Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman in an interview that originally appeared in our Fall, 1999 print edition.

Debut - Films - John - Malkovitch - Long

There are auspicious debut films, and then there is Being John Malkovitch. Long a subject of film-geek gossip during its production due to its bizarre premise—a couple come across a “portal” which allows ordinary joes to live inside John Malkovich’s head for fifteen minutes at a stretch—and first-time director Spike Jonze’s hipster cred (his music videos for the likes of The Beastie Boys, Weezer and Bjork are mini-masterpieces), the finished film manages to be terrifically entertaining while subverting our expectations of just what a “Spike Jonze” movie might turn out to be. Aided by an utterly original screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, Jonze has eschewed celebrity satire and pop promo slickness for a matter-of-fact style that creates its own brand of cultural absurdism. But the film’s greatest achievement may be its wringing of real emotion from its Warholian conceit.

John Cusack stars as Craig Schwartz, a puppeteer who supports his craft by taking dead-end temp jobs. At one, located, hilariously, on floor seven-and-half, where employees walk stoop-shouldered due to the low ceilings, he meets Maxine, played with arch sexiness by Catherine Keener. A relationship only ensues when Craig uncovers the portal beneath the file cabinet. Soon, Craig, Maxine, and Lotte, Craig’s wife (a gloriously drab Cameron Diaz), are enacting the bizarrest love triangle of all through their increasingly frequent forays into Malkovich.

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