"DO YOU HAVE any advice for young people?" Spike Jonze asks Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak at the outset of Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak. "Quit this life as soon as possible," Sendak responds. "Get out! Get out!"
Jonze's giddily anticipated big-screen adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are has had a mysterious, troubled history—when it finally hits theaters next week, it will have taken the better part of a decade to arrive. For a chunk of that time, ever since 2003, filmmakers Jonze and Lance Bangs have been visiting Sendak in Connecticut, talking with him in his home and in the barn where he writes and draws. Tell Them Anything is the 40-minute-long culmination; insightful and heartfelt, it packs a hell of punch as it profiles the man behind not only the beloved Wild Things, but also In the Night Kitchen, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, and Outside Over There.
Throughout the astounding Tell Them Anything, Sendak tells stories from his childhood—some delightful, some devastating—and remembers his "wonderful, truly wonderful" brother and sister. Reflecting on what led him to art, he delves into the then-controversial publication of Wild Things ("It's probably the only real children's book I've ever done—scary and funny and ludicrous"), his homosexuality ("It was yet another sign of isolation"), and future projects ("That's the only thing wrong with being old, is there's no time," Sendak says after describing, beautifully, a book he'd like to do. "There is no time").
Sometimes cantankerous, sometimes goofy, and more or less always melancholy, the wise, endearing, and funny Sendak returns often to the idea of death, and to the question of what makes any life—even one such as his—worth living. Despite his best efforts, even Jonze seems incapable of convincing Sendak how much he, and his work, have meant; here's hoping that the release of Wild Things offers him irrefutable evidence that his life and work have, in fact, made an extraordinary difference.