Todd Haynes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Todd Haynes
Todd Haynes at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.jpg
Haynes at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Born (1961-01-02) January 2, 1961 (age 54)
Encino, California, U.S.
Alma mater Brown University
Bard College
Occupation Director, screenwriter, producer
Years active 1985–present

Todd Haynes (/hnz/; born January 2, 1961) is an American independent film director and screenwriter. He is known for the critically acclaimed films Safe (1995), Far from Heaven (2002), I'm Not There (2007), and Carol (2015). Haynes also directed the short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), Poison (1991), and Velvet Goldmine (1998). Far From Heaven and I'm Not There received Academy Award nominations.

Early life[edit]

Haynes was born January 2, 1961, in Los Angeles, and grew up in nearby Encino. His father, Allen E. Haynes, was a cosmetics importer, and his mother, Sherry Lynne (née Semler), studied acting (and makes a brief appearance in I'm Not There). Haynes is Jewish on his mother's side.[1][2] His younger sister is Gwynneth Haynes of the band Sophe Lux.[3]

Haynes developed an interest in film at an early age, and produced a short film, The Suicide (1978), while still in high school. He studied semiotics at Brown University, where he directed his first short film Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud (1985), inspired by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (a personality Haynes would later reference in his film I'm Not There). After graduating with a BA in Arts and Semiotics, Haynes moved to New York and became involved in the independent film scene, launching Apparatus Productions, a non-profit organization for the support of independent film.[4]


Superstar (1987)[edit]

In 1987, while an MFA student at Bard College, Haynes made a short, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which chronicles the life of American pop singer Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls as actors.[4] The film presents Carpenter's struggle with anorexia and bulimia, featuring several close-ups of Ipecac (the prescription drug Carpenter was reputed to have used to make herself vomit during her illness). Carpenter's chronic weight loss was portrayed by using a "Karen" Barbie doll with the face and body whittled away with a knife, leaving the doll looking skeletonized. The film is also notable for staged dream sequences in which Karen, in a state of deteriorating mental health, imagines being spanked by her father.

Superstar featured extensive use of Carpenter songs, showcasing Haynes' love of popular music (which would be a recurring feature of later films). Haynes failed to obtain proper licensing to use the music, prompting a lawsuit from Karen's brother Richard for copyright infringement. Carpenter was reportedly also offended by Haynes' unflattering portrayal of him as a narcissistic bully, along with several broadly dropped suggestions that he was gay and in the closet. Carpenter won his lawsuit, and Superstar was removed from public distribution; to date, it may not be viewed publicly.[4] Bootlegged versions of the film are still circulated, and the film is sporadically made available on YouTube.[citation needed]

Poison (1991)[edit]

Haynes' 1991 feature film debut, Poison, garnered Haynes further acclaim and controversy.[4] Drawing on the writings of "transgressive" gay writer Jean Genet, the film is a triptych of queer-themed narratives, each adopting a different cinematic genre: vox-pop documentary ("Hero"), 50s sci-fi horror ("Horror") and gay prisoner romantic drama ("Homo"). The film explores traditional perceptions of homosexuality as an unnatural and deviant force, and presents Genet's vision of sado-masochistic gay relations as a subversion of heterosexual norms, culminating with a marriage ceremony between two gay male convicts. Poison marked Haynes' first collaboration with producer Christine Vachon, who has since produced all of Haynes' feature films.

Poison was partially funded with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.[4] The film subsequently became the center of a public attack by Reverend Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, who criticized the NEA for funding Poison and other works by gay and lesbian artists and filmmakers. Wildmon, who had not viewed the film before making his comments publicly, condemned the film's "explicit porno scenes of homosexuals involved in anal sex", despite no such scenes appearing in the film.[5] Poison went on to win the 1991 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize, establishing Haynes as an emerging talent and the voice of a new transgressive generation.[4][6][7] The film writer B. Ruby Rich cited Poison as one of the defining films of the emerging New Queer Cinema movement, with its focus on maverick sexuality as an anti-establishment social force.[8][9]

Dottie Gets Spanked (1993)[edit]

Haynes' next short film, Dottie Gets Spanked (1993), explores the experiences of a quiet and gentle six-year-old boy in the early 1960s who has various indirect encounters with spanking, most significantly involving his idol, a TV sitcom star named Dottie. The film was aired on PBS.[4]

Safe (1995)[edit]

Haynes' second feature film, Safe (1995), was a critically acclaimed portrait of Carol White, a San Fernando Valley housewife (played by Julianne Moore) who develops violent allergies to her middle-class suburban existence.[4] After a series of extreme allergic reactions and hospitalization, Carol diagnoses herself with acute environmental illness, and moves to a New Age commune in the New Mexico desert run by an HIV positive "guru" who preaches both that the real world is toxic and unsafe for Carol, and that she is responsible for her illness and recovery. The film ends with Carol retreating to her antiseptic, prison-like "safe room", looking at herself in the mirror and whispering "I love you" to her reflection.

The film is notable for its critical (though not entirely unsympathetic) treatment of its main character. Haynes observes Carol coolly through a series of static deep-focus shots, placing her as an invisible woman who appears anesthetized in her materially comfortable but sterile and emotionally empty life.[citation needed]

The ending of the film is highly ambiguous, and has created considerable debate among critics and audiences as to whether Carol has emancipated herself, or simply traded one form of oppression (as a housewife) for an equally constricting identity as a reclusive invalid.[citation needed] Julie Grossman argues in her article "The Trouble With Carol" that Haynes concludes the film as a challenge to traditional Hollywood film narratives of the heroine taking charge of her life, and that Haynes sets Carol up as the victim both of a repressive male-dominated society, and also of an equally debilitating self-help culture that encourages patients to take sole responsibility for their illness and recovery.[10]

Carol's illness, although unidentified, has been read as an analogy for the AIDS crisis of the mid-1980s, as a similarly uncomfortable and largely unspoken "threat" in 1980s Reaganist America.[citation needed]

Safe was widely critically acclaimed, giving Moore her first (and much-admired)[clarification needed] leading role in a feature film, and gave Haynes a measure of mainstream critical recognition.[citation needed]

Velvet Goldmine (1998)[edit]

Haynes took a radical shift in direction for his next feature, Velvet Goldmine (1998), starring Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Toni Collette. Filmed and set mostly in England, the film was an intentionally chaotic tribute to the 1970s glam rock era, drawing heavily on the rock histories and mythologies of glam rockers David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Starting with Oscar Wilde as the spiritual godfather of glam rock, the film revels in the gender and identity experimentation and fashionable bisexuality of the era, and acknowledges the transformative power of glam rock as an escape and a form of self-expression for gay teenagers.[citation needed]

The film follows the character of Arthur (Bale) an English journalist once enraptured by glam rock as a 1970s teenager, who returns a decade later to hunt down his former heroes: Brian Slade (Rhys Meyers), a feather boa-wearing androgyne with an alter ego, "Maxwell Demon", who resembles Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation, and Curt Wild (McGregor), an Iggy Pop-style rocker. The narrative playfully rewrites glam rock myths which in some cases sail unnervingly close to the truth.[citation needed] Slade flirts with bisexuality and decadence before staging his own death in a live performance and disappearing from the scene, echoing Bowie's own disavowal of glam rock in the late 1970s and his subsequent re-creation as an avowedly heterosexual pop star. The film features a love affair between Slade and Wild's characters, recalling rumors about Bowie and Reed's supposed sexual relationship. Curt Wild's character has a flashback to enforced electric shock treatment as a teenager to attempt to cure his homosexuality, echoing Reed's teenage experiences as a victim of the homophobic medical profession.

Haynes was keen to use original music from the glam rock period, and (learning his lesson from Superstar)[citation needed] approached David Bowie before making the film for permission to use his music in the soundtrack. Bowie declined, leaving Haynes to use a combination of original songs from other artists and glam-rock inspired music written by contemporary rock bands for the film, including Suede.[citation needed] Velvet Goldmine premiered in main competition at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, winning a special jury award for Best Artistic Contribution.[citation needed] Despite initial critical praise, the film received mixed reviews from critics.[citation needed] Costume designer Sandy Powell received an Academy Award nomination for her costume design, and won the Oscar in the same year for her work on Shakespeare In Love.[11]

Far From Heaven (2002)[edit]

Haynes achieved his greatest critical and commercial success to date with Far From Heaven (2002), a 1950s-set drama inspired by the films of Douglas Sirk about a Connecticut housewife Cathy Whittaker (Julianne Moore) who discovers that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is secretly gay, and subsequently falls in love with Raymond, her African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert). The film works as a mostly reverential and unironic tribute to Sirk's filmmaking, lovingly re-creating the stylized mise-en-scene, colors, costumes, cinematography and lighting of Sirkian melodrama. Cathy and Raymond's relationship resembles Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson's inter-class love affair in All That Heaven Allows, and Cathy's relationship with Sybil, her African-American housekeeper (Viola Davis) recalls Lana Turner and Juanita Moore's friendship in Imitation of Life. While staying within the cinematic language of the period, Haynes updates the sexual and racial politics, showing scenarios (an inter-racial love affair and gay relationships) that would not have been permissible in Sirk's era. Haynes also resists a Sirkian happy ending, allowing the film to finish on a melancholy note closer in tone to the "weepy" melodramas of 1940s and 1950s cinema such as Mildred Pierce.

Far From Heaven won widespread critical acclaim and a slew of film awards, including four Academy Award nominations for Moore's lead performance, Haynes' original screenplay, Elmer Bernstein's score, and the film's cinematography. Far From Heaven lost in all four categories, but the film's success was hailed as a breakthrough for independent film achieving mainstream recognition, and brought Haynes to the attention of a wider mainstream audience.[4]

I'm Not There (2007)[edit]

Todd Haynes and actors of his 2007 film, I'm Not There posing at the 64th Venice Film Festival in 2007.

In another radical shift in direction, Haynes' next film I'm Not There (2007) returned to the mythology of popular music, portraying the life and legend of Bob Dylan through seven fictional characters played by six actors: Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Christian Bale. Haynes obtained Dylan's approval to proceed with the film, and the rights to use his music in the soundtrack, after presenting a one-page summary of the film's concept to Jeff Rosen, Dylan's long-time manager.[citation needed]

Mildred Pierce (2011)[edit]

Haynes' next project was Mildred Pierce, a five-hour miniseries for HBO based on the novel by James M. Cain and the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford. The series starred Kate Winslet in the title role and featured Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo, James LeGros and Hope Davis. Filming was completed in mid-2010 and the series began airing on HBO on 27 March 2011. It was awarded multiple Emmy Awards, and Kate Winslet won a Golden Globe Award for her performance.[12][13]

Carol (2015)[edit]

Haynes' sixth feature film, Carol, is an adaptation of the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. The cast features Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler. The film premiered in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and was released by Weinstein Company on November 20, 2015.[14]

Style and themes[edit]

AllMovie writes that "Haynes is known for making provocative films that subvert narrative structure and resound with transgressive, complex eroticism…. Although he doesn't characterize himself as a gay filmmaker who makes gay films… Haynes' name has become synonymous with the New Queer Cinema movement and its work to both explore and redefine the contours of queer culture in America and beyond."[15]

Haynes’ work is preoccupied with postmodernist ideas of identity and sexuality as socially constructed concepts, and personal identity as a fluid and changeable state. His protagonists are invariably social outsiders whose "subversive" identity and sexuality pits them at odds with the received norms of their society. In the Haynes universe, sexuality (especially "deviant" or unconventional sexuality) is a subversive and dangerous force that disrupts social norms and is often repressed brutally by dominant power structures. Haynes presents artists as the ultimate subversive force, since they must necessarily stand outside of societal norms, with an artist's creative output representing the greatest opportunity for personal and social freedom. Many of his films are unconventional portraits of popular artists and musicians (Karen Carpenter in Superstar, David Bowie in Velvet Goldmine and Bob Dylan in I’m Not There).[citation needed]

Haynes's films often feature formal cinematic or narrative devices that challenge received notions of identity and sexuality and remind the audience of the artificiality of film as a medium. Examples include using Barbie dolls instead of actors in Superstar, or having multiple actors portray the protagonist in I'm Not There. Stylistically, Haynes favors formalism over naturalism, often appropriating and reinventing cinematic styles, including the documentary form in Poison, Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There, the reinvention of the Douglas Sirk melodrama in Far From Heaven and extensive referencing of 1960s art cinema in I'm Not There.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Haynes is openly gay. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon. An edited book of personal interviews was published in 2014, entitled "Todd Haynes Interviews".[16]


In 2003, Haynes was honored with the Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival.[17] In the same year, Haynes' screenplay for Far From Heaven was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.[4][18]

Haynes has been nominated for Best Director at the Independent Spirit Awards five times: for Poison (1991), Safe (1995), Velvet Goldmine (1998), Far From Heaven (2002) and I'm Not There (2007), winning once (for Far From Heaven).[19] He was nominated for three Emmy awards and a Producers Guild of America Award for his work on Mildred Pierce.[12][20]

Haynes will receive the Director Tribute at the 2015 Gotham Independent Film Awards.[21]


Feature films[edit]


Short films[edit]


Music videos[edit]



  1. ^ Pfefferman, Naomi (March 6, 2003). "Heavenly Friendship". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  2. ^ Pfefferman, Naomi (March 29, 2011). ""Mildred Pierce," Todd Haynes and Me". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  3. ^ Scott, Aaron (March 15, 2011). "The Ladies’ Man". Portland Monthly. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Todd Haynes – Biography". The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  5. ^ Gamarekian, Barbara (March 30, 1991). "Frohnmayer Defends Grant for Prize Film". New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  6. ^ Lim, Dennis (November 5, 2010). "When ‘Poison’ Was a Cinematic Antidote". New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  7. ^ Brunick, Paul (November 12, 2010). "Todd Haynes's Poison". Slant Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  8. ^ Levy, Emanuel (June 27, 2015). "Gay Pride 2015: Celebrating Todd Haynes’ Poison". EmmanuelLevy. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  9. ^ Dillard, Clayton (April 3, 2013). "Hearth of Darkness: Rob White's Todd Haynes". Slant Magazine. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  10. ^ Grossman, Julie (January 2005). "The Trouble with Carol: The Costs of Feeling Good in Todd Haynes's [Safe] and the American Cultural Landscape". Other Voices. University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  11. ^ "The 71st Academy Awards − 1999". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 23, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b "Mildred Pierce Awards & Nominations". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Golden Globes 2012: The Winners List". The Hollywood Reporter. January 15, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Todd Haynes' Carol changes its release date". Entertainment Weekly. July 30, 2015. Retrieved November 24, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Todd Haynes". The New York Times Company. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Todd Haynes Interviews". National Library of Australia. 24 June 2014. 
  17. ^ "FILMMAKER ON THE EDGE". Provincetown International Film Festival. Retrieved July 11, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Here are the Golden Globe nominations". Entertainment Weekly. December 19, 2002. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  19. ^ "Spirit Awards Nominees & Winners, 1986–2014 (PDF)". Film Independent. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  20. ^ "PGA announces theatrical motion picture and long-form television nominations for 2012 PGA Awards". Producers Guild of America. Retrieved August 18, 2015. 
  21. ^ "Todd Haynes to Receive Director Tribute at 2015 Gotham Awards". TheWrap. August 6, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015. 
  22. ^ Full credits and video on Boards

Further reading[edit]

  • Padva, Gilad. "Claiming Lost Gay Youth, Embracing Femininostalgia: Todd Haynes's Dottie Gets Spanked and Velvet Goldmine." Ed. Padva, Gilad, Queer Nostalgia in Cinema and Pop Culture, pp. 72–97 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, ISBN 978-1-137-26633-0).

External links[edit]