"So when he says. 'Words are just the way we have of getting at what's true,' he turns what she's said back into essentialist, religious, connotative statement - and it's not true. Words totally show you how truth is unobtainable because you can never articulate it." Todd Haynes on Safe.

Today Todd Haynes never fails to attract controversy with his films and has become a leading figure in the so call New Queer Cinema movement as well as producing and directing some of the most critically acclaimed (and mauled) independent cinema of the 90’s. And with a fascination in Freud, Barbie-dolls and spanking it looks as though none of the thought-provoking style and content of his movies is going to disappear despite his recent rise into more widely accepted cinematic circles. And, aside from the movies he is very involved in gay rights movements as well as AIDS awareness campaigns and giving lectures on film technique and history.

Born on January 2nd 1961 in Los Angeles, he had plenty of opportunities to develop a love of cinema whilst growing up in near-by Encino. He had a love of film from an early age and tells how much of what you see today is fuelled by afternoons on the table with his sister… "My sister Wendy didn't really have Barbie’s as a child, but we would spend a lot of time playing with her collection of plastic horses. We'd put a blanket over her bedroom table and use the desk lamp as a light source, and I'd go nuts creating these ornate stories about a little girl who got a horse for her birthday, which then got injured and had to be shot - and she'd cry as I'd act these really sad melodramas. And I think Superstar really owes a lot to those years under the table with my sister." Don’t worry, this will all make sense when one looks at his future work.

In 1978, while still in high school, he produced his short first film, entitled ‘The Suicide’. Moving on to bigger and better things he went to go and study at Brown University. In 1985, whilst still studying, he made his directional debut with Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud, a trippy, absinthe-fuelled take on the life of the French poet set in turn of the century Paris. However it was only when he finally left Brown with a B.A in Art and Semiotics (honours included) that things really began to get interesting. He moved to New York and opened up Apparatus Productions – a small non-profit organization designed to help create and promote independent cinema. He worked on many of the first films made there as producer or assistant-director, until one day, he had an idea that wouldn’t leave him alone.

"The early Seventies had felt like the last moment of pure, popular culture fantasy and fakeness that I shared with my parents, when we were still united in this image of happy American famliyhood. And The Carpenters' music seemed especially emblematic of that time." So combining that with his fascination in Freud’s work “A Child Is Being Beaten” he had found the subject for his next film – Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. When it came to casting the film, he was at first not sure in which direction to take the characters, but one chance mention of The Mickey Mouse Club, a TV show he’d seen as a child was enough to settle the matter. Barbie dolls. The notion of the politics of the body, the corruption of fame and Karen Carpenter’s own encounters with anorexia made it seem the perfect idea. Thus the entire film was cast with carefully modified Malibu Barbie and Ken dolls.

The film was given a small release in 1987 and slowly but surely gained ground as a critical success. But, by the time of October 1989 Richard Carpenter (who was shown in a somewhat unflattering light) and the record label that owned The Carpenters music, A/M Records, had won a lawsuit against the film. Despite the fact of Todd offering to “only show the film in clinics and schools, with all the money going to the Karen Carpenter memorial fund for anorexia research,” the film disappeared from all cinema and video markets in next to no time, and the offer of showing it as educational material was rejected. So, naturally, it has become a video bootleg classic.

His next brush with controversy was to come just a year later when in 1991 he released his first feature length film – Poison. The films frank portrayal of homosexual attraction and sex (based on the prison writings of Jean Genet) was bound to raise a fuss under the best of circumstances, however it just so happened that the film had been given funding of $25,000 by the National Endowments for the Arts. This prompted an outcry by right-wing, self-styled ‘culture-sheriff’ The Rev. Donald Wildmon, who used it to showcase the epitome of “the subversive nature of government funded art.” All the condemnation and attention only served to heighten the films success at art house circuits everywhere and later that year it went on to win the Grand Jury prize and the Sundance Film Festival, and then people began to take him seriously.

His next directional output was not to appear until 1993. During this time he had acted as producer for two films – He Was Once and La Divina. He also made his one and only acting appearance in a biopic of Leopold and Loeb called Swoon. He was hired by the Independent Television Production Service's to make and direct an episode of their "TV Families" series to be broadcast on PBS. The result was a 27 minute feature entitled ‘Dottie Gets Spanked’. Again drawing from Freud’s analysis of child-hood spanking and his own memories, it tells the story of a young-boys sexual awakening though watching the life of 60’s sitcom star Dottie.

His major break was set to come in 1995 when he cast Julianne Moore in the role of a perfect wife who slowly becomes ‘allergic to the 21st century.’ Working with a bigger budget and bigger stars than he previously had, the film was his biggest success yet and earned him the mainstream critical appreciation that had been missing up until that point. Not surprisingly this lead to a quite period in which he took time out to research his next piece, so when it finally was announced anticipation was high.

"My next project, Glitter Kids, is a fictionalized look at the early Seventies in London and New York, with characters that reflect people like Marc Bolan and David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. As I research it, I see these profound connections to Oscar Wilde, and to the entire cult of personality as a longstanding result of queer expression. In both cases they made a huge impact on popular culture with these very visible images of gay sensibility. What's so funny to me about glitter rock, though, is how the gay elements of it have disappeared over time, especially in terms of (a patently queer) band like Queen. Those sounds and styles have been adopted by heavy metal, and Queen anthems have become regular stadium songs blasted out as the epitome of macho culture. But I'm having a lot of trouble imagining making a film about something I think is cool . . . I'm a little bit nervous about making a film about pleasure."

Originally the movie was conceptualized as an account of the rise of David Bowie and other glam-rock icons; however he failed to secure rights for any of the stories or music – so he made up his own. When the film was eventually released - under the title of ‘Velvet Goldmine’ - it received a strangely hostile reception. Although all acknowledged the good performances, the fantastic production (Oscar nomination for Costume/Make-up) and the bold originality (Special award for ‘artistic contribution’ at Cannes) the film went down in history as a bit of a mistake, not liked by critics and not a financial success. On the other hand it has now become what is probably his most loved film in terms of cult following (with its fancy-dress and sing-along music some have claimed it will rise up as the new Rocky Horror, although that may be going a bit far.)

2002 proved to be his year with the release of Far From Heaven, the movie that got him huge critical success as well as more mainstream release and success, even getting the Oscars involved. The movie was an idea that he had harboured for quite a while and was intended as both a homage to and study of the 1950’s films of Douglas Sirk. Once again he cast Julianne Moore as the perfect American house-wife in a perfect 50’s American town, only to find her falling for her black gardener and discovering her husband is gay. The film eventually lost out at the Oscars, but the other acclaim more than made up for it and as shown by the great DVD release in which Todd gives a very scholarly and informative commentary track, one can see that there is much more to come.

Complete Filmography
1978 The Suicide (producer)
1985 Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud (writer, director)
1987 Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (writer, director, producer)
1989 He Was Once (producer)
1989 La Divina (producer, assistant director)
1991 Poison (writer, director, editor)
1993 Dottie Gets Spanked (writer, director)
1995 Safe (writer, director)
1998 Velvet Goldmine (writer, director)
2002 Far From Heaven (writer, director)

Films Produced by Apparatus
CAUSE AND EFFECT
Susan Delson, 11 mins, colour
MUDDY HANDS
Evan Dunsky, 24 mins, colour
AMERICAN LUNCH
Julian Dillon, 32 mins, colour
LA DIVINA
M. Brooke Dammkoehler, 33 mins, black/white
HE WAS ONCE
Mary Hestand, 15 mins, colour
OREOS WITH ATTITUDE
Larry Carty, 30 mins, colour
ANEMONE ME
Suzan-Lori Parks and Bruce Hainley, 35 mins, colour

Awards and Nominations (directly for him – his movies and their stars have received many more)
Academy Awards
Year: 2002
Category: Best Original Screenplay
Movie: Far From Heaven
Win/Nominated: Nominated

Golden Globes
Year: 2002
Category: Best Screenplay
Movie: Far From Heaven
Win/Nominated: Nominated

IFP Independent Spirit Awards
Year: 2002
Category: Best Director
Movie: Far From Heaven
Win/Nominated: Win

L.A. Film Critics Association
Year: 2002
Category: Best Director (Runner-up)
Movie: Far From Heaven
Win/Nominated: Win

New York Film Critics Circle
Year: 2002
Category: Best Director
Movie: Far From Heaven
Win/Nominated: Win

Sundance Film Festival
Year: 1991
Category: Grand Jury Prize – Dramatic
Movie: Poison
Win/Nominated: Win

Writers Guild of America
Year: 2002
Category: Best Original Screenplay
Movie: Far From Heaven
Win/Nominated: Nominated

Sources:
Todd Haynes’ Black Couch: www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/4114/haynes.htm
Yahoo Movies: www.movies.yahoo.com

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