With his Maurice Sendak opus Where the Wild Things Are set for DVD release on Tuesday, Spike Jonze took an evening to promote its splendid companion piece, Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait Of Maurice Sendak, due out the same day courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories. The fleet, 40-minute documentary, which originally aired on HBO last fall, is all about the octogenarian Sendak, eliding conversations that Jonze and co-director Lance Bangs had at chez Maurice over the past couple of years. It feels like a running dialogue with the illustrator extraordinaire, engaging you with the this-and-that of a remarkable life (his childhood, his obsession with death and the Lindbergh baby, his late, half-a-century-long partner Eugene Glynn) as well as how the personal seeped onto the page.
Throughout, Sendak is plain-spoken, wise, idiosyncratic, self-deprecating, a few shades dark, and very much irresistible. There are plenty of gem bits in this intimate, gilded-with-love ode, least of all the numerous montages of the work that made Sendak famous. For instance, his love for children’s literature, as it turns out, isn’t due to an out-and-out adoration for children, but a “peculiarity” in him — a real je ne sais pas.
After last night’s screening, Jonze called upon a good friend hidden in the audience to moderate a short discussion with Bangs and himself: Mike Myers. Here are a few of the more interesting exchanges:
Myers: Is your needle stuck in childhood?
Jonze: I guess creativity is a very child-like thing and I like being able to tap into that part of myself easily.
Myers: Maurice is an eccentric and, knowing you for awhile, I think you’re an eccentric as well. What do you think about eccentricity?
Jonze: I’m not sure if I am have a strong sense.
Myers: Are you so eccentric that you have no sense of other people’s eccentricity?
Myers: Maurice is an odd combination of emotion, intellect, and imagination.
Jonze: Maurice’s imagination is certainly inspiring and that’s what initially drew me to him. But the thing that I find most deeply inspiring is his ferocious honesty and his fearlessness to be honest. He has no ability for small talk or chitchat. He is who he is and he doesn’t have the energy to pretend that he’s someone else.
Jonze also took a moment to elaborate on the process of winning Sendak’s seal of approval:
The only thing that [Maurice objected to] was that Max didn’t go to his room, and the bedroom didn’t turn into the forest. That was something that Dave [Eggers] and I realized didn’t make sense in this movie we were writing. He didn’t hate it, but he did challenge me on it. He was always of the opinion that this is your movie and you got to make it the way you see it, but he kept trying to keep the idea alive. It was a hard thing to fight because a) I respect him so much and b) the image of it in the book is something I remember loving as a kid — the walls falling away, the posts turning into trees.
View the trailer below and pre-order a copy here.