Some movies are clearly a product of their time. You get a sense while watching them that they are a reflection of their era, and they couldn’t have been made a decade earlier or a decade later. I’ve always thought “Being John Malkovich” was one of those films, so it was interesting to hear John Hodgman discuss that idea with Malkovich in one of the bonus features on this new Blu-ray disc from Criterion.
Hodgman asks Malkovich if he thinks the film could be made today, and the actor responds that he doesn’t think so — today, pubic figures are exposed in ways that weren’t possible in the past, what with YouTube, Twitter, smartphone hacking, idiotic realty TV shows, and so forth. Malkovich notes that there was still some level of privacy for people like him during the late 90s, when the Internet was still in its nascent stages and “The Soup” was mocking talk shows, and that’s what makes this movie work so well.
Malkovich and Hodgman also point out that Charlie Kaufman’s script was prescient in its portrayal of Craig Schwartz’s desire to control and manipulate Malkovich, much the same way the public tries to exert influence over celebrities today by trying to “own” them, in a sense. Malkovich’s horrified reaction when he discovers what is happening inside his head is likely the way many sensible celebrities feel today when they hear what’s being said about them online.
The lengthy conversation between the two also, among many other topics, delves into how the script got to Malkovich, and his befuddled reaction to what he originally thought was a request for permission to use his name in a book or some other work. It’s an amazing bit of serendipity that Kaufman wrote the movie without knowing if Malkovich would even want to be in it, and that the script then fell into the hands of director Spike Jonze, who was able to use his then-relationship to Francis Ford Coppolla to relay it to Malkovich. Sometimes things just work out, and a movie gets made exactly when it should.
The other new bonus features on this disc include an interview with Jonze in which he discusses his on-set photos and a 30-minute piece by Lance Bangs, which consists of behind-the-scenes footage, sans narration, that chronicles the making of the movie. There’s also a goofy selected-scene audio commentary by director Michel Gondry, who describes himself as Jonze’s rival; it’s what I would call an anti-commentary, and it’s typical of Jonze’s reluctance to analyze his own work.
Speaking of which, the brief interview with Jonze from the original Special Edition DVD, which ends with him stopping his car and puking, is not included on this disc, so plan your upgrade accordingly. The “Intimate Portrait of the Art of Background Driving” piece from that earlier release is not included either.
However, Bangs’ short “An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering,” which looks at Phil Huber, the guy who did much of the puppeteering in the film, was ported over, along with the two films-within-the-film: “7 1/2 Floor Orientation” and “‘American Arts & Culture’ Presents John Horatio Malkovich: ‘Dance of Despair and Disillusionment.'” The film’s trailer and TV spots also made their way to this Blu-ray.
Finally, Criterion’s usual booklet features an interview with Jonze by Jonathan Lethem’s character Perkus Toth, who asks such questions as “The film’s entirety is nothing more than a dream or nightmare on the part of Derek Matini, the obnoxious rival puppeteer who’s barely glimpsed in the film. Or is that an unfair supposition?” Jonze’s response: “If by unfair you mean ludicrous.” At least he didn’t vomit.