Todd Haynes - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 2 January 1961. Education: Received a Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors, from Brown University, where he majored in semiotics and art. Career: Founded Apparatus Productions, a non-profit organization that funds and produces short films, 1987; directed first feature, Poison , 1991. Awards: Golden Gate Award, for Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story , 1987; Special Jury Prize Sundance Festival, Teddy Award Best Feature, Berlin Festival, Critics Award, Locarno Festival, Special Prize of the Jury, Catalonian International Film Festival, and Best Director nomination and Best First Feature nomination, Independent Spirit Award, for Poison, 1991; American Independent Award, Seattle International Film Festival, and Best Director nomination and Best Screenplay nomination, Independent Spirit Award, for Safe, 1995; Best Artistic Contribution, Cannes Film Festival, Channel 4 Director's Award, Edinburgh International Film Festival, and Best Director nomination, Independent Spirit Award, for Velvet Goldmine , 1998. Office: Bronze Eye Productions, 525 Broadway, Room 701, New York, NY 10012–4015.

Films as Director:


The Suicide (short) (+ pr)


Letter from a Friend (short)


Sex Shop (short)


Assassins: A Film concerning Rimbaud (short) (+ pr)


Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (short)


Poison (+ sc)


Dottie Gets Spanked (short) (for TV)


Safe (+ sc)


Velvet Goldmine (+ sc, co-story)

Other Films:


Muddy Hands (pr); Cause and Effect (pr)


La Divina (pr); He Was Once (pr, role)


Anemone Me (pr); Oreos with Attitude (pr)


Swoon (Kalin) (role as Phrenology Head)


By HAYNES: articles—

"Doll Boy," interview with L. Kennedy in Village Voice (New York), 24 November 1987.

Zalewska, K., "Tyklo gra?," in Kino (Warsaw), July 1992.

"Cinematic/Sexual Transgression," interview with J. Wyatt, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), no. 3, 1993.

"We Can't Get There from Here," in Nation (New York), 5 July 1993.

"Dollie Gets Spanked," interview with J. Painter, in Film Threat (Beverly Hills), April 1994.

"Antibodies," interview with Larry Gross in Filmmaker (New York), Summer 1995.

"Kelly Reichardt," in BOMB (New York), Fall 1995.

On HAYNES: articles—

Laskaway, M., " Poison at the Box Office," in Cineaste (New York), no. 3, 1991.

Lanouette, J., "Todd Haynes," in Premiere (New York), April 1991.

James, Caryn, "Politics Nurtures Poison ," in New York Times , 14 April 1991.

Als, H., "Ruminations on Todd," in Village Voice (New York), 16 April 1991.

Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "Todd Haynes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1992.

Todd Haynes directing Toni Colette
Todd Haynes directing Toni Colette

Gross, L., "Antibodies," in Filmmaker (Los Angeles), no. 4, 1995.

Schorr, S., "Diary of a Sad Housewife," in Artforum (New York), Summer 1995.

Maclean, Alison, "Todd Haynes," in BOMB (New York), Summer 1995.

Reynaud, B., "Todd Haynes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1995.

Richardson, J.H., "Toxic Avenger," in Premiere (New York), July 1995.

Stephens, C., "Gentlemen Prefer Haynes," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1995.

Dargis, M., "Endangered Zone," in Village Voice (New York), 4 July 1995.

Taubin, Amy, "Nowhere to Hide," in Sight and Sound (London), May 1996.

Mazierska, E., "Przeczucie apokalipsy," in Kino (Warsaw), September 1996.

Reid, R., "UnSafe at Any Distance: Todd Haynes' Visual Culture of Health and Risk," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1998.

Udovitch, M., "Two Guys Named Todd," in Esquire (New York), October 1998.

Mueller, M., "Glam Bake," in Premiere (New York), December 1998.

* * *

Todd Haynes is no stranger to controversy. He began his career making outrageously personal short films that comment on the manner in which pop culture impacts on the individual. One of them— Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story , featuring an all-doll cast—had to be yanked from distribution because of legal complications, and now is considered an underground classic. Poison , Haynes's initial, equally incendiary feature, was financed in part by the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Because of its subject matter, this support resulted in cries of outrage from those who prefer that publicly funded art be as inoffensive as a painting of a bowl of fruit. Whether Poison is or is not to one's individual taste, it is a film of high artistic aspiration. Poison is inspired by the writings of Jean Genet, and consists of a trio of skillfully interwoven stories. The first is a mockumentary about a seven-year-old boy who shot and killed his father and then summarily disappeared. How did this happen? Who was the boy, and why was he driven to such an act? A number of clues are offered by his mother. "I mean, I punished him," she matter-of-factly tells the camera. "His father beat him, just like any kid." Later, she observes, "He was a meek soul. People pick on meek souls."

The second story is a 1950s science-fiction movie parody, in which a brilliant scientist ingests some serum and becomes disfigured. People stare at him wherever he goes, and little girls spit at him. Eventually, he becomes the infamous "leper sex killer." In the third story, a man arrives at a prison. He is an orphan and a thief, and he is gay. In jail, which he describes as "the counterfeit world of men among men," he has found his true identity—as well as what he calls "the violence of love." Poison is a jarring film about what it means to be different, what it is like to be so alienated from the mainstream that you feel more at home in a prison than in the outside world. Haynes shows how you are different and victimized if you are gay, physically deformed, or a sensitive child in a dysfunctional family. Poison is a disturbing film. It will make you uncomfortable, but it also will make you think.

In Safe , Haynes's equally strong follow-up feature, he for the first time tells one story through the course of an almost-two-hour film. His heroine is Carol White (Julianne Moore), an emotionally disconnected, squeaky-clean San Fernando Valley housewife. Lately, she has been feeling run down, which she at first attributes to stress. But her body, and soon her mind, begin to deteriorate. Her doctor cannot diagnose her infirmity, instead suggesting that she see a psychiatrist. She eventually becomes convinced that the cause of her malady is environmental pollution, that she is "chemically sensitive" and "allergic to the twentieth century." In a more conventional film, Carol not only would find a cure for her illness but would enter into an emotionally fulfilling romance with the agreeable guy (James LeGros) she meets at a New Age retreat. But Haynes had no intention of making a conventional film. He offers no easy answers to his heroine's predicament, as she declines into a frail apparition of her former self. Hovering unquestionably over her deterioration is the harsh reality of AIDS and the New Age psychobabble that the individual is responsible for his own plight, regardless of the outside forces that one cannot control but that irrevocably impact on one's physical and mental well-being. In Safe , Haynes has made a scary film without ghouls and gushing blood, a highly politicized story that does not overtly refer to political concerns. He subtly but chillingly captures Carol's isolation by constantly posing her alone, sitting on a couch, or standing by her pool or looking in a mirror.

After Poison and Safe, two films of depth and texture, Haynes faltered with the fascinating yet frustrating Velvet Goldmine, a portrait of the glam rock era in Great Britain. The film is set during two time periods: the early 1970s, the heyday of a bisexual David Bowie-like glam rocker who stages his own murder; and a decade later, when a journalist sets out to write a piece commemorating the tenth anniversary of the rocker's death. In depicting the writer's exploration of his subject, Haynes employs a Citizen Kane -like framing contrivance.

What Velvet Goldmine has in common with Haynes's earlier work is thematic, in that he offers a portrait of outcasts who are misunderstood and shunned by society and who end up acting out their sexual urges. Yet too much of the film is little more than an extended music video, with sequences featuring the glam rocker and others in performance. Haynes has created intriguing characters, to be sure. However, they are given short shrift. What is desperately missing from Velvet Goldmine is more characterization and depth in storytelling.

Meanwhile, Haynes has not abandoned the short-film form. Between Poison and Safe he made Dottie Gets Spanked , a twenty-seven-minute examination of the carnal fantasies of a young, highly imaginative boy who is obsessed with watching television sit-coms.

—Rob Edelman

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