I’m From Hollywood (1989)
In I’m from Hollywood, SEE! Andy Kaufman invert the performer/audience dynamic. GASP! as he provokes the crowd with the most offensive generalities you’ve ever heard shouted from a television star. LAUGH! as the southern audiences live up to the negative stereotype which he imposes upon them. And finally, REJOICE! when you see just how easily the herd is degraded, disgusted and manipulated, all in accordance with Kaufman’s will.
While he was a veritable carnival revivalist, Kaufman was certainly no Satanist. The man himself was a devout member of the Transcendental Meditation movement, a pseudo-religious organization that became popular in the sixties largely thanks to the endorsement of the Beatles. He was steadfastly dedicated to his daily meditation, and was largely dependent on the organization to help sustain his emotional well-being.
Despite a few non-Satanic personality traits, Kaufman could nevertheless play the role of the villain so relentlessly that his act achieved insuperable levels of discomfort, audience alienation and manipulation. Parallels with Anton LaVey, Boyd Rice, and Marilyn Manson should be clearly evident to the viewer. Kaufman could be as vitriolic as Groucho Marx and as sociopathically self-absorbed as Hitler. Translation: FUNNY AS ALL HELL.
What distinguished Kaufman’s performances from the ghetto of stand-up comedy was his theatrical approach. Instead of telling jokes, he brought them to life, and would coerce the audience into playing a part in the event. Robin Williams is quoted in the documentary, “It was like Andy was the premise, and the entire world was the punch line.” The world was his stage, and he practiced the magical art of actualizing the fictional. He was an aesthetic terrorist who ruthlessly undermined the audience’s sense of reality, and consistently profaned the available sacred ground.
At a time (the early-80s) when mass commercial entertainment was becoming ever more predictable, Kaufman was waging a one-man war on two fronts: against the artistically vacant culture industry as well as the uncultured mass audiences who didn’t know when to applaud and when to boo unless they had a studio audience doing it for them. What did he do to wake up the dregs? How did he manage to recreate a carnival atmosphere of intense audience participation?
Kaufman began openly challenging the female members of his live audiences to wrestle him on stage. He would put his own money at stake, offering it to any woman who could last five minutes on the wrestling mat, without getting pinned by him. This portion of his night-club act was inspired by Kaufman’s own fetish for wrestling as much as it was a duly executed addition to his oeuvre of radical performance art. To help encourage the ladies, Kaufman would portray himself as an over-the top male chauvinist. By pressing the hot button of sexism, he took the act beyond the conventional norms of safe entertainment, and elevated it to the realm of pure, live-action exploitation.
As satisfying as this was for Kaufman, he needed to up the ante to quench his own insatiable thirst for innovation. After a couple of years, the “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World,” moved his wrestling act to Memphis, Tennessee. Kaufman was quite a versatile villain. Here, the target of his verbal attacks shifted from the entire female gender to the entire southern region of the country. And this is where the documentary/short film begins. Kaufman enters a feud with Southern Heavyweight champion Jerry Lawler, and what ensues is sublime chaos. I don’t want to give away much of the plot. I’ll just mention that your sympathy for the villain will be rewarded. Lawler was such a hero “of the people,” and Kaufman a veritable alien, that their wrestling matches were more than mere choreographed battles; they were battles over turf and culture, almost a religious experience for the audiences. The southern audiences hated this Yankee Jew who had no respect for them, and genuinely wanted Lawler to hurt him.
It should be stated that a couple portions (i.e., some interview bits) of this “documentary” are just as staged and preplanned as a professional wrestling match. The film was made to support the entertaining notion that Kaufman was not in control of himself, that he was compelled to wrestle despite the deleterious effect it had on his career. Don’t be fooled; this is all part of the show.
Wise Blood, one of John Huston’s later films, portrayed southerners in such an up-front and unflattering way that Dr. LaVey made the comment that the film was, “A real misanthropic exercise.” It is my contention that I’m from Hollywood is equally deserving of this Satanic endorsement. Kaufman had mastered the Command to Look, and punished his audience for their lack of perspective. Only the perceptive elite can enjoy his brand of entertainment. This documentary is for the elite. The Satanist will marvel at how it frames the events and serves them, cut-n-dried, for the Schadenfreude connoisseur.
[- Miles Jacobsen]