Spike Jonze & His New Film 'Her' Profiled in Excellent Vulture Piece
One of my most anticipated films left this year is Spike Jonze's Her, premiering at the New York Film Fest coming up this weekend. In addition to writing about news, trailers, reviews and updates, we also love linking to other excellent articles written about our favorite filmmakers and their work. Mark Harris wrote a wonderful profile of Spike Jonze for Vulture that is a must read for anyone who admires Spike's work, including his past films: Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Where the Wild Things Are. It provides an inside look at Jonze, the man behind it all, and story behind Her (see the trailer): where it came from, how it developed, how it was made, and how it was finished (including a fresh revision from Steven Soderbergh).
Some of the interesting details about Her mentioned in the profile include that Joaquin Phoenix read for Jonze's Adaptation in 2002 but declined the role ("'I fuckin' can't do this, I'm wrong, you don't wanna cast me'") but was "astonished" by the script for Her and worked with Jonze on revising the script while he was shooting PTA's The Master ("when I was free, we'd talk and he'd make changes"). Additionally, Jonze first cast Samantha Morton for the role of "Samantha" the computer OS in the movie, and had her sit in a box on set providing live dialogue for Phoenix to play off. In the end, her performance didn't work for the film.
"Samantha Morton is one of the best actresses in the world," Jonze told Vulture. "We just couldn't get there. Making a movie like this, in which a character only exists in her voice, in the reaction of a character onscreen, and in the viewer's imagination—she had to exist just in the air—it's hard to know what's going to make that work. We didn't know until we got deep into postproduction. But I think all I really want to say is… I want to honor Samantha for what she gave us and what she gave Joaquin. That's a lot." I haven't even seen the film yet, and I wish I could see both versions - with Morton's voice and Scarlett Johansson's voice.
One of the best parts of of the profile (read it in full here) involves an intimate breakdown of Jonze's four films and how much they connect with the filmmaker himself. An excerpt where all of them are referenced:
That push and pull between collaboration and going it alone, between connectedness and solitude, isn't just part of Jonze's creative process—it's right there in the text of his movies, all of which are, in some ways, about the limits of authorship. The protagonist of Being John Malkovich is a frustrated puppeteer who can only get people to do what he wants if they're inanimate. Adaptation is about the mitosis of a screenwriter into twins, one a depressive who believes his sourness equals integrity and the other a cheerful panderer. And Wild Things' Max writes a whole kingdom for himself only to discover that the weight of being the creator is too heavy. In one of the few overtly futurist flourishes in Her, Jonze has made his main character an expert ghostwriter—people hire Theodore to craft personal handwritten letters to their loved ones, and he becomes their voice for years on end. After Malkovich, one might have called that Kaufman-esque, but three movies later, it is nothing if not Jonzean: Theodore can script other people's relationships beautifully, but only if he doesn't let anyone see who he is.
The other fascinating part of the profile is a reveal that Steven Sodebergh (who released both Side Effects and Behind the Candelabra this year) was involved in cutting a version of the film for their own internal constructive criticism. Jonze tells the story of how & why he got Sodebergh involved in the editing process.
Because Her was the first script Jonze had written alone, he may have been more attached to specific scenes than he usually is. "So we did something that we've always talked about doing but we've never done," he says, "which is to give it to another director to edit." When Jonze is stuck, he often looks to an eclectic group of friends and confrères—"peers," he says, "that I rely on deeply for their opinions and their help." Besides Kaufman, Fincher, and his Jackass cohorts, they include Keener, music-video director Chris Cunningham, writer-directors Nicole Holofcener and Miranda July, director Bennett Miller, who cast him in a small role in Moneyball, and Steven Soderbergh.
This time, it was Soderbergh he turned to—"He's the smartest, fastest editor-filmmaker I know." Jonze asked him if he'd be willing to take a weekend to look at the movie and do his own quick, gut-instinct cut. "He got the movie on a Thursday, and in 24 hours, he took it from two and a half hours to 90 minutes. We basically said, 'Be radical, shock us,' and it was awesome. He said, 'I'm not saying this should be the cut of the movie, but these are things to think about.' It was amazingly generous of him, and it gave us the confidence to lose some big things that I wasn't ready to lose [before]. Even though we didn't use that exact cut”—the movie now runs about two hours—"we were able to make connections between scenes out of connections he made. And making many of the cuts he suggested was a really good kind of pain."
Aside from suggesting that everyone read the full Vulture piece, there's not much more I can say besides: I cannot wait to see this. I've read enough about it, and heard enough praise (Darren Aronofsky tweeted: "spike jonze's her is exceptional. reminds me why i love film"), that I'm ready to sit down and experience the fourth Spike Jonze movie in all its technological, brilliant, emotional, cinematic splendor. To top it off, the article also points out that Jonze's Director of Photography on Her was Hoyte Van Hoytema, the Swiss cinematographer that Chris Nolan picked up to work on his sci-fi Interstellar. Everything about this movie sounds wonderful, even without Samantha Morton's voice anymore, and I'm very anxious to see it. Luckily, those in New York have less than a week until it premieres at NYFF. "I love the way you look at the world."