Capone chats with Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs about their Maurice Sendak doc TELL THEM ANYTHING YOU WANT, just out on DVD!!!
Published at: March 4, 2010, 7:13 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
As a guy who grew up not only watching music videos in the '80s and '90s, I also tried to find out everything I could about the men and women who directed them. That's why I love Palm's "The Work of Director" series that sadly stopped being made almost as quickly as they started. Along with Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze is simply one of the most creative artists to ever put his stamp on a music video, period. And like Gondry, Jonze has taken that wonderfully warped sensibility and made BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (my favorite film from 1999) and ADAPTATION (my favorite film from 2002). Last year, he created yet another work of emotional and creative splendor with his reworking of Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, which has just come out on DVD this week.
But when I got the call to talk to Jonze earlier this week, it wasn't about WILD THINGS. It was about his 40-minute, unofficial companion piece entitled TELL THEM ANYTHING YOU WANT: A PORTRAIT OF MAURICE SENDAK, a part-biography, part life lessons experience that Jonze and his frequent creative partner Lance Bangs (who did the WILD THINGS video diary/making of doc) directed over the course of several years' worth of time spend with Sendak. I dare you to watch this film and not feel something for the elderly gentleman who has literally changed the lives of children and adults through his work, a series of books about kids that refused to pander or treat children like trainable pets. His books don't always deal with good kids in good situations, and it's kind of incredible to hear Sendak discuss his childhood (good and bad memories) and see how he's incorporated those experiences into his work.
I spend a few minutes chatting with Jonze and Bangs about TELL THEM ANYTHING YOU WANT, which was also released this week in a lovely set from Oscilloscope Pictures. If WILD THINGS sent you over the moon, this doc will find you a nice place to land on the other side. Please enjoy my brief time with Lance Bangs (he's the quiet one) and Spike Jonze…
Spike Jonze: So are you in L.A.?
Capone: No, I’m in Chicago.
SJ: That’s where you’re based?
Capone: Yeah, I write as “Capone” for Ain’t It Cool News. I think you might have had a very long conversation a while back with Moriarty, who used to write for our site.
SJ: Oh yeah, I did. Yeah.
Capone: Early on in the process, well not that early, but earlier than most I guess.
SJ: Yeah. What was it, like before…
Capone: I think he had seen it before the effects were done.
SJ: That screening was awesome.
SJ: Yeah, but it was way before the movie came out. So how did you come up with the name Capone? Is that a play off your real last name?
Capone: No, it’s just that when I first started writing for Ain’t It Cool, I'd been traveling some in Asia, and the two things that the locals knew about Chicago in some of the countries that I went to were Michael Jordon and Al Capone, and I didn’t think “Michael Jordon” would be quite as appropriate.
SJ: [laughs] And Capone is more cinematic!
Capone: [Laughs] Exactly. So correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve seen this thin before right? This short, did it play on like HBO last year?
SJ: Yeah, the Maurice [Sendak] documentary? It came out on HBO, but they never released it. It played a few times when the movie came out.
Capone: I thought so. So this documentary will not be on the WILD THINGS DVD that came out today? I haven’t gotten mine yet.
SJ: It won’t come out on the WILD THINGS DVD. It’s on a separate DVD that we're releasing, along with a few other things about Maurice.
Capone: Okay, so there are going to be other things on this particular DVD?
SJ: Yeah, there’s a birthday celebration for Maurice at the 92nd Street Y, where a bunch of people spoke about him that Tony Kushner organized and read some of his work and that’s on there. It’s got like James Gandolfini and he reads “In The Night Kitchen” and Meryl Streep performs “Really Rosie.”
Capone: That’s great.
SJ: And then we premiered WILD THINGS at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and afterwards Maurice Sendak and I spoke, so that’s on there also.
Lance Bangs: There's also something that we made as sort of a birthday gift for Maurice for his 80th birthday.
SJ: Oh yeah, at that same 92nd Street Y, we made that little birthday video. It’s a skit where me and Catherine Keener play all of the parts, and we recreated this memory like from when he was a little kid about when his sister ditched him at the World’s Fair.
Capone: That sounds great. In watching this again, having now seen WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE a few times, it explains a lot to me about your approach to this film. Did meeting him so many times, so far ahead of when you actually started shooting WILD THINGS inform the work in some way? He has such a great attitude about children and the horrific experiences that make up childhood that are also those great experiences that you grow from.
SJ: I’m sure it did. Some of it was conscious in that from the beginning he said, “Don’t make something that panders to children.” I think he has a really high respect for children, their intelligence, and their depth. Then I also think his honesty in general as a human and an artist, but also his honesty towards children and about childhood is very important to him. I think that all of those things fed into our philosophy in making the movie.
Capone: I’m trying to put the dates together; how far before you started shooting the film did you start meeting with him? This was like in the early 2000’s right?
SJ: I’ve known him for like 15 years in talking with him about doing the movie, but I didn’t actually take it on until 2003, and I really didn’t start working on the script until 2004, and we didn’t start going up there until… Actually in the film it said we started filming this thing in 2003, but I don’t think we had really started going up there until 2005.
LB: No, there's definitely footage from 2004, towards the end of the year.
SJ: I don’t know. How did it get to say “2003?” [The opening title card of the documentary says the filming began in 2003.]
LB: I don’t know.
SJ: [laughs] Anyway, yeah, it was a regular part of making WILD THINGS, to go out to see Maurice and talk to him about the script or the cut. It was early on when I was having these amazing conversations with Maurice, and it was early on that I realized that I needed to document these conversations I was having with him and trying to share my experience of him with people.
Capone: Yeah, I guess that’s what I was going to ask; what did you hope to capture by shooting these exchanges that you have with him?
SJ: I wonder how to put it… To capture him and try to share this… He’s one of those people, he’s so honest when you talk to him. He’s so honest about what he’s feeling. He’s so honest about his own flaws. He’s so funny about it all. He’s so honest. Whatever is going on, he will never leave something unspoken out of being polite rather than leaning towards small talk or not talking about the thing that might be in front of everyone that some people don’t want to talk about. I love people like that. They are very alive, and I feel there’s something there. Plus his way of talking about all of that stuff; he’s so articulate and concise and vivid and hilarious. So I guess when I asked Lance if he wanted to do this with me, what did I tell you about him originally, Lance? Did we set out any specific goal?
LB: Yeah, it just seemed really important to get him on film, because he was living a little bit removed from being out in the public at the time that we were filming him originally. He was sort of working at home and living up in this rural area, and it felt like people would love to see how dazzling his mind was and all of the stuff that gushed out of him, but wouldn’t get a chance to see that and maybe only know him through his books or through his artwork over the years. I don’t think I knew what his speaking voice was like or what his presence was like. I hadn’t seen a ton of footage of him recently, and so just getting up there and spending time with him and seeing what would come out of him was so remarkable that it felt like “Man, we should bring a camera along and at least capture and document this.”
Capone: It does take on a slightly "Tuesdays with Morrie" quality, in that each time you talk to him I feel I learn something vital, not just about his life, but about the way he looks at the world. Is that the sort of thing you were trying to capture or was that just luck? Is that the sort of thing you were experiencing?
LB: It was kind of more that it was just so entertaining, so distinct, and so unlike most general conversations you might have with everyone else that made it seem crucial to me to keep getting back up there and shooting more. Spike, what do you think?
SJ: Every conversation with him is like that, and every phone call I would have with him, everything. I wish I would have tape-recorded every phone call I had with him. There was no shortage of amazing footage. It’s no coincidence that he’s the artist he is, with the way he thinks and looks at life and his ability to boil down these thoughts and things he’s trying to figure out into such strong, sharp insights.
Capone: It’s also a great reminder of just how many other books he has other than the handful that are the more famous ones. There were hundreds where he either contributed the artwork to and the ones that he wrote and did the art for. I found myself scribbling down titles that I had never heard of before, and it just felt really great to get that kind of reminder.
Capone: And I love looking at his toys, too, all of the toys that he had.
SJ: And the toys that he made with his brother.
Capone: Oh my God, those are great! Those were fantastic. But even the stuff around his desk. There was one shot that was repeated a few times where I kept seeing this "Harold and the Purple Crayon" figure or "Wild Things" models, I saw some Disney things. He’s clearly taken with these things I think.
SJ: Yeah, it's part of his world.
Capone: It's funny to hear him tell the story in this movie about how the publishing company wasn’t thrilled with "Wild Things" when they first received it. Did you feel a camaraderie with him when Warner Brothers first saw what you were working on and went into, I think it's fair to say, a slight panic?
SJ: I definitely thought of Maurice's story about when his book came out, and he had the same situation. That was comforting, but also the fact that Maurice loved the movie and was so supportive of it. That also gave me confidence to keep going forward.
Capone: Was he one of the people that you showed it to early on, or did you just wait until it was done before he saw it?
SJ: No, we probably showed it to him too early, when it was still like three hours long or something.
Capone: I’ve got to ask before I let you go, did you see that parody of the trailer for WHERE THE WILD THINGS, the EVERYBODY POOPS one?
SJ: I did see it. It’s been a long time now, so I don’t remember it so well, but I remember the music and…Yeah, I wish I could see it again. I thought it was funny how quickly it was made. [to Lance] Right after the trailer came out, there was this other trailer…. But I remember it being really funny. I don’t know the book "Everybody Poops", so I don’t know if I got all of the references.
Capone: It’s a classic.
SJ: When was it made?
Capone: I don’t even know. I don’t think it’s that old. The first time I remember hearing about was maybe the mid-'90s.
LB: I’ve seen that book.
Capone: I think it’s in every household with a child. I think that’s fair to say.
SJ: It is hilarious that they made it. That’s great.
Capone: I think I’m seeing I’M HERE, your other short down at SXSW in a couple of weeks, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve heard a lot of good things about that out of Sundance. Guys thank you so much for talking to me. It was really great revisiting both films.
SJ: Cool. Thanks to you. All right, hope I get to talk to you later and for longer.
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