Friday, August 5, 2011

THE CINEMA OF TODD HAYNES TOLD THROUGH IMAGES & STILLS

You can be a smarty-pants director, but that won`t matter if the movie doesn't work emotionally as well as intellectually - Todd Haynes

I just finished reading "All That Heaven Allows: The Cinema Of Todd Haynes" and i can honestly say i have a new outlook on his body of work. Half of the content was old news to me but the other half kinda opened my eyes to things I'd never thought about before like the connections between the 3 completely different stories in 'Poison', the choice of colors in 'Far From Heaven' (a movie I'm not crazy about, but still watch from time to time), Carol's "sickness" in 'Safe', etc. In addition to the book, i recently bumped in to John Cameron Mitchell, another director who, like Haynes, often explores homosexuality in film. He noticed me holding the book (which actually mentions him) and we ended up having a 20 minute conversation about Haynes' work (specifically 'Safe') and he brought up a few things that I had never thought about before as well. Todd Haynes is one of those directors who, with only a few films spanning well over 2 decades, has been able to develop a style in which you can look at one of his movies and go; "Todd Haynes must have directed this" without needing to see his name in the credits. All of his films still connect with one another in some fashion from his first ('Superstar') to his latest ('Mildred Pierce'), which is what we're gonna look at right now...

COLORFUL IMAGERY:
You can always count on beautiful imagery in Haynes' films. For a director who works in black & white quite often ('I'm not here' and parts of 'poison' & 'dottie gets spanked'), Todd Haynes has an amazing eye for color. In the 90's Haynes, Hal Hartley and Todd Solondz were often grouped together or always mentioned in the same articles or interviews because of their similar use of colors in films like; 'Welcome To The Dollhouse' & 'Happiness' (solondz), 'Henry Fool' (hartley) and 'Safe' & 'Velvet Goldmine' (haynes). Their work went on to influence directors like Greg Araki, Miranda July, Tom Kalin and plenty more.
Poison
Safe
Velvet Goldmine
Velvet Goldmine
Velvet Goldmine

Velvet Goldmine
Far From Heaven
Far From Heaven
Far From Heaven
Carol
Carol


TELEVISION:
A common theme in Haynes' work is the importance of the television. In most of his films there's some important discovery that the characters find while watching TV. In 'Velvet Goldmine' when Christian Bale sees Brian Slade's first press conference on the news he imagines himself jumping up and down pointing to the TV shouting; "THAT'S ME, THAT'S ME!" because until then, he hadn't seen an openly homosexual/bi-sexual celebrity on television that he could relate too. In 'Safe', Carol (Julianne Moore) sees a commercial for the wrenwood retreat (a medical center made up people with the same sickness as her) that she eventually goes to live with. And Haynes' short film 'Dottie Gets Spanked' is all about a young boy's fascination with a TV character modeled after Lucile Ball...
Dottie Gets Spanked
Safe
Safe
Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
Velvet Goldmine

SPANKING:
Spanking is another common theme in his earlier work from the beginning ('superstar') up until the mid 90's ('dottie gets spanked'). He recently revisited this theme on his HBO mini series 'Mildred Pierce'. All That Heaven Allows... mentions this a lot and the Freudian/sexual undertones behind it...
Poison
Dottie Gets Spanked

Dottie Gets Spanked
Superstar (sorry for the quality of this picture)

Mildred Pierce

INFLUENCES & INSPIRATIONS
Persona / Carol
In The Mood For Love / Carol
Mulholland Drive / Carol
Jeanne Dielman / Safe
Red Desert / Safe


SICKNESS:
From real illnesses like AIDS (the "Horror" segment in 'Poison') and Anorexia ('Superstar') to vague illnesses like "environmental sickness" ('Safe') which could also be seen as mental illness because Carol's disease in 'Safe' could be all in her head, Todd Haynes has a fascination with sickness. Even in 'Far From Heaven' Dennis Quaid and Julianne Moore treat Quaid's homosexuality like a disease and he sees a doctor to try and "cure it". 

You see...once, a long time ago...i had, um, problems. 

The way Quaid talks about his homosexuality is as if he once had cancer and it was in remission but now its come back. This is similar to the Kurt Wilde character in 'Velvet Goldmine' (which is a character based off of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop) where we see a flashback of him as a child getting electroshock therapy to "cure" his homosexuality (something that apparently really happened to Lou Reed as a kid). There's always the presence of a doctor, medication or some kind of a treatment in his films...
Safe
Superstar
Poison

Velvet Goldmine
Far From Heaven

REPRESSED/CONFUSED/COMPLICATED SEXUALITY:
Todd Haynes, who is gay, doesn't just explore homosexuality, but repressed homosexuality to be exact. Other gay directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Gus Van Sant (both influences on Haynes' work) who almost always have gay characters in their films, don't often show homosexuality as the "issue" of the film. Homosexuality and homosexual relationships in their films are often shown just like heterosexual relationships. With Todd Haynes its a little different. He still focuses on homosexuality as an "issue". In any of his films where we have a gay character (which is almost all of them), we see them fighting their homosexual urges and trying to hide it like Steven in 'Dottie Gets Spanked', Christian Bale in 'Velvet Goldmine', Dennis Quaid in 'Far From Heaven' and the John Broom character in 'Poison'.
Poison
Dottie Gets Spanked
Velvet Goldmine

Far From Heaven
Carol

REMAKES, ADAPTATIONS & TRUE STORIES:
Usually directors like Haynes who put their unique signature or specific "look" on things (like Tim Burton)  aren't the best candidates for an adaptation or a true story, but Haynes seems to make it work. He's made films based on the lives of Bob Dylan, Karen Carpenter and David Bowie. Adapted work from author Jean Genet, and has done remakes of Douglas Sirk's 'All That Heaven Allows' ('Far From Heaven') and 'Mildred Pierce'.
All That Heaven Allows / Far From Heaven
Far From Heaven (in this film Haynes gets a black actor to portray the Rock Hudson role from Sirk's  'All That Heaven Allows)
All That Heaven Allows
Velvet Goldmine
Brian Eno
I'm Not There
Bob Dylan
Excerpt from Jean Genet's writing which Haynes adapts in 'Poison'
Poison
Karen Carpenter

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