In 1999, late director Milos Forman released Man on the Moon, a strange companion piece to his Oscar winning Mozart biopic, Amadeus (1984). Instead of a manic genius with an inspired gift for music, the new film looked at Andy Kaufman (1949 – 1984), a subversive comedian/performance artist, played with near insane abandon by Jim Carrey.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, is a documentary filmed behind the scenes of Man on the Moon, following Carrey’s transformation and sustained performance (off camera as well as on) as Kaufman. For nearly 20 years, Universal Studios refused to release the footage, fearing it would damage Carrey’s image, who was still in his heyday as a Hollywood star.
Kaufman was a shameless hedonist, but his divisive work expressed truth about the meaninglessness of a world without God. Through his eyes there was no reason for anything to make sense, no conviction that shouldn’t be laughed at, or principle that ought not be undermined. His genius might be less obvious than Mozart’s, but as the composer’s music lifts us from a mundane experience of the world, so Kaufman’s art challenges worldviews that pretend to find meaning where there is none, and (unintentionally) reveals the absurdity of believing in nothing.
Milos Forman’s flair for turning a lens on difficult characters and unearthing their souls was the perfect fit for Kaufman’s story. But in casting Jim Carrey he almost bit off more than he could chew. Updated with new interviews, The Great Beyond reveals the extent to which Carrey immersed himself in the role, almost driving Forman to despair.
The director relates how one evening during production he phoned Carrey, who answered in character as Andy – but Forman begged to talk to Jim instead! Carrey, to his credit, asked the director if he wanted him to ease off from the all-consuming performance, to which the director sighed and said: “no, I don’t want it to stop.” It might have been tough at the time, but Forman knew they were capturing something special.
‘The Great Beyond’ is a fascinating plunge into obsession – a study of a study of a creative madman. At times it seems that Carrey went too far and missed the mark – friends of Kaufman complain that some of Carrey’s antics are nothing like the real thing. On the other hand we see Carrey meeting Kaufman’s real-life family, whilst in character. They are impressed to the point of believing that he is channelling Andy’s spirit. Eerie stuff.
In the end, Carrey comes off as a lost soul. He admits to learning the ultimate worthlessness of fame and fortune, but is still on a spiritual journey either to despair or redemption. He doesn’t seem to have much time or reverence for God though – when considering his next step in life he jokes that he could ‘be Jesus’.
The great Milos Forman had an obvious admiration for his subjects. He named his twin sons James and Andrew in their honour. Man on the Moon isn’t one of the films the director will be most remembered for (those would be One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus), but it is a gem worth seeking out, along with this belated ‘making of’.
★★★★☆ A bizarre but brilliant study of two creative madmen.