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Spike Jonze Talks ‘Beastie Boys Story,’ Nostalgia and Plans

The acclaimed director of ‘Her,’ ‘Being John Malkovich’ and longtime collaborator with legendary hip-hop group Beastie Boys created a ‘live documentary’ film with Mike D and Ad-Rock

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Anurag Tagat May 05, 2020

Mike Diamond, Spike Jonze and Adam Yauch prepare for the “Sabotage” music video in a scene from 'Beastie Boys Story.' Photo: Courtesy of Apple

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When it comes to telling the story of a group as seminal as Beastie Boys, a regular documentary format just won’t do. That’s obviously something that the group’s surviving members – Mike Diamond aka Mike D and Adam Horovitz aka Ad-Rock – and filmmaker Spike Jonze knew all too well. Enter Beastie Boys Story, a “live documentary” that premiered on Apple TV+ on April 24th and takes from their 2018 memoir Beastie Boys Book and pushes it into a space where few music documentaries have gone before.

Jonze, best known for his work with the Beasties on music videos such as “Sure Shot” and “Sabotage,” has brought his own unconventional storytelling (seen in films such as Her, Where the Wild Things Are and Being John Malkovich) and a longstanding friendship into the mix. There’s history told through animation, self-referential jokes, archival interviews with the group’s late co-founder Adam Yauch aka MCA, plus Mike D and Ad-Rock taking the crowd through it all almost like it was a TED Talk.

In an email interview with Rolling Stone India, Jonze speaks about bringing the visual piece to life, artists he wish he could work with and the fact that premiere plans for Beastie Boys Story were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In your years of knowing them for so long, what do you think helped Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA be creative even beyond music, to think as more than musicians?

I think when the three of them were together, their brains would spin and swim so fast around together that they became one mind blurred with ideas, music and jokes, just flying out everywhere.

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What was one of your favorite parts of this documentary to really get into? I imagine nostalgia can sometimes get cheesy. Do you tend to avoid that or do you think Beastie Boys Story is one that can never actually get cheesy?

I think there is something inherently nostalgic about making anything that is looking back, so it probably has plenty of that, but I think it’s not quite nostalgia to talk about what something from the past means to you now. That is a current feeling in the present, how the past shaped you and brought you here. So, the part of the story that meant the most is the part that shaped me and moved me, their humor, the music, their creative spirit, and their friendship, and the way that they always protected that.

What were the challenges, if any, in plotting out a “live documentary” like this, where the conversation is seemingly free flowing between Mike and Ad-Rock, but it also needs to be directed?

I like starting something knowing that I don’t know how to do it or what it is. We really didn’t know what the form of a “live documentary” even meant, we just found it along the way.

It must feel a bit uneasy to see a documentary you made take so many hits (Beastie Boys Story’s premiere was called off due to the pandemic) and it’s the same across the board for all of the film industry, but how are you holding up so far?

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I’m 5 foot nine inches, but I’m trying to grow right now. I think I can get up to 6 foot two by the end of the summer.

Spike Jonze in 2013. Photo: aphrodite-in-nyc / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Even in the age of streaming, theatrical releases and festival premieres are still a big deal right, especially for a live documentary like this one? What was something that was plotted out for SXSW or even the IMAX release that you were looking forward to?

We were planning to do a whole live presentation before and after the film in the IMAX in New York that would stream live to all the IMAX theaters around the world. That was going to be fun. I love seeing things in IMAX. There is nothing like the quality and size of the sound and picture. It’s like being in a womb of light and music.

As someone who’s worked with a huge list of artists through the last 25-odd years on music videos and visual stories, were there any artists you wished you’d got to work with but they’re now inactive or called it quits? Or any artists you still want to work with but haven’t got the chance to?

Bob Fosse

Peter Sellers

Gene Wilder

Additionally, I know you’re getting back to another familiar bunch you know for long, to make the next Jackass movie for 2021. Are there any more music videos or films in the works that you can tell me about right now?

Eleven.

Watch the trailer for ‘Beastie Boys Story’ below. Watch in full on Apple TV+

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