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STUDIO: Oscilloscope Laboratories
RUNNING TIME: 88 Minutes
RELEASE DATE: March 2, 2010
- Maurice at the World’s Fair
- Q&A with Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak at The Museum of Modern Art
- Maurice’s Birthday Tribute with Meryl Streep, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener
- An exclusive essay on Maurice Sendak by Tony Kushner
Spike Jonze, director of the 2009 film Where The Wild Things Are follows childrens book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak for six years to create a portrait of the author most of us are so familiar with.
Maurice Sendak, Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener, Meryl Streep, James Gandolfini, and a few others.
They started to film him in 2003 at his
home in Connecticut. We get a real feel for Maurice as a person—not
just illustrator or childrens book writer. The cynicism is just as
real as his humor and as real as his contained emotion as he speaks
about some hard times in his childhood. He’s a matter-of-fact
subject. Everything seems very “real” and I suppose that’s
largely in part to his very natural relationship with Spike Jonze.
“You are doing a documentary of a
braindead person!” exclaims Maurice in the opening sequence as he’s
pretending to have some sort of palsy. “Quit this life as soon as
possible! Get out… get out!”
Prepare to chuckle a lot at Sendak’s
candor, and prepare to be surprised about many of the details of his
personal life. He makes a very beautiful, personal, and candid
connection between his work and his life’s story, and that was
exactly what I was hoping to get from this film. The film is also
very appropriately titled a “portrait” of Maurice Sendak. It
captures so much of his outlook on life and death and children, etc.,
that one is able to get a sense of him as a whole person, and not
just as an illustrator or creative person. Jonze never allows his
subject to be pigeonholed.
In the main documentary, I appreciate
only minimal references to the Where The Wild Things Are film by the
same Jonze. It enables this film to graciously stand alone and not
become overshadowed by shameless promotion or lopsided focus.
The extras included in the package, unlike so many other special features included in so many DVDs, really and truly support the main film.
Maurice at the World’s Fair is a three
minute and thirty second piece made for Maurice’s 80th
birthday by Catherine Keener, Bob Stephenson, and Spike Jonze. It’s a
little hokey, but it’s meant to have that tone, and it’s short and
sweet. They use a story from Maurice’s childhood that he narrates.
Q & A at the Museum of Modern Art
is a 28 minute interview with Spike Jonze and moderator Josh Siegel.
The session takes place immediately following Sendak’s first
screening of the documentary with an audience at the Museum of Modern
Art in New York. This piece is mostly good, but the moderator does
tend to ask too much about the upcoming Where the Wild Things Are
film. At this point, the documentary seems to become less about the
artist Maurice Sendak, whose work as a whole is timeless and the
original inspiration for the documentary, and more about the popular
What it does accomplish, though, is
fleshing out the relationship between Sendak and Jonze as creative
partners and friends. You get a feel for their chemistry and rapport
and this Q & A session starts to really live apart from the
documentary. The inclusion on the disc makes sense, though, and it is
truly enjoyable and funny. A good “added bonus” and nothing more
Birthday Tributes at the 92nd
Street Y: Tony Kushner (longtime friend of Maurice) throws him his
80th birthday party. This inclusion is 17 minutes of
highlights from the event. James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, and
Meryl Streep all make an appearance. This could have been a crap
shoot, but this is quality material, and a great addition to the
disc. James Gandolfini reads Sendak’s The Night Kitchen aloud to the
audience. We see him, and shots of the illustrations so we can hear
and see the story along with him. Meryl Streep does the same to The
Sign on Rosie’s Door.
Although the documentary has its own
breath and life apart from the extras, and makes a case for the life
and history of the man that has created such a special body of work,
if they’d missed these readings at his birthday party, the package
would not be the same. It allows us to experience his work in a
special way for ourselves as they are read to us.
Overall, I am extremely pleased with this film and its supporting material. The packaging is gorgeous, the DVD case opening up into a pretty panoramic illustration pulled from Where The Wild Things Are. This is highly recommended, and if you feel like you were satisfied with the extras on the Where The Wild Things Are 2010 DVD that covered Maurice Sendak, then I’ll warn you: there’s more. And this is it. It’s worthy of your look, if not ownership.