Spike Jonze: Still a Skate Kid at Heart

10/08/2009 4:00 AM |

As capable as he has been of taming Kaufman’s chaos, Jonze, conversely, can inject the simplest conceits of his music videos with a frisson of anarchy. The result is Bjork breaking out into song (“It’s Oh So Quiet“) after visiting the loo inside a tire store; a man with a dog’s face and a broken leg running errands to the beat of Daft Punk’s “Da Funk“; and, of course, J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain“) playing a fearless game of street golf across Manhattan.

In addition to Malkovich and Adaptation, MoMA’s series includes two excellent features Jonze produced: Heavy Metal in Baghdad (2008), Suroosh Alvi’s and Eddy Moretti’s unexpectedly poignant tale of an Iraqi rock band forced into exile, and Jackass: The Movie (2002), the flagship of the disreputable franchise often marshaled as evidence by Coppola-partisans that Jonze is the dim-witted cutup Ribisi portrayed.

Also screening is Carroll Ballard’s long-forgotten Black Stallion (1979), which Jonze cites as an inspiration for him and Wild Things. Shot by cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (father of Emily and Zooey), this adaptation of Walter Farley’s beloved children’s book relies on a savvy blend of objective and subjective shots to establish its young protagonist’s POV.

The heart of The First 80 Years, though, is MoMA’s two-part sampling of Jonze’s shorter work. All of his best music videos, including those aforementioned, are represented (plus, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Christopher Walken dancing to Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice“); I only wish the same could be said of his skateboarding videos. Sadly, MOMA has ghettoized the bulk of these works into a separate event that’s already sold out. Still, the main program of shorter works includes, among other things, the Magic Board sequence from Yeah Right! (2003), featuring a promiscuous pink skateboard roaming on its own from one rider to the next. Later in that same film, Jonze imagines the exact opposite�€”that is, dudes grinding handrails without the aid of boards.

As a fan, I would have preferred MOMA had included this scene from Yeah Right!, in which actor Owen Wilson does a spot-on imitation of a trash-talking pro skater; or this scene from Mouse, in which the legendary Eric Koston mimics Charlie Chaplin, but on four wheels. Still, why complain? It’s remarkable at all that, for the next two weeks, MOMA will be visited by a horde of kids wearing tattered Dickies, there to honor one of their heroes. The respect of serious cinephiles hasn’t come easily to Jonze�€”and some still begrudge him�€”but belated recognition does seem finally to have arrived. Expect the second 80 years to be just as fruitful.

7 Comment

  • This is an incredible article. I agree. Thank you…

  • “Kaufman is generally credited as the real mad scientist behind Jonze’s first two films, but as last year’s bloated and exhausting Synecdoche, New York suggested, Jonze’s ability to keep the lid tight on Kaufman’s lightning in a bottle has been underestimated.”

    yes, this, very much so. who would’ve thought “lightning in a bottle” could be so visually dull.

  • And yet some of our favorite film editors were taken with it, probably because they never tried to find parking in Dumbo during production.

  • As I told our correspondent, one man’s “bloated and exhausting” is another man’s “bloated and exhausting and soul-enlarging because bloated and exhausting”. I mean, what, a movie about man’s quixotic quest to beat death with art is gonna be lighthearted and nimble and without moments of embarrassing overreach?

    It probably could have used a scene where Samantha Morton and her doppelganger Emily Watson go skateboarding together, though.

  • Man, what I wouldn’t give to see Emily Watson pushing down the street. Er, that didn’t come out right.

  • “A movie about man’s quixotic quest to beat death with art” should at least be artful, no? (Especially when it’s really more about man’s quixotic quest to beat life with narcissism.)

    Wait, is this an internet FLAME WAR AMONG COLLEAGUES?

  • Eh man’s quixotic quest to beat death with art is doomed to failure because we’re bound to fall short and end up mistaking art with narcissism… One man’s fallacy of imitative form is another man’s meta-text evidently.

    I found it actually quite artful, particularly in its elastic understanding of time and uniformly marvelous performances.

    I guess what I’m saying is FLAME ON, also.