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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Film – The Death Of Andy Kaufman

Wild Eye
If nothing else the DVD release of independent filmmaker Christopher Maloney's 2008 labour of love documentary proves that the Andy Kaufman industry is truly alive and well a full 27 years after the comedian's supposed demise. First there was Milos Forman's biopic Man On The Moon starring Jim Carey, then came the books Andy Kaufman Revealed! by Kaufman's former collaborator Bob Zmuda and Bill Zehme's Lost In The Fun House – The Life And Mind Of Andy Kaufman and now Christopher Maloney's The Death Of Andy Kaufman continues the fascination with the rumours, speculation and myths surrounding the fate of this most eccentric and unpredictable of American comedians.

According to official records Andy Kaufman died on May 16th 1984 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles from a rare form of lung cancer and was subsequently laid to rest in the Beth David cemetery in Long Island and Christopher Maloney's engagingly low key feature
length documentary sets out to explore the various interpretations and hypotheses regarding his supposed whereabouts that have been concocted over the years since the maverick comedian's alleged untimely demise.

Best remembered for his starring role as the hapless mechanic Lafka Gravas in the cult US TV sitcom Taxi, the foundations of Andy Kaufman's reputation as a comedian and performer were laid during his long stint on the US TV comic institution Saturday Night Live. With director Christopher Maloney a self-confessed Kaufman fan, by turns enquiring, reflective and ultimately melancholic, The Death Of Andy Kaufman is essentially an attempt to get inside the head of the comedian by detailing and examining the theories and counter theories that have grown up around the bizarre life and times of this most controversial of serial pranksters. Famed for his seriously unconventional comedic persona, his alter egos as the small time Vegas lounge singer Tony Clifton and the mysterious Nathan McCoy, his career as a professional wrestler during which he found himself crowned the world's first Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion (having retired undefeated after apparently wrestling more than 400 women), his long-standing Elvis fixation and his career-defining desire to push the boundaries of comedy no matter how close that brought him to the brink of madness, Andy Kaufman is clearly a fascinating subject for any investigative documentary and the backbone of Maloney's film is the detailed exploration of the theory that Kaufman faked his own death in an attempt to pull off the ultimate showbiz stunt with the intention of re-surfacing several years later.

However, the official version of events remains that Andy Kaufman died on May 16, ’84 and to date there's been no concrete evidence that he has returned to claim the credit for his outlandish hoax or has there?

Using a collage of archive TV clips and interviews director Maloney narrates his own personal quest to uncover the truth of the circumstances surrounding Kaufman's death and how far they are consistent or otherwise with the theory that Kaufman did in fact fake his own death. Reports of sightings in Santa Monica where Kaufman was allegedly living as a beach bum during the late ’80s, an apparent encounter in a hotel elevator in Jamaica and testimony that he had
been living as a member of a new age cult in Taos, New Mexico all prove to be dead ends while one of the principal sources of information and continued rumour about the current whereabouts of Andy Kaufman – the andykaufmanlives.com website is discovered to be the
work of a US ex-partiate living in Mexico. 

With most of the leads turning up dead ends, the second part of the documentary shifts its focus from the search for a physical person to an attempt to uncover the personality of the real Andy Kaufman and includes an extended interview with Kaufman's brother Michael.

At the close of the film director Christopher Maloney prosaically reflects that although he may no longer be physically around the comedian formerly known as Andy Kaufman is effectively still out there performing by virtue of the speculation and debate that continues to surround his whereabouts. In this respect you could argue that like the maverick joker he was on stage and screen Andy Kaufman has ultimately wound up having the last laugh from beyond the grave.
Grahame Bent

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