Craig Schwartz (John Cusack, who had previously starred alongside the titular actor in Con Air) is a puppeteer who’s just not managing to make a viable business of his work, even though he’s quite amazing, with performances which, if done today and with a typical Hollywood mentality, would be done with CGI. However, the one with a man-sized puppet is obviously a man inside.
So, like the rest of us, he has to get a job proper, except that his office admin job is on the 71/2th floor, where everything is crazily cramped – so that wouldn’t be allowed in the age of health and safety, and neither would the job advert, where they were asking for “a man with fast hands”.
In this film, Craig’s boss is 105 years old, secretary Floris misunderstands what Craig says – whilst sexually harrassing him in words; he has a dowdy wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), who spends more time with a menagrie of animals than with him; and meanwhile, Craig fancies manipulative colleague Maxine (Catherine Keener), although she couldn’t give two hoots about him.
At work, he chances across an apparent cupboard, and one which leads to some sort of Narnia-like enviroment, but which is actually putting him inside the head of actor John Malkovich (Bird Box) for fifteen minutes before spitting him out by the side of the road at the New Tersey turnpike.
Of course, things can’t get any more weird than that? Well, they do, and I won’t give any spoilers in relation to that. The only thing I will say – and this is shown in the trailer – is that Mr Malkovich, himself, does start to get an idea that something’s going on for which he’s not in control. But how will he deal with it?
Overall, Being John Malkovich is a film which does go on just a little too long, and goes slightly off the boil at times, but it still an absolute must-see.
There’s also a slight goof when someone enters a bus through the roof, and you can see a hand still helping them down into it.
Picture-wise, even though it was shot on 35mm, the film still looks great. Plus, when it comes to the 5.1 surround sound, as Craig goes into Malkovich’s mind, it’s quite echoing and bizarre.
The extensive extras are as follows:
- Selected Scene Commentry by Michel Gondry (59:04): Not a full commentary, but recorded in 2012 for The Criterion Collection, this release states “It was edited from its original form for ‘reasons of accuracy, audience interest, and legal liability”. Alternatively, after films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, when would you expect the expected from Michel Gondry?
- Illusion of Life (27:17): A featurette about the marionette sequences, plus uncovered behind-the-scenes footage, and newly shot interviews with puppeteer Phillip Huber and puppeteer/designer/fabricators Kamela Portuges and Lee Armstrong.
It shows how the team had around 7 weeks to create these, and how they could do the almost-impossible dance sequences.
- All Noncombatants Please Clear The Set (33:17): A behind-the-scenes documentary made in 2012 from on-set footage, shot by filmmaker Lance Bangs, who also has an uncredited cameo in the film as ‘Locker Room Bully’.
The problems of walking around when you can’t stand up straight, and as one of the crew puts it plainly, “13 hours of bending over”.
- John Malkovich on Being John Malkovich (27:50): Another 2012 Criterion Collection piece, where the man talks to actor/writer John Hodgson.
He talks about what it was like to receive the script for this film, and I like how Hodgson jokes that he set up the whole interview just to get close to Malkovich.
- Spike’s Photos (15:26): Pictures the director took on set, in a 2012 interview, where he talks about how the film couldn’t have been made if Malkovich wasn’t going to do it. But that’s just one of many stories within this piece; and afterwards, you get to see a photo album with which you can go through 30 of the individual photos.
- The 71/2th floor (2:10): The full corporate video which shows the history of the workplace, as seen from the film.
- John Horatio Malkovich: Dance of Despair and Disillusionment (4:16): The bizarre pseudo-documentary as shown in the film… hang on, ALL of this film is bizarre!
- Interview with Director Spike Jonze (2:46): A September 1998 interview with Lance Bangs, where the director was “filmed under duress”. This is a hoot!
- An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering (7:19): A 1998 interview with puppeteer Phillip Huber, as you’ll have seen earlier in the extras, filmed on-set by Lance Bangs.
- An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Background Driving (6:28): This described as “an on-set look at filming the New Jersey Turnpike sequence”, but there’s a lot of talking and I don’t know really what’s being said.
- Don’t Enter Here, There Is Nothing Here (0:09): A single image with a white background and the following text in black: “There is nothing here, press enter to return”. Technically, it lasts 9 seconds long. Unlike the other extras, it doesn’t automatically return you to the main menu, so you do have to press a button to get back there.
- Theatrical Trailer (1:52): In 1.85:1, and nicely gives a flavour without being spoilery.
- TV Spots (1:39): Four mini-trailers, but not just for the film, since one is about the company JM Inc. that’s in the film.
- Image gallery: 268 pictures to flick through.
I just received the disc itself for review, but the retail version also includes a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vero Navarro, and a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Roger Keen and archive publicity materials.
The menu features music from the film mixed in with clips, there are subtitles in English and the bog-standard 12 chapters.
Being John Malkovich is out now on Blu-ray Special Edition.
Running time: 113 minutes
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: August 12th 2019
Sound: DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (35mm)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Spike Jonze
Producers: Steve Golin, Vincent Landay, Sandy Stern, Michael Stipe
Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman
Music: Carter Burwell
Cast:Craig Schwartz: John Cusack
Lotte Schwartz: Cameron Diaz
John Horatio Malkovich: John Malkovich
Maxine Lund: Catherine Keener
Dr. Lester: Orson Bean
Woman in Elevator: Octavia Spencer
Floris: Mary Kay Place
Charlie: Charlie Sheen
Wendy: KK Dodds
Captain Mertin: Byrne Piven
Derek Mantini: Ned Bellamy
First JM Inc. Customer: W Earl Brown
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.