Maurice Sendak in "Tell Them Anything You Want."
In the past week, the deaths of two major creative forces have sent shockwaves through the multiple generations impacted by their work. Last Friday brought the news of Beastie Boys rapper Adam Yauch succumbing to cancer; on Tuesday, children's book author Maurice Sendak, best known for "Where the Wild Things Are," passed away after a sudden stroke. In death, the achievements of both men have landed on unexpected common ground: Oscilloscope Laboratories, Yauch's indie film distribution company, released Spike Jonze's terrific documentary, "Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak" on DVD; today, the company made the movie available on Hulu (you can watch it on the next page).
Sendak's voice dominates "Tell Them Anything You Want," encompassing a perspective on the expansive nature of artistic endeavors embodied by Yauch's career as well. In retrospect, it eulogizes both men. Beyond that, it is essential viewing for anyone touched by Sendak's work from an early age. I include myself in that crowd, having no firm memory of art before encountering Sendak's hauntingly beautiful "Wild Things," which I probably did for the first time in an infant state. The demographic for his oeuvre has a uniquely wide definition. It grows up with you.
"Tell Them Anything You Want" explains the reason for that. The film takes the form of one long conversation, cobbled together by Jonze and co-director Lance Bangs from numerous interviews they conducted with an octogenarian Sendak at his Connecticut home beginning in 2003. Their efforts coincided with Jonze's prolonged attempt to adapt "Wild Things" for the big screen, which culminated with that movie's release to a mixed reaction in 2009, but the documentary provides a more definitive look at the appeal of Sendak's artistry because it lets him take over.