Posts Tagged ‘Andy Kaufman’

Thomas Pynchon’s books lurch closer to the mainstream, I guess because the world lurches closer to being a Thomas Pynchon book. At the risk of oversimplifying, it’s because of 9/11. Those planes crashed and busted open a hornet’s nest full of sinister conspiracy theories, buzzing, flying, and stinging as far as the web could take them. And now finally here’s Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon’s 9/11 book– perhaps, eventually, merely his first 9/11 book– and no surprises, it jitters so hard with 2001-ness that whenever I crack its spine I start humming All Your Base Are Belong To Us.

The book’s depictions of life in post-attack New York feel very true, or maybe this is just how the truth feels 12 years later, albeit in a parallel 2001 where Leonardo DiCaprio starred in The Fatty Arbuckle Story, and Americans refer to “9/11” as “11 September” for some reason.

“Can’t you feel it, how everyone’s regressing? 11 September infantilized this country. It had a chance to grow up, instead it chose to default back to childhood. I’m in the street yesterday, behind me are a couple of high-school girls having one of those teenage conversations, ‘So I was like, “Oh my God?” and he’s like, “I didn’t say I was see-een her?”‘ and when I finally turn to look at them, here are these two women my own age. Older! your age, who should know better, really, Like trapped in a fuckin time warp or something.”

Oddly enough, Maxine’s just had something like it happen around the corner on Amsterdam. Every schoolday morning on the way to Kugelblitz, she’s been noticing the same three kids waiting on the corner for a school bus. Horace Mann or one of them, and maybe the other morning there was some fog, maybe the fog was inside her, some incompletely dissipated dream, but what she saw this time, standing in exactly the same spot, was three middle-aged men, gray-haired, less youthfully turned out, and yet she knew, shivering a little, that these were the same kids, the same faces, only forty, fifty years older. Worse, they were looking at her with a queer knowledgeable intensity, focusing personally on her, sinister in the dimmed morning air. She checked the street. Cars were no more advanced in design, nothing beyond the usual police and military traffic was passing or hovering overhead, the low-rise holdouts hadn’t been replaced with anything taller, so it still had to be “the present,” didn’t it? Something, then, must’ve happened to these kids. But next morning all was back to “normal.” The kids as usual paying no attention to her.

What, then, the fuck, is going on?

Not sure this picture does it justice, but those big silver letters on the book cover are ridiculously shiny. Tilt it in the light just right and you got rainbow lasers gleaming all up in your face.


How’s this for a little conspiracy theory: This cover design is meant to allure and hypnotize older/more mainstream readers, and trick them into thinking Bleeding Edge is the kind of James-Patterson-&-Company crime thriller where the movie version stars Sandra Bullock, not Laura Dern. Which makes sense, because get this: Just like James Patterson, Thomas Pynchon is only co-writing his novels these days, though unlike Patterson, Pynchon’s not sharing any credit. Soon there’ll be a new Pynchon book every nine months, another waggy goose chase through another zeitgeist, not too heavy for a plane or the beach. They’ll keep coming for years, decades even, until bookworms are like, Shouldn’t Thomas Pynchon be dead by now? And when that line of questioning becomes too loud to ignore, it’s revealed that yes, Thomas Pynchon’s been dead for a few years now, he was just curious how long he could fake his life-after-death, sort of like a reverse Andy Kaufman, if Andy Kaufman’s still alive.


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You have a kind of sick desperation in your laugh.

Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Maybe “1999” was just a number, but its power was very real.  Something special was brewing in the stew then.  The past was logging up and jacking on to the future.  Even the most skeptical among us must have, at some point, wondered whether those apocalyptic omens were legit.  Even the most pessimistic among us had to admit the new millennium looming on the horizon was emanating an adventurous aroma.

It bubbled up a bit in the music, but it was exploding all over the movies, a nuclear virus spreading a million symbiotic seeds.

Or maybe it’s just me.  1999 was when I turned 18, when I was a high school senior and then a film school freshman.  It was a wonderful, liberating year, and I spent a lot of it going to the movies.  Often alone, but not always.  I saw more new movies that year than any other year, so I doubt I’ll ever know a Year In Movies better than I know 1999 In Movies.  I’ll probably always think of 1999 as the Greatest Year In Movies, even if I see all the Great Movies Of 1927, 1939, 1941, 1958, 1967, 1974, 1982…

Because it’s not just the greatness with 1999.  It’s the zeitgeist.  Other great years certainly had zeitgeists but 1999 may have had the zeitgeistiest zeitgeist.

For your consideration, in no particular order: Fight Club, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, The Matrix, Office Space, Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, South Park, The Iron Giant, Toy Story 2, The Blair Witch Project, Election, American Beauty, Man On The Moon, The Sixth Sense, The Insider, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Boys Don’t Cry, and Bringing Out The Dead, to name just a few.  Some real groundbreakers, several gamechangers, plus a bunch of others that are simply great movies.  But pretty much all of them are so very 1999.

I know, I’ve been awfully vague about what being 1999 means.  The plan is to articulate that more clearly as this series goes along.  Perhaps even a few movies from 1998 (like Rushmore or Run Lola Run) or 2000 (American Psycho, Requiem For A Dream) might prove 1999 enough to be considered 1999.

When I started thinking about this Sick Desperation project, I assumed my first entry would either be about Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, or Fight Club, which I consider the Holy Trinity of 1999 Movies.  Then a bunch of other things came up, and so Sick Desperation slipped my mind for a couple months.  But then I was flipping through the channels this week and landed on Milos Forman’s Man On The Moon, which reminded me how awesome 1999 was, so Man On The Moon is where we’ll start.

Most so-called “biopics” are rightly criticized for trying to shoehorn complicated lives into methodical 3-act structures, and yes, Man On The Moon kind of does that to Andy Kaufman, too.  Yet the movie also raises some engaging points and questions about life, the universe, and everything.  It’s not just “Johnny Cash learns to kick drugs and treat June Carter right” kinda stuff.

During much of the first half of Man On The Moon you’re like, why don’t I just watch some actual Andy Kaufman clips on YouTube?  Jim Carrey’s performance is a good, reverent impression as well as a solid original performance with extra emphasis on the childlike wonder.  The other perfomances, especially Paul Giamatti’s enthusiastic Bob Zmuda, are fun to watch as well.  But for a while, the movie still leaves you wondering how it’ll justify its existence.

When Andy Kaufman turns heel as a misogynist wrestler, however, the film starts exploring ideas that previously-seen footage can’t.  We get to see Andy genuinely crushed and confused as to why fans and family have turned on him, and it’s tragic.  Both sides are to blame, really: Andy doesn’t get how his shenanigans have started radiating some dark vibes, while his haters seem less angry at Andy than they are at their own inability to tell fact from fiction.  Man On The Moon reminds us how non-wrestling fans don’t usually like it when you rip the fabric of reality in rascally ways.  Tony Clifton was forgivable, but apparently a prolonged feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler was not.

Only after Andy’s diagnosed with cancer does he head down the road toward Hollywood-style redemption.  He returns to innocence, like Santa Claus and milk & cookies, and the audience loves him again.  (Not quite how or when it happened in real life, naturally, but for mythological purposes, I’ll allow it.)  Of course, Andy must ultimately realize that the cosmic joke’s on him, too.  The last moment we see him alive, when he understands he’s been had and all he can do is laugh with his own style of sick desperation- that’s some powerful cinema right there.  And so very 1999.

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