Spike Jonze and the Art of the Ramble
The NYT is going deep this weekend on Spike Jonze, with a nearly 7500-word profile on the man and his mission that takes almost as much time to read as it took Jonze to put Where the Wild Things Are together. Then again, suggests the piece, that rambling nature is part of what makes Jonze who he is.
Even before the contentious post-production process of Wild Things, Jonze had a habit of spending a long time in the editing room. His last film, Adaptation, took a year and a half of post-production to figure out, and as for his first:
Being John Malkovich went into production in 1998 with financing from PolyGram. [...] "The footage couldn't have been more depressing," Vince Landay, a producer on the film, told me. "And here PolyGram had been sold on this wacky comedy. So by the time they started reacting to the dailies -- it's handheld, there's low light -- they were freaking out." After a few more disagreements, PolyGram threatened to shut down the production. Then, in the spring of 1998, the company merged with Universal. New executives came in. By the time anyone got around to checking on Jonze and his team, they'd already been editing for almost a year. Jonze had made the movie he wanted to make.
Jonze wasn't any more succinct when describing the movie to Malkovich himself:
The meeting didn't exactly go smoothly. Jonze was nervous, and, as usual, he had some trouble finding words to express his thoughts. "He mentioned some projects he'd worked on, and they were interesting," Malkovich told me, "but none of them showed that he was necessarily well-suited to make this film." After about an hour, Malkovich asked Jonze if he was American. "I thought he was Czech," Malkovich told me. "He had such a funny way of expressing himself. It sounded like he'd learned English as a second language."
And by the time he pitched Sendak on his Wild Things adaptation, he still hadn't learned how to fully articulate what he had in mind:
Then one night in 2003, Jonze opened the book again. He had been going through a difficult time. After more than a decade together, he and Sofia Coppola were splitting up. He found himself contemplating the wild things anew. [...] Excited, Jonze scribbled down some notes and called Sendak. At some point during what he described to me as "10 minutes of rambling," he managed to get across the essential piece of information: he wanted to do the movie.
WB has notoriously had problems with the film, which eschews conventional narrative in favor of feeling things out -- much like Jonze himself, it's a ramble that hopefully comes together in the end. "[Spike's] an imaginative kid who for one reason or another has been allowed to fully explore his imagination," Landay tells the NYT. Soon, we'll see if he was born to be Wild.