Posted on Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
The Museum of Modern Art has announced the first-ever exhibition to focus on Spike Jonze, “celebrating his work as a director, producer, cinematographer, writer, actor, choreographer, and sometime stuntman.” I love the title of the exhibition, Spike Jonze: The First 80 Years. Apparently Jonze came up with the wry title for the early mid-career retrospective title himself. The exhibition runs October 8th through 18th, 2009, in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters. More details after the jump.
The exhibition covers Jonze’s entire filmmaking and television career. Included are Jonze’s first two feature films, Being John Malkovich (1999), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Adaptation (2002), as well as two films that he co-produced: Jackass: The Movie (2002), based on the popular MTV show he helped create, and the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad (2008).
Also presented are Jonze’s celebrated music videos for Björk, Fatboy Slim, Weezer, Beastie Boys, Wax, The Notorious B.I.G., and many others, as well as his award-winning commercials. Among his short films are How They Get There (1997); his recent collaboration with Kanye West, We Were Once A Fairytale (2009); and his documentary portraits of Al Gore, the musician Fatlip, and a posse of Texas Panhandle rodeo boys (Amarillo by Morning, 1997).
The exhibition opens on October 8 with In Cahoots: Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze, an evening of short films that Jonze made about, and with, Maurice Sendak during the production of his forthcoming feature Where the Wild Things Are (opening October 16, 2009)—followed by a conversation between Jonze and MoMA curator Joshua Siegel. In conjunction with the exhibition, on October 15, a PopRally event with photographer and producer Patrick O’Dell features a screening of influential skateboard videos from the 1980s to today, including Jonze’s own contributions to the genre. The videos are followed by a panel discussion with notable skateboarders and filmmakers including Jonze, and a live performance by the band No Age.
A newly struck 35mm print of Carroll Ballard’s 1979 film The Black Stallion is included in the exhibition. The film was a major influence on Jonze and co-screenwriter Dave Eggers during the making of Where the Wild Things Are.
The mind games of Jonze’s films—their existential puzzlements and feats of narrative deconstruction—are dazzling, to be sure, but so is their exuberant physicality, from the graceful (the Dance of Despair and Disillusionment in Malkovich; the skateboarding films that recall the gravity-defying acrobatics of Douglas Fairbanks and Harold Lloyd; and the Björk, Pharcyde, and Fatboy Slim videos that pay homage to Hollywood’s golden age of musicals); to the anarchical (Jackass: The Movie, and the Gap “Pardon Our Dust” commercial); to the endearingly awkward (the stylings of the Torrance Community Dance Group, and the silent pantomime of Maurice at the World’s Fair).
Other directors who have been featured in MoMA’s Filmmaker in Focus series include Rahmin Bahrani, Ferzan Ozpetek, and Carlos Reygadas.
Thursday, October 8
8:00 In Cahoots: Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze
Spike Jonze had been friends with Maurice Sendak for more than five years before he and Dave Eggers began working on their adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, recognizing in Sendak a passionate, daring, truthful, and, yes, wildly imaginative artist, and a fellow imp of the perverse. In these short films, made while Wild Things was in production, a sometimes melancholy but always wickedly funny Sendak reflects on his Depression-era childhood in the Brooklyn shtetl, a joyous day at the World’s Fair, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, his books In the Night Kitchen and Higgledy Piggledy Pop!, his two beloved Hermans (Melville, and his German-shepherd namesake), and a long-buried secret.
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak. 2009. USA. Co-directed with Lance Bangs. 40 min.
Maurice at the World’s Fair. 2009. USA. With Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener. 4 min.
The Creature Within. 2009. USA. With Maurice Sendak, Sonny Gerasimowicz. 1 min.
Where the Wild Things Are [clips]. 2009. USA. 5 min.
Program 100 min. Introduced by Jonze. Followed by onstage conversation with curator Joshua Siegel.
Friday, October 9
4:30 Adaptation. 2002. USA. Directed by Spike Jonze. Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman, based on The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. With Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper.
Sure to end up on many end-of-the-decade Ten Best lists, Adaptation is, quite “simply,” a film based on a book based on a magazine article about the frustrated attempts of a journalist (and her successor, a screenwriter) to create a drama out of the true story of an obsessive horticulturist who steals rare ghost orchids from the Everglades, and to fathom the profound implications this has for our own capacity to adapt, love, and create something beautiful and mysterious without selling out. Hopscotching back and forth in time and place, with disorienting detours of plot and quicksilver swings of mood, Adaptation intricately interweaves the lives of the orchid thief, the reporter, and the angst-ridden screenwriter at war with his primordial inner demons, his crass and fearless twin brother/doppelganger, and the frighteningly Darwinian world “out there.” Cage, Streep, and Cooper tread gracefully on the dangerous edge of comedy to give their best performances in years. Courtesy Sony Pictures Repertory. 114 min.
8:00 Spike Jonze: Award-Winning Music Videos and Short Films, Part 1.
In which Jonze creates astonishingly inventive and distinctly narrative-driven music videos for UNKLE, The Breeders (codirected by Kim Gordon), Wax, The Notorious B.I.G., Beastie Boys, Daft Punk, and The Pharcyde; reveals the private, vulnerable, and often hilarious side of presidential candidate Al Gore and the musician Fatlip; parodies egomaniacal celebrity with Kanye West in his new short film We Were Once A Fairytale (2009); and more. Program 100 min.
Saturday, October 10
2:00 Spike Jonze: Award-Winning Music Videos, Short Films, and Commercials, Part 2.
Jonze continues to amaze and delight with music videos for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beck, Weezer, Björk, Fatboy Slim (codirected by the Torrance Community Dance Group with Roman Coppola), The Chemical Brothers, Mike Watt, and The Flaming Lips; his Miller “Casting Call” and Wrangler commercials; the fiction short How They Get There (1997); the short documentary Amarillo by Morning (1997), about an afternoon spent with a couple of Texas Panhandle boys who dream of becoming professional bull riders; and more. Program 100 min.
5:00 Being John Malkovich. 1999. USA. Directed by Spike Jonze. Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman. With John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich.
Somewhere between the New Jersey Turnpike and the floor-seven-and-a-half offices of LesterCorp lies the hidden portal to being John Malkovich—to dining as him, having sex as him, and perhaps best of all, ordering bath towels as him. For Craig Schwartz, a tragically
3 misunderstood, out-of-work puppeteer, his frumpy, sexually confused wife, and the rest of us beautiful losers, it’s a chance to not-so-vicariously enjoy fifteen minutes of fame—and someone else’s neuroses for a change. Jonze and Kaufman were themselves catapulted to stardom with this ingenious feature film debut, bringing a measure of melancholy and compassion to a metaphysical screwball comedy that twists and turns, Möbius-like, into a profoundly touching and disturbing meditation on the Big Questions of human nature, consciousness, and the stuff that dreams are made on. Courtesy NBC Universal. 112 min.
8:00 Adaptation. 2002. (See Friday, October 9, 4:30.)
Sunday, October 11
1:00 The Black Stallion. 1979. USA. Directed by Carroll Ballard. Screenplay by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Roseberg, William D. Wittliff. With Teri Garr, Mickey Rooney, Kelly Reno.
An enchanting yet rarely seen film adaptation of Walter Farley’s beloved 1941 book, about an American boy and an Arabian stallion who forge a nearly mystical bond of love and empathy when they are shipwrecked and forced to take refuge on a deserted Mediterranean island. “As soon as we started working on the script for Where the Wild Things Are, The Black Stallion was the first movie Dave Eggers and I watched. It was our aspiration to capture what Carroll Ballard had: a boy on an island finding his way with wild creatures and the camera trying to tag along—not to get in the way, but to capture the beauty of it all” (Spike Jonze). New 35mm print courtesy Academy Film Archive. 118 min.
4:00 In Cahoots: Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze. (See Thursday, October 8, 8:00.)
Monday, October 12
4:30 Being John Malkovich. 1999. (See Saturday, October 10, 5:00.)
8:00 Spike Jonze: Award-Winning Music Videos, Short Films, and Commercials, Part 2. (See Saturday, October 10, 2:00.)
Wednesday, October 14
4:30 Heavy Metal in Baghdad. 2008. USA/Canada. Directed by Suroosh Alvi, Eddy Moretti. Executive Produced by Shane Smith, Spike Jonze.
An intense and fearless documentary portrait of the Iraqi underground metal band Acrassicauda (Latin for “black scorpion”), seriously passionate musicians who seriously risk their lives—and those of their families and fans—as bombs rain down on wartime Baghdad, death threats brand them as worshippers of Satan and degenerate Western culture, and hellish conditions force them to consider fleeing their homeland. “Both a stirring testament to the plight of cultural expression in Baghdad and a striking report on the refugee scene in Syria, this rock-doc like no other electrifies its genre and redefines headbanging as an act of hard-core courage” (Nathan Lee, The New York Times). Courtesy Vice Films. 84 min.
Friday, October 16
4:30 The Black Stallion. 1979. (See Sunday, October 11, 1:00.)
8:00 Jackass: The Movie. 2002. USA. Directed by Jeff Tremaine. Produced by Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Tremaine.
In the first of two movies based on the wildly popular MTV series (co-created by Jonze), Johnny Knoxville leads his Loony Tunes band of misfits, miscreants, and degenerates through a gauntlet of sadomasochistic stunts and pranks—textbook cases of arrested development and schadenfreude, and a throwback to the inventively cruel humor of silent-era slapstick comedy. Courtesy Paramount Pictures. 87 min.
Preceded by the New York premiere of Collaborators (2009), Lance Bangs’s portrait of Spike Jonze and his longtime moviemaking partnerships; and a selection of Jonze’s award-winning commercials for Nike, Adidas, the Gap, Levi’s, Nissan, and Ikea. Program 100 min.
Saturday, October 17
2:00 Jackass: The Movie. 2002. (See Friday, October 16, 8:00.)
5:00 Heavy Metal in Baghdad. 2008. (See Wednesday, October 14, 4:30.)
Sunday, October 18
2:00 Spike Jonze: Award-Winning Music Videos and Short Films, Part 1. (See Friday, October 9, 8:00.)
PopRally Presents: An Evening of Skate Videos, Hosted by Patrick O’Dell, Special Guests
to Include Spike Jonze and a Live Performance by No Age
Thursday, October 15, 7:30–11:00 p.m.
The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 1 and The Agnes Gund Garden Lobby
In conjunction with Spike Jonze’s current MoMA exhibition, PopRally has invited Patrick O’Dell (Epicly Later’d) to assemble an evening of influential skateboarding videos from the 1980s to today—including Jonze’s own legendary contributions to the genre—and to bring together a panel of significant skateboarders and filmmakers, including Jonze himself, to discuss their work. “Skate videos have been a big influence and a big part of what I’ve done for a long time,” Jonze observes. “They are how I got into film actually.” An after party with a live performance by No Age follows the film program. For more information, please visit www.moma.org/poprally. PopRally is made possible with generous support from Jerry I. Speyer and Katherine G. Farley.