Tell Them Anything You Want displays the nuances of a genius. Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs chronicle the successes and troubles of a pillar in children’s literature. Maurice Sendak became massively famous with the success of his book Where the Wild Things Are. In his career he has written over 100 children’s books and his work has been widely accepted as “brilliant, enchanting and masterful”. The film is full of intimacy; Jonze and Bangs display their obvious affection and interest in Maurice Sendak with this portrait.
The troublesome part of this documentary is Sendak’s unhealthy obsession with death. The film spends a considerable amount of time on the subject with it finally culminating with Jonze stopping the interview to give Maurice a break from the questions. Sendak elaborates on a problem with a permanent dissatisfaction with his career and how it sours his personal life. All of this comes from his personal difficulty with the enormity of the success of Wild Things. It is refreshing to see a portrait of an artist that is uncompromising with how the person is represented. All of Sendak’s work is cherished and yet there is an un-quenchable thirst that exists within him. Jonze and Bangs examine this dissatisfaction in an entirely diplomatic fashion by chronicling his personality as well as his work.
The documentary is a brilliant representation of Sendak’s career and personal life. Jonze and Bangs manage to convey a story about an artist troubled by success and his personal life, but had the wherewithal to channel his troubles into a transcendent career in literature.
Tell Them Anything You Want is presented in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film is shot entirely on handheld camera which is pretty standard fare in the documentary genre. All of the interviews look clean and grain free. The simplicity of shot selection and colors are a strong decision by the filmmakers. The film looks plain and it should be. The strength of this film lies within its discourse, not its visuals.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound is present. The dialogue is clear and consistent. There is a minor score which is simply instrumental versions of Karen O and the Kids songs. The score is threaded well during the vignettes of the children’s book footage.
Maurice at the world’s fair (3:30): Catherine Keener, Bob Stephenson and Spike Jonze act out one of Maurice’s childhood stories. This skit has Jonze’s fingerprints all over it. It has the dry wit and irreverence that doesn’t exist within the documentary. It is a nice addition to the supplemental footage.
Q&A with Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak (28:00): An interesting look at the opinions of both Jonze and Sendak. Sendak’s feelings about the film are examined as well as some admirable words from Jonze about the deeply affecting nature of Sendak’s work. This is another interesting piece which parallels many of the perspectives conveying in the film
Birthday Tributes at the 92nd St. Y (17:00): A lifelong friend of Maurice Sendak organized an 80th birthday celebration with various celebrities doing readings of Sendak’s work. James Gandolfini, Meryl Streep and Catharine Keener all contributed and the piece culminates with Maurice giving a heartfelt thank you.
It is obvious that both Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze have a special place for Maurice Sendak in their hearts. The film is rife with emotion and provides an excellent portrayal of a complex artist who wants to share his trials and tribulations with the viewing public. Overall, this film is a very strong example of documentary filmmaking.