Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is a recently released Netflix documentary following Jim Carrey as he prepares for and films Man on the Moon, the 1999 biopic on Andy Kaufman, the American performance artist / comedian. Our writer Simon Tucker writes about the documentary and deems it “more than just a film”.
Man on the Moon was heaven for me. One of my favourite comedians playing another of my favourite comedians. Directed by the legendary Milos Foreman (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt) and also Danny DeVito, Courtney Love and Paul Giamatti, Man on the Moon promised to be a very special film. Luckily it lived up to the promise as it managed to not only showcase Carrey’s skills as an actor but also managed to capture the very soul of the person whose story it was telling.
Now nearly twenty years later Jim Carrey has released film that was recorded on set during the making of the film and, aided by a contemporary interview with Carrey himself, director Chris Smith has created a documentary about Man on the Moon and specifically, Carrey’s methods in creating the lead role.
Method Acting wasn’t a new approach in 1999. Based on the system originated by Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski, Method Acting came to fruition thanks mostly to the teachings of Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner. The style of acting started infiltrating the Hollywood system via actors such as James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe and fully blossomed in that much celebrated rush of seventies non-conformist cinema where a lot of the acclaimed performances by people such as Al Pacino, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Robert De Niro were all crafted using the various strands of “the method”.
To take on the role of Andy Kaufman, Carrey decided to fully immerse himself into the character. Never was he “Jim” on set. He was either “Andy” or “Tony” (Clifton, the crass club-singer persona Kaufman and his writing partner Bob Zmuda would often deploy to much chaos and confusion) and as Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond progresses it is plain to see that Carrey no longer thought of himself as an actor playing a role but as a vessel for the sadly deceased Kaufman to inhabit so he can make his film. This is where Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond stops being your average documentary….
To surface skim Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond and just enjoy it as entertainment would be a fine and enjoyable experience but you would be doing yourself and the film a massive disservice. This is a film that uses a basic premise to explore the human condition. It is a love letter to the eccentric and the dreamers. Whilst Carrey talks about the film-making process he also delves into his own childhood and the reasons why he became the type of comedian / actor he did. The tying in of his desire to make people laugh (stemming from his love of his father who according to Carrey was always “the funniest man in the room”) for attention and Kaufman’s desire to be loved by his father (who did love him dearly according to this film, Man on the Moon, and various autobiographies but who took some time to adjust to the very nature of his son and his seemingly dreamy state as a child) is one that is commonly shared amongst performers of all types and also strikes to the heart of many of us. Carrey talks about humans creating a character to survive life throughout the film, “we’re dirt and the pearl around us is the personality we make for ourselves” and it is clear that his outlook on life has changed dramatically throughout the years. Carrey has discovered a sense of spirituality and serenity and though events in his personal life have obviously aided this (the death of his girlfriend, his refusal to take part in any violent films following his role in Kick Ass 2 and the, unrelated, mass shooting that took place around its release) but watching Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond you realise that this and his previous role as Truman Burbank in The Truman Show is where the seed for this transformation was sown. It may have taken a few years to blossom but the ember began to glow during this time.
Anyone who has dealt with mental health or addiction issues will recognise many themes in this documentary. The fear of exposing your true self, the desire to become a free individual unconstrained by society rules and materialistic possessions. The freedom to express yourself in a true and positive manner. These themes are what elevate Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond above the normal documentary fare. It is not only speaking to fans of the film or of its main players but to anyone watching who feels trapped in their lives and the walls they have built around them. It speaks to those who have had a long-held fear of revealing themselves to their peers or strangers. It encourages them to reach out, peel back the bullshit and step into the unknown. In a time of swirling negativity, ever escalating mental health issues, those in power being revealed to be predators, and non-stop false information spewing out across the internet, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond offers us a way out of the prison-of-mind and it turns out the great teacher of this subject was the main protagonist himself Andy Kaufman.
Like the R.E.M. song from which Manon the Moon took its title, Kaufman was pure Americana. He represented all aspects of its very DNA from its best to its worst. He was the naive suburban dreamer, member of that all-American family. He strived for recognition and to create his own unique path…the American Dream. Through his various personas he displayed the entire concept of America from the immigrant trying to succeed, to the glory of Elvis Presley and Mighty Mouse. Kaufman was apple pie. Childlike and innocent and in Tony Clifton he showed us the ugly side. The materialistic, crass and self-centered glitz and sleaze side of that dream. Kaufman was the pantomime villain and also the sweet babysitter. Kaufman was free. His entire adult life was spent listening to the various voices in his head and instead of keeping them to himself he allowed them to take turns at the wheel. Sometimes he upset people, sometimes he made them nervous, other times he made them weep with laughter but he was ALWAYS true to himself regardless if it left him beaten, cursed or mocked. Like the Hindu saying states “Do your best and leave the rest”. Like Robin Williams (who was his friend) , Kaufman kept that “little spark of madness” alive and well right up until his sad departing from his body in 1984 due to lung cancer.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is a beautiful and poignant documentary. Its power not only lies in the footage which was originally recorded by Kaufman’s partner Lynne Margulies (played by Courtney Love in Man on the Moon) and the scenes showing Carrey (in full Andy Kaufman character) meeting Kaufman’s family. It is a beautiful film because of its central message. Carrey and Kaufman unite on this film to show people that there are other ways to live life. As you listen to the school lunchtime cacophony that is the Budget or as you read the latest tweet from the 45th remember that this is all just a show. This is people trying to play with our lives. Trying to put us into factory line existence. Yes the reality is we all have bills. We all have to survive but it is the way we survive that is important. We can make the change within ourselves and help affect others. Follow Andy Kaufman and keep free, keep exploring, keep pure, and keep listening to the voices in your head as for all you know one of them may have the answer.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond is now available to watch via Netflix.