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Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes: Interviews

Edited by Julia Leyda
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Todd Haynes
    Book Description:

    A pioneer of the New Queer Cinema, Todd Haynes (b. 1961) is a leading American independent filmmaker. Whether working with talking dolls in a homemade short (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story) or with Oscar-winning performers in an HBO miniseries (Mildred Pierce), Haynes has garnered numerous awards and nominations and an expanding fan base for his provocative and engaging work.

    In all his films, Haynes works to portray the struggles of characters in conflict with the norms of society. Many of his movies focus on female characters, drawing inspiration from genres such as the woman's film and the disease movie (Far from HeavenandSafe); others explore male characters who transgress sexual and other social conventions (PoisonandVelvet Goldmine).

    The writer-director has drawn on figures such as Karen Carpenter, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Bob Dylan in his meditations on American and British music, celebrity, and the meaning of identity. His 2007 movieI'm Not Therewon a number of awards and was notable for Haynes's decision to cast six different actors (one of whom was a woman) to portray Dylan.

    Gathering interviews from 1989 through 2012, this collection presents a range of themes, films, and moments in the burgeoning career of Todd Haynes.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-021-1
    Subjects: Performing Arts, History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    One thing becomes strikingly clear in reading this collection of interviews: Todd Haynes likes to talk. From the beginning he has been generous with his time, making himself available to interviewers of every stripe without discriminating: famous film critics, academics, bloggers, and writers for local and niche publications, all get a crack at him. Given his extensive influences and interests—experimental cinema, melodrama, celebrity and stardom, feminist and queer theory, and serial television, to name a few—it comes as no surprise that he comfortably moves among such different discourses. In assembling this collection, I have tried to include a...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Filmography
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Karen Carpenter: Getting to the Bare Bones of Todd Haynes’s Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story
    (pp. 3-12)
    Sheryl Farber and Todd Haynes

    On a New York oldies station tonight, the Carpenters are the featured recording artists. The DJ notes thesmooth as silkvoice of Karen Carpenter before he plays one of their hits, “Rainy Days and Mondays.” The first few strains of the harmonica begin, heralding the melancholy voice of Karen singing—

    Talking to myself and feeling old.

    Sometimes I’d like to quit.

    Nothing ever seems to fit

    I can’t stop listening. The DJ plays all of my Carpenter favorites and I am catapulted into memories of the seventies. “For All We Know” comes on and I am in a music...

  7. Todd Haynes: The Intellectual from Encino
    (pp. 13-18)
    Jeffrey Lantos

    I’ve just caught up with a remarkable film. It’s calledSuperstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and it was made three years ago by Todd Haynes, a Brown University-educated writer-director who is now thirty. Regrettably, you won’t find this film in the video stores or catch it on cable. That’s because Haynes received a cease-and-desist order from some big-shot lawyers who also wanted him to destroy every print of the film. Even if Haynes had agreed to that (he didn’t), it wouldn’t have mattered, because bootlegged video copies ofSuperstarare available, although if you’re lucky enough to get hold of...

  8. Poison at the Box Office
    (pp. 19-25)
    Michael Laskawy and Todd Haynes

    Todd Haynes first came to critical attention in 1988 withSuperstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, a highly praised short mock-documentary whose featured performers were all Barbie dolls. Due to subsequent legal action taken by A&M Records, the film has presently been withdrawn from circulation;Poison, the first feature by the thirty-year-old director, made for under $250,000, has already generated similar attention. Earlier this year, it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and provoked protests from the religious New Right over its depictions of homosexual eroticism and its reception of an NEA grant. Inspired by the works...

  9. Cinematic/Sexual: An Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 26-32)
    Justin Wyatt and Todd Haynes

    Justin Wyatt: Has your academic background had a bearing on your filmmaking practice?

    Todd Haynes: In high school I had a teacher named Chris Adams. Chris had studied with Beverle Houston at USC and that was really important to her way of thinking about film. Chris showed a lot of experimental films in her classes, which was great. We saw James Benning, Stan Brakhage, Ken Jacobs,Oh Dem Watermelons, even the trash classics of early American avant-garde cinema.

    I remember that it was a big breakthrough for me when Chris Adams said, based on Beverle Houston’s writings, that film is...

  10. Appendix: An Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 33-41)
    Michael William Saunders and Todd Haynes

    Following is a transcript of a phone interview I conducted with Todd Haynes on January 16, 1995. In the text, “T” refers to Mr. Haynes, and “M” refers to Michael Saunders. In redacting this interview, I have attempted to keep the transcript as close to being a word-for-word account as my typing abilities will allow. Inevitably, this attempt will convey to the reader both my own verbal sloppiness and the extraordinary elegance and acute focus of Mr. Haynes’s conversation. I apologize to the readers for asking them to endure the former, and I am pleased to be able to present...

  11. Diary of a Sad Housewife: Collier Schorr Talks with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 42-48)
    Collier Schorr and Todd Haynes

    Safeis whatAmerican Gigolohas become;Safeis whereAmerican Gigolohas gone. The hustler glamour of Paul Schrader’s erotogenic Los Angeles is affected and then dismembered in Haynes’s title sequence which bathes in appropriated gloss. Post- and pre-outbreak respectively,Safedrags the images and conceits of Schrader’sGigolointo the current crisis, advancing its discussion of AIDS in metaphorical terms. Oddly and involuntarily, the two films bracket the AIDS crisis by implanting danger or susceptibility within the heterosexual orbit, without posing the “virus” as antagonist. Playing Haynes’s straight act off Schrader’s homo-sensual and phobic voyeurship might seem fanciful...

  12. Todd Haynes
    (pp. 49-59)
    Alison MacLean and Todd Haynes

    I’ve been a huge fan of Todd Haynes ever since my first trip to New York in 1989 when I saw his film,Superstar, featuring Karen Carpenter as a Barbie Doll.Superstarwas subsequently and tragically banished to pirate video limbo by the Carpenter estate. I’d never seen anything like it—the sheer audaciousness of it took my breath away.

    As did his next film,Poison, which intercut three very different stories: a fifties B-horror spoof about self-inflicted disease; a Genet-inspired love story set in a prison; and a mock TV “documentary” about a deviant boy who literally flies out...

  13. Antibodies: Larry Gross Talks with Safe’s Todd Haynes
    (pp. 60-72)
    Larry Gross and Todd Haynes

    Todd Haynes, director of Sundance Grand Prize WinnerPoisonand the underground classicSuperstar, was inspired to make his latest feature,Safe, by his visceral response to New Age recovery therapists who tell the physically ill that they have made themselves sick, that they are responsible for their own suffering.

    Carol White, played superbly by Julianne Moore, is an archetypally banal homemaker in the San Fernando Valley who one day gets sick and never gets well. Her doom is first her own unique physical condition. But her “action” is to be exposed to two kinds of discourse about illness. One...

  14. Briefs, Barbies, and Beyond
    (pp. 73-76)
    Blase DiStefano

    Thirty-four years ago on January 2, 1961, the film industry gave birth to a gifted writer/director. Of course, at that time, neither the industry nor the director himself had any knowledge of the event. The writer/director, Todd Haynes, would become somewhat conscious of his talent when he was playing with dolls with his sister; the film industry would become aware of his talent BECAUSE he played with dolls with his sister.

    “We used to go into my sister’s room,” Haynes tells me, “and put a blanket over her bedroom table and create stories for each other. We would sort of...

  15. All That Glitters: Todd Haynes Mines the Glam Rock Epoch
    (pp. 77-80)
    Amy Taubin

    For the audience that still worships at the intersection of art and pop culture, no film, probably not even Quentin Tarantino’sJackie Brown, is more longed for than Todd Haynes’sVelvet Goldmine, currently in post-production and due for release in the fall of 1998.

    A musical set in England during the glam rock era,Velvet Goldminestars Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a Bowie-like pop star, Ewan McGregor (even more on display than inThe Pillow Book) as a kind of Iggy Pop/Gary Glitter amalgam, and Christian Bale as an ardent fan who, years later, becomes a journalist and is assigned...

  16. Todd Haynes (Interview)
    (pp. 81-85)
    Nick James and Todd Haynes

    Nick James: Glam rock was primarily a British phenomenon. How did you become aware of it?

    Todd Haynes: I was ten in 1971 and I remember traces of it—the first inklings of something new defying the previous generation’s sensibility. But in the States the sixties sensibility was still fully in place because it encompassed things Americans love, like authenticity, naturalism, and a direct emotional experience between audience and performer—the tenets of sixties music which remained the dominant mode into the seventies through the singer-songwriter. I got to know Roxy Music and Bowie stuff much better later, in college,...

  17. Flaming Creatures
    (pp. 86-92)
    John C. Mitchell and Todd Haynes

    Few current seventies revival films recall that period as flamboyantly or poignantly as Todd Haynes’s glam epicVelvet Goldmine. John Cameron Mitchell talks with Haynes about creative impulses, Hollywood musicals, and their first time with Bowie.

    Emotion—dissected, dramatized, suppressed, and expressed—is at the heart of Todd Haynes’s films. Often thought of as a “cool” filmmaker, Haynes actually dramatizes in all of his films the ways in which our thoughts and feelings are constructed by the cultures we live in. Works likeSuperstar,Dottie Gets Spanked,Poison, andSafeform precise social critiques but they also construct characters—like...

  18. Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 93-100)
    Keith Phipps and Todd Haynes

    After co-founding the nonprofit Apparatus Productions in 1985 to support new filmmakers, Todd Haynes made one of the most talked-about, least seen films of the eighties. Using Barbie dolls,Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Storyrecounts the life of the light-rock musician. A court order from Richard Carpenter has kept the movie out of circulation, but that didn’t stop Haynes from making news. His 1991 filmPoison, based on three stories by Jean Genet, served as one of the focal points of the debate over the National Endowment for the Arts, outraging conservatives with its explicit gay content. What they overlooked,...

  19. Fanning the Flames
    (pp. 101-104)
    Amy Taubin

    Todd Haynes’sVelvet Goldmineis a big, bursting piñata of a movie—a glam-rock opera à clef that, mixing fact with fantasy, swings backward and forward in time as fluidly and disconcertingly as a dream. Though kaleidoscopic in structure, it’s anchored in a fan’s point of view.

    The fan within the film is Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), a British journalist living in New York in a grim 1984. Arthur is working on a story about Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a glam-rock idol who disappeared ten years earlier after faking his own murder. The story takes Arthur back to his...

  20. Heaven Sent
    (pp. 105-109)
    Dennis Lim

    “I really wanted people to cry,” Todd Haynes says of his new movie,Far from Heaven, a domestic weepie set in 1957 Connecticut and swaddled in the Technicolor opulence of the period. From the delirious palette to the prim, italicized performances, Haynes’s meta-melodrama (in theaters November 8) pays homage to German-born maestro Douglas Sirk. A Weimar stage director who emigrated to the States in 1940, Sirk went on to make a string of Brechtian soaps in Hollywood, wrapping up his film career as resident tearjerker at Universal Pictures. ResurrectingAll That Heaven Allows(1955), Sirk’s attack on bourgeois repression, and...

  21. Imitation of Film: Todd Haynes Mimics Melodrama in Far from Heaven
    (pp. 110-114)
    Anthony Kaufman and Todd Haynes

    Any director who can make Barbie dolls tragic knows how to tread the delicate line between stylization and sentiment. From his all-doll debutSuperstar: The Karen Carpenter Storyto his sophomore masterpieceSafeto his most recentFar from Heaven—all in a sense heartfelt stories of Barbies gone awry— Todd Haynes has created stories that straddle the poles: on the one hand, you have dolls singing pop songs, an absurdly phobic L.A. housewife, and a laughably perfect fifties homemaker, and on the other, you have the ravages of anorexia, millennial paranoia, and the sexism, racism, and homophobia central to...

  22. Past Perfect
    (pp. 115-122)
    Geoffrey O’Brien

    Seen from one angle, Todd Haynes’sFar from Heavenis a cunningly precise pastiche of a movie Douglas Sirk might have made in 1958—if, that is, Universal Studios had been prepared to release a movie bearing on homosexuality, interracial romance, and the civil rights movement. Right from the start—as the camera descends through autumn foliage toward an overview of a serene street in what is meant to be Hartford, Connecticut, to the sweeping, plangent accompaniment of Elmer Bernstein’s score—we have the vertiginous impression of being dropped back into a past all the more welcoming for having never...

  23. A Scandal in Suburbia
    (pp. 123-129)
    Jon Silberg and Todd Haynes

    When writer/director Todd Haynes set out to create his own take on the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s, he wasn’t interested in giving the genre a hip or ironic twist. As a result,Far from Heaven, shot by Edward Lachman, ASC, is as earnest and straightforward as Sirk’sWritten on the WindorAll That Heaven Allows.

    Sirk was among many filmmakers who emigrated from Germany to the United States between the two World Wars. Like other artists whose roots were in German theater, Sirk used a theatrical visual style to convey political messages, but his Hollywood creations were...

  24. The Many Faces of Bob Dylan: An Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 130-137)
    Richard Porton and Todd Haynes

    One of the most anticipated films of the fall season, Todd Haynes’sI’m Not Therewas enthusiastically received at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals.Cineastemet with Haynes in October 2007, shortly before the premiere ofI’m Not Thereat the New York Film Festival. The amiable Haynes is a lucid interviewee. Sharing anecdotes and quips, he discussed the significance of the film’s multiple Bob Dylans, his collaborations with actors such as Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett, as well as cinematographer Ed Lachman, and his critique of Dylan’s sixties macho posture.

    Cineaste: I saw your rarely screened...

  25. Conversations: Todd Haynes
    (pp. 138-142)
    Stephanie Zacharek and Todd Haynes

    WithI’m Not There(the title says it all) Haynes celebrates Dylan’s elusiveness, his refusal to fit into the neat little boxes we try to cram him into. I spoke with Haynes in Toronto in September, where he talked about Dylan as a shape-shifter, a mischief-maker, and a perennial source of astonishment.

    Stephanie Zacharek: The idea of Bob Dylan is so outsized that when people talk about him they generally break him down into periods—The Freewheelin’ Bob DylanBob Dylan, theBlood on the TracksBob Dylan. And what you’ve done is broken him into different people, which is...

  26. Todd Haynes
    (pp. 143-148)
    Noel Murray and Todd Haynes

    When word first leaked out that filmmaker Todd Haynes was making a Bob Dylan biopic that would star Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, and Cate Blanchett as the folk-rock icon, people unfamiliar with Haynes scratched their heads, while Haynes fans immediately circled the film’s release date on their calendars. Outside of the popular fifties melodrama pasticheFar from Heaven—which confused some with its earnestness—Haynes’s work has tended to be arty and obscure, and the Dylan filmI’m Not Thereis no exception. Yet few contemporary filmmakers have been as daring as Haynes at recombining familiar pop elements to comment...

  27. It Ain’t Me Babe
    (pp. 149-151)
    Matt Prigge

    TheNew York Times Magazineran a cover story early last month on the new Bob Dylan biopicI’m Not There. The story was titled: “This Is Not a Bob Dylan Movie.” When asked if he agrees with the title, Todd Haynes—the film’s friendly, well-spoken director, in town for a siege of interviews—replies with a simple, “No.”

    Well, of course he doesn’t . . . right? If it sounds crazy to even consider that a movie concerning Bob Dylan might not actually be “about” him, then you might not know much aboutI’m Not There.

    In one sense...

  28. From Underground to Multiplex: An Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 152-169)
    Scott MacDonald and Todd Haynes

    Todd Haynes’s roots are avant-garde and independent.Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story(1987), which is no longer available because of legal action (as Haynes explains in the interview), uses Barbie dolls as characters in a highly experimental biopic, while his debut feature, Poison (1991), was inspired by Jean Genet.

    More recently, Haynes has had a successful commercial career. His excellent update of Douglas Sirk weepies,Far from Heaven(2002), is especially notable. It earned Julianne Moore an Academy Award nomination for best actress and Haynes a nomination for best screenplay, and won Golden Globes for Haynes (screenplay), Moore (actress), Dennis...

  29. Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 170-176)
    Sam Adams and Todd Haynes

    Cinephiles need no introduction to Todd Haynes, the Oscar-nominated, endlessly lauded director ofFar from Heaven,I’m Not There, andPoison, elaborately layered works that double as introductory film studies texts. ButMildred Pierce, a five-part adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel whose first two parts air back-to-back on HBO Sunday night, takes Haynes out of the art house and into the living room, an environment where viewers aren’t used to mingling drama and deconstruction. If Haynes’s naturalistic take, adapted with Kelly Reichardt’s frequent collaborator Jon Raymond, owes anything to his knowledge of film history, it’s in the way...

  30. HBO: Mildred Pierce—The Evening Class Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 177-184)
    Michael Guillén and Todd Haynes

    Even as I sit in good fortune conversing with Todd in the Sundance Kabuki’s green room, anticipating the special San Francisco premiere of the first two episodes of his HBO miniseriesMildred Pierce(2011) co-presented with the San Francisco Film Society , I am aware that out there in the “real” world I have friends who have been out of work for two, sometimes three, years without being able to find another job, friends who are losing their homes due to predatory loans and subsequent foreclosures, friends who are losing their health because they can’t afford health insurance, friends who...

  31. Daughter Dearest
    (pp. 185-192)
    Amy Taubin and Todd Haynes

    Todd Haynes specializes in two kinds of movies: analytic music biopics (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story[1988],Velvet Goldmine[1998],I’m Not There[2007]) and revisions of the genre that Hollywood dubbed the “woman’s picture” (Safe[1995],Far from Heaven[2002]). We can now add to the latterMildred Pierce, a five-part miniseries that premieres this month on HBO. Fans of Michael Curtiz’s 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford will be surprised to discover that in this new version—which faithfully adheres to the eponymous James M. Cain novel on which the earlier film, too, was based—there is no murder...

  32. Todd Haynes on Mildred Pierce: Too Racy for Indies, but Perfect for TV
    (pp. 193-200)
    Eric Kohn and Todd Haynes

    Todd Haynes began his career as a daring provocateur with his feature,Poison, twenty years ago. While he has continued to work against the grain in a handful of unconventional follow-ups, fromSafetoI’m Not There, as Haynes’s profile has grown, so has the visibility of his projects. There is no greater example than his latest effort, a sprawling five-part adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel,Mildred Pierce. With Kate Winslet in the role that won an Oscar for Joan Crawford in 1945, the series has garnered some of the best notices—and cross-over potential—of Haynes’s career....

  33. “Something That Is Dangerous and Arousing and Transgressive”: An Interview with Todd Haynes
    (pp. 201-226)
    Julia Leyda and Todd Haynes

    In the process of compiling and editing this collection of interviews with Todd Haynes, I took the opportunity to meet with him myself and ask him some questions of my own. I sat down with Todd Haynes in Portland on March 29, 2012.

    JL: You’ve done several movies that are very clearly woman’s films, but the movie that I am most fascinated with in terms of gender isVelvet Goldmine, which is not usually interpreted in that context.

    TH: No, except it’s probably gotten the strongest female fan base of any of my films. And what’s wonderful for me is...

  34. Key Resources
    (pp. 227-232)
  35. Index
    (pp. 233-238)