DEATH OF ANDY KAUFMAN
Wild Eye Releasing.
Kaufman was a fascinating character – less a comedian than
a performance artist, he rose to international fame in the rather
stifling confines of 1970s TV sitcom Taxi and
increasingly found that all audiences wanted from him was his
familiar catchphrases, not the bizarre, challenging material he
would offer. As a reaction, his live shows and TV appearances
became ever more bizarre, and his hoaxes more elaborate –
his time as a wrestler, fighting women and eventually wearing
a neck brace for five months after a run-in with Jerry Lawler
seemed all too convincing for many people, even though it was
simply one long performance.
So it’s unsurprising that many people didn’t believe
him when he announced he had lung cancer, and many still don’t
believe he died in 1984. For these people, like all the more extreme
conspiracy theorists, there is plenty of ‘evidence’
to back their beliefs up, as long as they are willing to ignore
all the bits that don’t fit.
Christopher Maloney would seem to be amongst the believers if
this documentary is anything to go by – or at least was.
After following the clues, chasing the evidence and assessing
the facts, he’s forced to concede that the stories of Kaufman
faking his death and vanishing into obscurity are probably untrue.
This gives a rather anti-climatic feel to his film – rather
like those crypto-zoological documentaries where investigators
head off in search of mythical creatures and come back with no
more evidence than when they left. It might be how things happen
in the real world, but it doesn’t make for a compelling
In the case of Kaufman, his life is fascinating enough anyway,
without the need to go balls deep into the more bizarre theories
of some fans. Maloney probes that life (and death), and winds
up with a lengthy interview with Kaufman’s brother Michael.
All interesting stuff, unfortunately handled rather sloppily.
The film is a mix of poor quality video clips – some apparently
filmed by pointing the camera at a TV screen – and stills,
intercut with ‘investigation’ footage and interviews.
Maloney’s hand-held camera wobbles all over the place, his
interviews are badly framed and the sound is terrible, clearly
recorded using the in-camera mic. The interview with Michael Kaufman,
potentially interesting stuff, is scuppered by Maloney sitting
in shot at the edge of the screen drinking coffee and what sounds
like heavy machinery – most likely a ceiling fan –
operating loudly. It also intercuts pointless shots of the director
poking a guitar and playing on a keyboard.
I’m sure this is a labour of love from a Kaufman fan. But
while the story it tells is intriguing, the way it does so leaves
a lot to be desired. If you want an insight into Andy Kaufman’s
weird world, you might be better off sticking with Man
on the Moon.
IT NOW (USA)