John Malkovich once said “I don’t understand how somebody wouldn’t have a sense of humor about themselves”. Over the course of his career, the accomplished actor has certainly proven that he has a good humor about himself. A great example of this is the film “Being John Malkovich”, which was released in 1999 and written by the bizarre storyteller Charlie Kaufman, who is also known for several masterful proceeding movies such as “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Synecdoche, New York”. “Being John Malkovich” is an intensely existential film, which ruminates on the complexities of collective and personal identities and human relationships. At the movie’s center is John Malkovich himself, the accomplished actor whose mind is probed by employees at an office building who find a portal which transports them into John Malkovitch’s brain. While the adventures that ensue can only be described as madcap, this discovery forces characters to very seriously contemplate their individual aspirations and desires, and compels them to confront everything they once understood about themselves. This movie is both unsettling and surprisingly sincere, a combination which was accomplished for the most part because of the acting talent of its cast. Malkovich was required to act out a variety of different personas as those who have access to the portal gain more and more control over his actions. Each person who enters into his head has a different idea as to how Malkovich should behave, and so Malcovich has to live out these decisions while his personal choice is progressively all but taken away. Throughout the movie, all the characters struggle with how to express themselves through Malkovich without letting on that the real entity that was John Malkovich was no longer captain of his own ship, so to speak. Therefore, this role exemplifies Malkovich’s great talent for duality, for in this case, he must act as himself and someone else entirely. Sandro Miller, a photographer and longtime friend of John Malkovich recruited the actor to put his versatility as an actor to the test with his project entitled Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to the Photographic Masters, a portion of which was presented in a show at the Yancey Richardson Gallery* in Chelsea which opened the Thursday before last. Miller had Malkovich recreate some of the world’s most iconic photographic portraits. Malkovich appears as Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali, John Lennon, Andy Warhol and many others in these recreations. Miller spent a year prior to capturing these shots researching all that went into the original portraits, and was careful to faithfully represent the same clothing, setting and lighting as the originals. He even interviewed the original photographers to gain a better understanding of each piece, and matched the way each print was produced to its original. Furthermore, in order to make these recreations convincing, Miller needed to adapt the photographic style of each photographer he was replicating, an exercise in versatility which carried over to Malkovich’s role in this project as well. It was essential for Malkovich to not only recapture the pose and expression but the essence of each subject. He was called upon to represent a large array of characters, and delve into their their personas so their representation is as accurate as possible. However, in order for the project to move beyond simple recreation, it was necessary for Malkovich to maintain some of his own character in these portraits. This series and the movie “Being John Malkovich” are similar in that they both explore how much of John Malkovich needs to be present in order for him to be considered fully John Malkovich. Both prove that this qualification must go beyond simply seeing his face or knowing he his involved in the project, but how eloquently he can express himself and someone else at the same time. This duality teaches a lesson about personal identity, where boundaries lie between one person’s character and someone else’s, and the great importance of knowing exactly who you are even when you are required to be someone else.
*Homage: Malkovich and the Masters
Is on view at the Yancey Richardson Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street,
From May 12th to July 1st