Spike Jonze shows clips from new film 'Her' and looks back at his career at special TIFF Q&A
TORONTO - Normally during a film festival, it would be impossible to get me to take time out of my schedule to see sequences from an unreleased film and watch a Q&A with a filmmaker, but then again, not everyone is Spike Jonze.
The last time we spoke was at Sundance a few years ago, when he was in town to promote his short film about a robot who falls in love, "I'm Here." Based on the trailer for his new feature film, "Her," it looks like he may have had further thoughts along a similar line, and the promise of hearing a great conversation about his process and what got him back behind the camera for the first time since "Where The Wild Things Are" was too much for me to pass up.
The TIFF Bell Lightbox is a perfect venue for this sort of event. The rooms are fairly good-sized screening rooms, but they manage to create a feeling of intimacy when it comes to the Q&A part of things.
Kelly Reichardt was the moderator for the Q&A, which is a really lovely combination of filmmakers to take the stage. If you don't know Reichart's work, it wouldn't shock me. Her films are modest gems, beautifully nuanced and observational, not really built to compete for hype in a world of superhero movies and endless sequels. I can easily imagine Jonze as a big fan of films like "Wendy and Lucy," "Old Joy," and "Meek's Cutoff."
To make the point that the afternoon was not just about promoting "Her," the day began with a sharply edited look back at his body of work. It opened with the scene from "Adaptation" where Meryl Streep is in bed, listening to the dial tone on her phone and trying to reproduce the sound. The phone rings, and it's Chris Cooper. She explains what she's trying to do, and he immediately understands and starts trying to help her. It's such a beautiful scene, and Meryl's reaction at the end, tears in her eyes, so happy to not only be understood but to have accomplished her goal, is so lovely. I would imagine that for an artist, there is no more satisfying feeling than knowing that someone truly, completely understood what you were trying to say to them, and I can think of no better example of it in a film.
When you're picking the highlights from Jonze's incredible career, there is no dearth of material to use. Chris Walken flying in "Weapon Of Choice." Max Records running amidst the Wild Things. A restaurant full of Malkovich. The Beastie Boys in full "Sabatoge" mode. A guy on fire running down Gardner Street in slow motion. Weezer in "Happy Days" outfits. The Torrence Dance Team. Crazy little elf Bjork in a full-blown MGM musical number. Simply put, some of my favorite music video images ever, alongside moments from some of my favorite movies. It's such an amazing reminders of how many perfect things he's created in his life. I was especially struck by Jonze talking to Maurice Sendak with Catherine Keener at the table with them. The moment that flattens me every single time, KW saying to Max, "Don't go. I'll eat you up, I love you so."
And finally, to bring it full circle and really underline another truth about Spike's work, Robert McKee onstage, speaking to a crowd, Brian Cox yelling about what makes a great movie. "Every fucking day, somewhere in the world, somebody sacrifices his life to save someone else. Every fucking day, someone, somewhere takes a conscious decision to destroy someone else. People find love, people lose it. For Christ's sake, a child watches her mother beaten to death on the steps of a church. Someone goes hungry. Somebody else betrays his best friend for a woman. If you can't find that stuff in life, then you, my friend, don't know crap about life! And WHY THE FUCK are you wasting my two precious hours with your movie?!"
It was a highly effective way to set the stage, and then Jonze and Reichardt came out and took their seats. Jonze talked about wanting Reichardt to moderate the afternoon because her movies are so particular, so different than what he does. Reichardt opened with, "Just seeing that whole retrospective piece, I only wrote down one question for you: why are you so lazy?"
As the audience laughed, Reichardt continued. "It's a mystery to me how you work on more than one thing at a time. You were talking about how you're editing something else while you're working on your movie. What's your process?"
There's really no bigger question for a filmmaker, and Jonze didn't really know where to start. Reichardt said, "You've been making 'Her' for quite a long time. For one thing, it's hard not to compare things to your own experience, and I make films in a short window. I only do one thing at a time. I hardly even have time for a meal with a friend while I'm working."
Jonze seemed to finally find his way into the answer. "Like you, I work with people I'm really close with. It starts with that. It starts with an idea or a feeling, and I'll try out ideas on my friends, and a lot of things come out of the spontaneity of that sort of situation. The best videos were the ones where I became friends with the artists first. The Beastie Boys are guys I loved before I met them, and when I got to know them, we started a magazine together and we started making videos together, and a lot of it came out of us just cracking ourselves up, like going to the fake mustache store and buying fake mustaches. It's a very organic process. Or it comes out of a feeling. The clips from 'I'm Here,' that's a good example. I just wanted to capture the feeling of falling in love in your early twenties. I meet a lot of people. Like Andrew Garfield, he had just finished 'Never Let You Go' with Mark Romanek, and while I was finishing 'Where The Wild Things Are,' I went to the park with them, and I just loved Andrew. I wanted to work with him because I enjoyed playing frisbee with him, and he ended up playing the robot for me. When we were working on 'Where The Wild Things Are,' we would have eight hour meetings every day about animating the characters and trying to get every detail right, like the way an eye crinkles when you smile."
Reichardt replied, "I can't remember what I was stuck on when I first met you. I was explaining to Spike what I was trying to do, and you just said, 'Why don't you do it in post?' And we had this conversation about using all the tools on your belt, and on my belt, there's just this one hammer. You spend a lot of time in post. So much of the filmmaking goes on in post. Even in something like sound design, it's pretty much set when I get there, but in post, that's just like a beginning point for you. You do so much work that's about creating things, and not just trying to make them better."
I love that the two of them were basically explaining what drew them to each other's work. Spike said, "Kelly's movies have this stripped-down raw directness with very long takes, and they're very human in this way. They explore humanity and politics. There's an honesty that comes with it because there's very little… manipulation."
"I thought you were going to say money," Reichardt countered.