Todd Haynes

Started by MacGuffin, November 20, 2003, 10:38:28 AM

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My house, my rules, my coffee



Todd Haynes Discusses 'Safe,' Letting Go of the Past, Working With Julianne Moore, and 'Carol'
by Jack Giroux
via The Film Stage

Todd Haynes' 1995 film, Safe, turned the high-life of San Fernando Valley into an absolute nightmare. Some would argue that's not exactly a difficult task, but never before had perms and manicures been so frightening. The mundane life and home of "homemaker" Carol White (Juliane Moore) is a disease. When White confronts this illness her life, in some ways, gets worse. Even in a warm, sunny and wide-open environment, White's state doesn't improve, or maybe it does. It depends on what one takes away from White's deeply internalized journey, especially with the haunting final shot.

White's story is finally coming to Blu-Ray, thanks to Criterion. Perhaps one day the company will release two of Haynes' other films, I'm Not There and Far From Heaven, both of which are sadly only available on DVD. While we keep our fingers crossed for those Blu-Ray releases, let's just be happy Safe has been given the Criterion treatment, meaning more people will discover Haynes' unsettling horror film.

Haynes, after recently finishing up some work on his latest project, Carol, was kind enough to make the time to discuss Safe with us, in addition to his body of work, his thematic interests, and, of course, Portland and Cincinnati:

I'm guessing you've revisited the film a few times now for the Blu-Ray?

Yes, I did. I was in New York while they were doing color timing and correction. We weren't able to locate the original soundtracks of the sound elements, but they did the best possible polish they could do on what we had. It was a great process. Everyone involved was so engaged and cared so much.

Are you someone who can watch their work without thinking about what you could've done differently? How do you see Safe now?

Oh, yeah. They're from such distinctive, separate times of my life. There are little things here and there you realize about budget, time, and perspective, and you wouldn't mind polishing up. For the most part, I try to let them be what they are, even as much as this little movie I threw on [the extras] I made when I was a child in high school. I didn't have a copy of it in my possession for years and years, but one of the guys who worked on the movie when I was in high school just wandered into Goldcrest Post in New York City, where I was working on this feature. He told me his father passed away, and his father found a copy of Suicide in his attic. I was, like, "Whoa."

I was working with Issa Clubb on the Criterion release, and I mentioned to Issa this film of my deep past that had fallen in my hands. Isaa was like, "Oh, my god! Let's put it on the special features!" I didn't even get a chance to watch it again before I said sure. I did finally watch it on the plane as I came back to Portland, and I thought, "Holy shit." [Laughs]

You kind of gotta let go, man. It's your past, you have it all out there, and try not to get too neurotic about correcting the past. Safe is a film completely from a time and place I respect. I do feel it's weirdly relevant, even with certain changes — at least in the culture of HIV and AIDS, which inspired me to a large degree. Not to say other similar panics around illness or contagions don't continue to stay with us or return to us as a culture, because we have plenty to look at today. So, yeah, it's really great to have it out there.

Your depiction of San Fernando Valley remains relevant as well. Sometimes that place makes you feel like you're on a different planet.

Yeah, yeah, definitely. I felt that way watching it, and I still feel that way about LA: everyone is sealed off in their separate vehicles. There's a glassed-in feeling about life in Los Angeles, and it's quite different from life in the East Coast. I remember thinking of the films of Stanley Kubrick and 2001, and trying to infuse suburban life with that weird sense of being in a completely controlled environment, where there's conveyer walkways, carpeted walls, and where nothing feels it's been bruised by human soiling. It's beyond human, in a way. You find this fragile subject, Carol, at the center of this alienated life and world, which really does come through. It speaks a lot to that city.

I was just reading an interview with you where you said moving to Portland, in a way, rejuvenated you. As a filmmaker, do you find it beneficial not living in a place like Los Angeles, where you do interact with people on a daily basis?

I do. I definitely do. What's funny is, we carry around our own orbital patterns of life, the ways we fall in domestic life, and the way we fall into a pattern of life — and that's natural and normal, but you kind of carry that with you wherever you go. What's really great is — and many filmmakers happen to have this built into their lives — you have to move around quite a lot, and not be in one place, even if you have a home base, like I do in Portland. I love it. I still feel a tremendous amount of relief when I come back here, because it's a beautiful, vital, and exciting city. It's a bit of peace and quiet. I was just in New York for an entire year for my new film, Carol, and it was great. It's fantastic to be there. It never felt completely real; it felt a little imaginary. I was there for post-production, but I was in Cincinnati for the first half of the year.

Great city.

It really is a great city. I really, really dug it. I was so surprised where we landed, but once we saw what the city had to offer, it made so much sense for a film set in the '50s in New York. I really like the people and the place. It's obviously a city in transition, like a lot of second cities in this country are today. There was surprising stuff, like using non-union extras, local folks out there as our background. Not only did they look so good in the period clothes and hair, but they just looked like real people. They really performed well and felt totally at ease, and I don't always feel that way with union extras, who kind of do it automatically. These non-union extras had these imprecations and the human blunder of real people, and I just love that because it brings a great deal of life and authenticity to what we were doing.

I imagine that working with those extras is different from the experience of Safe, where Carol is isolated for a considerable portion of the film. How was the experience of working with an actor one-on-one for so much of the production?

Well, it's great. It's impossible to overstate the experience of working with Julianne on Safe, and the projects that followed. I don't think I ever wrote or conceived of a more challenging character on the page for an actor to embody than Carol White, who's just so absent from herself when you first encounter her. There's so many barriers set up for the viewer's access to her that we usually come to expect from movies, not the least of which is the fact she's not a very fleshed-out or interesting person. Initially, Julianne had total respect for that predicament: the fragility of the interior world of Carol White. Julianne not only respected the character and the person, but also the filmmaking, which really distinguishes her from a lot of actors.

Julianne really thinks about what the stylistic language of the film is and what the frame is, and she really wants to work with directors who have a strong sense of how that process can be articulated in different ways to serve different kinds of stories. She understands that, so she doesn't try to fill in as some actors, understandably, feel compelled to do, to feel they're helping the viewer out. Ultimately, Julianne recognizes viewers have incredible intuition, and power of reading information on the screen, and reading narrative form and style.

An audience's hunger for stories to unfold a certain way are actually opportunities actors and directors have at their disposal to illicit but also betray, play with, or toy with — and we were certainly doing some of that with Safe. She really trusted me and the writing, but, ultimately, it's the trust in herself that gives her the ability to underplay and let an audience find you in the frame, and not always be waving desperately for their attention. She's really extraordinary that way. When I saw it again recently she... I'm proud of the film, but it rests entirely on that performance. It's an inconceivable piece of work without someone as powerful as Julianne at the core.

Is it rare for an actor to ask about framing to inform their performance?

I have to say, the really extraordinary actors I've worked with really do care about the frame. Sometimes it's even just simply... when I was working with Cate Blanchett on I'm Not There, she was playing a man in this role of Jude. She would look at playback. She didn't look out of a sense of vanity; she just wanted to see how her hips were being filmed and how to place her body in the frame to minimize the broadest curves of her female hips. Sometimes it's very technical reasons why actors want to see what the frame is. It's all relevant. It all plays into what is the language and the style, and how is that style informing the interpretation of the storytelling and character. I find some of these extraordinary people I've been lucky to work with ask questions about the frame, and it's always for reasons of how they're going to interpret their performance accordingly.

The framing of Carol, especially when she's alone in her oppressive home, is haunting. Home usually plays a major part in your films: In Velvet Goldmine Christian Bale's character has to hide who he is in his home; there's an isolation to the home in Far from Heaven. The ideas or themes that tie together your work, are they an intentional exploration on your part or is it all subconscious?

It's a good question. It plays in very different ways in very different films. The two examples you mention are almost on the opposite poles from each other. In Safe, Carol's introduced almost as one of the objects of her house, almost competing for a sense of importance or presence with the objects in her house. She ultimately comes to realize there's tremendous danger within the walls of what would otherwise be described as the American dream home: full of all the material comforts we covet as a culture.

It's very much like the Sirkian homes, from Douglas Sirk's films, which are these magazine images of idyllic dream interiors. The clothes, costumes and stylings of those films only contribute to that sense of an almost unbearably perfect domestic life, that none of the subjects in these films can quite live up to. Their limitations as subjects or characters is what's so poignant about those films — that they're not nearly as gorgeous, heroic and victorious as they look. There's a sense of loneliness and despair living amongst perfection.

In Velvet Goldmine, it's a very different moment. It really is the secretive moment: he has to lock and wedge the door shut before he explores something that is wholly available at the record store down the street. He unlocks a channel of discovery, erotic surprise, and danger that, you know, one would think has no place in that suburban house. As it turns out, it precipitates into him having to leave his house, which threatens his domestic relations. You know, I love how that sense of danger and the unknown exists next to the absolutely domesticated and familiar objects we're surrounded by.

With Carol White, I didn't want to create a perfect life her illness begins to undermine, because I actually wanted something to be wrong about this life. If anything, the illness leads her to an opportunity to see there's a discrepancy between this life and something else. The illness alerts her to a hint of danger that is signified by the world around her, in a way that's the beginning of some crucial discovery about her own despair, grief, and own distance from that life and herself she otherwise never would've had the opportunity to encounter.

Are you a writer who thinks about themes and what a film is saying?

I have to say, I do, without necessarily putting it that way — like, what the film is saying. I do have some questions about the world around me that I feel the setting, the place, or genre can help me expose or get deeper into — or, in some ways, just teach me more about. It's not necessarily so much the story but the occasion that inspires me as a writer or director. In some ways, I feel like the story can be a masking over the real core issues in films, and the ways those issues break through the story or upset the story or interrupt the story are the best chances for us to learn something new or say something different.

I like genre, because it sets up expectations in how stories should move. Ultimately, I think it's about the ways in which some films take those expectations and twist them that take us to a different place. There's something about Safe where I wanted your own narrative expectations to first drive this woman out of a certain kind of oppression, and then ultimately drive her back into it. The Renwood world is suppose to be this place of answers and cures for illness, but it puts her back into a place of total inclosure, which is very much how we found her at the beginning of the story. We want resolution. We want movies to wrap themselves up. It's that very desire for resolution that can often inflict a kind of torture or abuse on the characters themselves. I love that you can follow those steps to the "happy ending," and yet Safe is anything but, because it raises all these kinds of questions.

It's funny, when I watched Safe I thought of Far from Heaven, because Sirk is famous for his happy endings that aren't really happy endings. You don't really trust the absolute wrapping up or the solving of the problem. In a way, my ending of Far from Heaven is not exactly a Sirkian ending, because it's kind of full of despair and loss. When I saw Safe, I thought, "That's a Sirkian happy ending." Carol follows all the steps and says she made herself sick and says all the things people are telling her to say, but you know, in your heart, that's not really what you want for her, but it's sort of what society tells us what we're supposed to do. I got my Sirk ending in there somewhere. [Laughs]

That's great. Before I let you go, I have to say we're very excited for Carol at the site. How is it coming along?

I'm so happy. It came out beautifully. We literally just finished completing all the deliverable requirements for it. It's weird, because it's so late in this year, but there was no way to make any festival's deadline for it. We all thought it would benefit from a festival launch, so we decided to wait. It's not going to come out until next year, and it's going to be torturous to wait that long.

You know, it's set in the '50s, and it's a very different kind of '50s film than Far from Heaven was. The feel of it is much less inspired by '50s cinema, and more by, I guess, photojournalism and a lot of the art photography we were seeing at the time, which has much more gritty... it's a very poised film, because it has a real sense of control to it. The look of it is much more distressed.

It's set in the early '50s, before the Eisenhower era had really taken hold. It was a really transformational and unstable time from the war years into the beginning to what would become the '50s as we know them. The historical imagery and references we uncovered showed New York was really like an old-world city in great duress: very dirty, very dingy, and very neglected.

I thought it was such an interesting place to mount this, ultimately, very pure and simple love story between a younger woman and older woman at the most unexpected cultural moment and place. For me, the look of it is very unique. The performances from everybody are just lovely. I'm dying for it to come out, but it looks like we'll have to wait a little longer.


'Safe' Director Todd Haynes Talks About Julianne Moore's Early Greatness
By Ethan Alter
via Yahoo Movies

It's been a great year for Julianne Moore. In May, the actress picked up a Best Actress prize at Cannes for her role in David Cronenberg's Hollywood satire, Maps to the Stars. And there's been lots of Oscar talk surrounding her performance as an early onset Alzheimer's patient in the new drama Still Alice. So it's only appropriate that the Criterion Collection picked this moment to release one of Moore's earliest — and best — movies on Blu-ray. Arriving in theaters in 1995, the Todd Haynes-directed Safe unnerved audiences at the time with its chilling depiction of a woman so allergic to the contemporary urban world that she retreats to an isolated desert community where residents live in plastic bubbles. Speaking with Yahoo Movies about the long-overdue Blu-ray release of Safe, Haynes says he's excited that Moore seems to be the current awards season frontrunner. "If this is her year, man, I couldn't be more thrilled. I'm her first fan." The director also told us about the first time he met Moore, how Safe was inspired by the AIDS crisis and the cult surrounding his 1998 glam rock opus Velvet Goldmine.

Among the bonus features on the Criterion disc is a recent interview between you and Julianne Moore that includes footage of her first audition for Safe. What do you remember about meeting her that day?

I don't know if I've ever had a more singular kind of shock of discovery in another creative person. And in this particular case, the character, Carol White, was created without all of the expected ways audiences can latch onto the protagonist of a movie. She's someone who is so passive and just barely fits in to the codes of her world, because I wanted to see how someone with that fragile sense of self would play in the viewers' minds. All that's fine when you're thinking of it abstractly, but suddenly I needed her to also be real!

And what I didn't realize is how much an actor needed to respect that distance and mystery and not try to fill in the gaps and make Carol this sensible person right away. That was the most amazing thing about Julianne: her understanding that the actor doesn't have to do all the work to reach out and pull the viewer into the story. That's a way of describing what some of the movie stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood did — whether it was Greta Garbo or Marilyn Monroe, there was always something about them that was just out of reach. And Julianne somehow has maintained that in a culture where everything has become more accessible and familiar.

Safe was one of her earliest leading roles and the first that made a lot of people sit up and take notice. Have you noted any specific ways in which the experience helped shape her subsequent career?

I think it was maybe one of her first roles that sort of necessitated a certain amount of research into a particular condition and that was interesting to watch. Julianne and I spent time with people who were chemically sensitive and then there were all these tapes of interviews and testimonials we watched. We also spent some time going to clubs and restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, studying the culture and the way people spoke and dressed and moved and all of that. I grew up in L.A. and my parents lived in the Valley, so I knew the tenor of that voice, and it was something I had never really seen in a movie before. Julianne doesn't come from L.A., but she completely tapped into it. She's somebody who thinks a lot about the film as a whole and doesn't like to do a lot of analyzing and talking and yapping about it on set.

She's gotten so much acclaim and awards attention for her roles in Still Alice and Maps to the Stars this year, and it's striking just how different those performances are.

I haven't seen Maps to the Stars yet, but I'm dying to. Her comic abilities are so remarkable; people forget that she's an amazing comedic actress. She was so surprised by her [Best Actress] award at Cannes. I'm very dear friends with the Still Alice directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland and I couldn't be happier for everybody involved. And, you know, she's playing another person in Still Alice who succumbs to a devastating and mysterious illness. That character is completely different from Carol White, but you watch the calibration of her performance and, as a starting point, it's not dissimilar to Safe in how you observe the degeneration of a person.

In your interview with Julianne, you mention how Safe was inspired in part by the AIDS epidemic, but seen today it also seems to presage the current survivalist movement, which often espouses a profound distrust for government and modern medicine.

Absolutely. The survivalist thing may dovetail with aspects of popular conservative and libertarian instincts, which also have deep roots in the American idea of self-reliance and mistrust of government and of power. It all plays into that. At the time I made Safe, I was really intrigued by the whole culture around AIDS, which was turning to people like Louise Hay and these other West Coast New Age thinkers. They were doing their best to cope with this new era of illness and uncertainty, but I found it troubling that it was all about blaming yourself and not the society or culture around you. It was about loving yourself more and "don't trust the government, don't trust medicine."

The line that really stands out to me now is when the leader of the retreat admits to no longer reading the news. That sentiment feels especially strong these days  within certain circles.

I [actually] heard about the environmental illness on tabloid television and these little news capsules on TV. There was just starting to be some journalistic awareness of it in the early '90s and they called it "20th Century Illness," which immediately got my attention. What was so freaky and interesting to me was that, instead of finding some kind of natural response like using natural cleaning products, these stories described taking women into silicon-coating igloo enclosures in the middle of the desert as a recourse. It felt like their lives became more and more like science-fiction; their desire for achieving a kind of material purity is almost not possible in our modern world. I found all of that to be evocative, and it definitely registered at the time because of HIV and the panic around that. I feel like it plays out in each generation — there's never a lack of other panics around the corner, Ebola being the most recent.

Until Criterion got their hands on it, Safe had been a hard film to track down. Why was it out of circulation for so many years?

I don't really know exactly what happened. It was released by Sony Pictures Classics and I think they just didn't have enough prints. It really was extremely hard to find for awhile; I'd have retrospectives of my films at festivals and it was always the one that was hardest to find a good print of. It was always a specialty item, so I think it slipped through the cracks. But SPC has been incredibly generous and worked very closely with Criterion in the release of the Blu-ray.

I'm just happy that Criterion finally released two hard-to-find '90s gems this year, Safe and Steven Soderbergh's King of the Hill.

I haven't seen King of the Hill since it came out! I really dug it at the time and it was already a different direction for Soderbergh from his other films. I'd love to see it again. I feel like in this era of diminishing 35mm projection and people watching movies on their phones, we have Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies and those are two extraordinary resources that shouldn't stop. It's important for us film nerd types to keep them going.

Is it more challenging to secure financing for your films today than it was in the era of Safe?

Each production is its own experience. We just completed a film I'm incredibly proud of, Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. We shot it on 16mm, but it was a tight budget for a period film set in the early '50s. But you figure it out — we got through it and everybody involved really cared about it. I feel lucky and fortunate. I have a whole slew of things in development now; you never know which is going to bite when. I do think what's happening in cable television is providing a lot of energy and healthy competition for works that are tough and that take risks.

Carol takes place in the early '50s, chronologically in between your HBO adaptation of Mildred Pierce and Far From Heaven. Coincidence or is this part of an unofficial trilogy?

It isn't really, it's quite different. Carol takes place in the really early '50s before Eisenhower has taken office. It's based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, her second and most autobiographical book and the only one outside of the crime milieu. What's so interesting about it is that it turns on the idea of this unknown and unspoken love, which is ultimately the love between two women, and that was a part of [the author's] own life. But it' also explores the idea that falling in love turns the lover's mind into the criminal's mind, which is always seething and creating various scenarios and obsessing over certain details. There's this sense of danger and criminality at the centerpiece of the novel and we've opened it up a little bit in the film, but it's still ultimately the story of the young woman's point of view.

Going back to the beginning of your career, will your banned Karen Carpenter film Superstar ever find its way into legal circulation?  [The movie — which depicts the singer's life story using Barbie dolls — didn't have proper licensing for the Carpenters' songs.]

There's been solid resistance on the part of the estate and Richard Carpenter. It's unfortunate, because it's a film that only ever meant to bring Karen Carpenter back into the discussion for younger generations with incredible love and respect, even if my method of telling the story was unconventional. And if I take some shots at the family dynamic that was a factor in the conflict she faced as an emerging pop artist, it was always meant to honor her and bring that voice back into peoples' ears. I never had any other intentions than that, but I understood that it could be misconstrued. I'd love for more people to be able to see it and Criterion would be thrilled if I'm ever able to get it out, so I know where I'd go with it!

The film of yours that really seems to have found a second life is Velvet Goldmine. Have you enjoyed seeing the cult that has sprung up around that movie, particularly online?

It makes me really happy. It's a film that was inspired by the kinds of movies I would get obsessed with when I was a teenager, those sorts of trippy movies coming out of drug and music culture from the late '60s and early '70s. I felt like no one was making those kinds of head-trippy movies anymore and this was a perfect subject to celebrate in that way. It wasn't something that maybe got the thorough theatrical distribution we hoped or the attention that we hoped; that was the year that Miramax was pretty occupied with some of their biggest heavy hitters from that era like Shakespeare in Love and Life is Beautiful. So we got a little bit lost in the shuffle, but it's gained this whole new life since it's been out on video and DVD that parallels with the emergence of the Internet. A lot of teenage girls click into that story even though it's about all those pretty boys, and I find that to be so cool and surprising as well. When I screen the film somewhere, teenage girls come up to me and I always know they have a copy Velvet Goldmine they want me to sign.


Todd Haynes on the unsafe world of Safe
By Scott Tobias
via The Dissolve

Released this month on Criterion Blu-ray, Todd Haynes' 1995 science fiction masterpiece Safe was voted the best film of the 1990s in a Village Voice poll, and it's lost none of its relevance today. Where Haynes' intended allegory about the AIDS epidemic—he set the film in 1987 for a reason—doesn't register as strongly now as it did then, the vague "environmental illness" contracted by his lead character, Carol White, does well to stoke 21st-century paranoia about the damage modern life is doing to our planet and ourselves. Safe also marked the first collaboration between Haynes and lead actress Julianne Moore, who plays Carol as a wealthy, passive cipher who boldly attempts to upend her seemingly comfortable life when the world around her proves increasingly toxic. The two would reunite seven years later to equally devastating effect for Haynes' Douglas Sirk homage/re-working Far From Heaven. Haynes recently spoke to The Dissolve about the shoestring making of Safe, its changing significance, and the similarities and contrasts between Moore's performance here and in the new Alzheimer's drama Still Alice.

The Dissolve: Your 1991 feature debut, Poison, won Sundance, and was a substantial arthouse hit, but it took a few years to get Safe made. Do you carry any momentum from Poison into Safe, or was it kind of like starting over?

Todd Haynes: It was still so much the beginning for me in those years. Safe was such a different kind of film than Poison. I always had fairly narrow expectations for the kind of audiences that my films might generate. If anything, I was always sort of surprised that they garnered more attention than I expected, often through circumstances that went beyond the films themselves, like the controversies surrounding "Superstar" and then the very different controversy surrounding Poison. Of course, we were hoping to get the film made more quickly than it ended up getting made in the '90s. When I look back on Safe, it's a miracle that it got made at all in my mind. I don't how it could have possibly been made today in any regard.

The Dissolve: You feel like it's more difficult now to get a film like that made than it was then?

Haynes: Yeah, for sure. Definitely. It's an experiment, that movie. It was very much so at the time, and it remains so. It's the kind of film that people didn't really know what to make of initially, and it probably took a little longer...Well, all my films take a little time for some people to appreciate, and that was certainly true with Safe. Maybe that came somewhat from expectations coming out of "New Queer Cinema," as it was called at the time, and really taking a very different course from the kind of stories and settings of films that were associated with [that movement]. But it was definitely something I conceived of fairly quickly after Poison. That it got made is really a testament to [producer] Christine Vachon's persistence. It wouldn't have gotten financed without her. I really was interested in doing it, and I really believed in it. It was a tough call to get the financing. All we needed was $1 million to make Safe. Even that little amount back then was tough. She just wouldn't stop, and she was fearless, and the film owes its very existence to that tenacity.

The Dissolve: A lot of the story of Safe is told in the compositions, which are impeccable. Was it difficult to be that meticulous under the budgetary restrictions that you had?

Haynes: It was, but it just meant that like most of the films I've made, every single frame—and certainly every single day of shooting—had to be incredibly well-planned. We were still drawing on and exhausting all those favors that burgeoning feature filmmakers exhaust from family and friends at the beginnings of their careers. I shot some of the film in my uncle's house in Malibu. I shot some of the film at my grandparents' house at Laurel Canyon, and we exhausted all the possible resources that we could around us. But mostly, it just meant really careful planning and discussion with [cinematographer] Alex Nepomniaschy and myself, the designers of the film, and everybody involved. That's really what was accomplished. I knew I really wanted that pristine, almost Kubrickian austerity to the look of the film, and the way that Carol White is set up as almost part of the mise en scene, or one of the objects that she inhabits in the film as much as the central character at the beginning of the story.

The Dissolve: Do you feel like the film reads differently in 2014 than it did in 1995?

Haynes: No doubt, it does. Certainly, everything was being interpreted around the specificity of AIDS and HIV at the time that Safe was made. That was on my mind quite specifically when I was conceiving of the film. At the same time, I wanted to bring up the behavior that we all exhibit around illness, particularly in the way we try to attach meaning and personal responsibility to illness, and how much illness and identity are mixed up with each other. Those were definitely motivating interests of mine that I felt were absolutely and totally being played out in the AIDS culture around me at the time. Since then, AIDS has faded as a No. 1 health emergency in this country, due to extraordinary developments in treatment and the great fortune of those developments for many people. I still feel like we are a culture that is continually reminded of our vulnerability to contaminants and illness. Ebola is only the latest version of that, but it's certainly one that sparked such extraordinary and immediate panic. It was summoning up memories of the AIDS era for many people in the way it was being hysterically described at the beginning. It brought up a general sense of our fragility, even as we become more fortified by technology and knowledge, and our fragility as human beings on the planet, and the status of the planet and the lower regard the sciences are being held in nowadays. They're all contributing factors to the sense of vulnerability and insecurity with our bodies, and that certainly hasn't gone away. In that sense, Safe feels like this allegory about all kinds of indeterminate and imprecise notions of health, well-being, and immunity in peril.

The Dissolve: Are you comfortable with that? You set the film in 1987. As an AIDS allegory, it comes through strongly in the conception, but now as you say, it's sort of faded.

Haynes: Oh sure. I still feel like it's a very contemporary story. I don't think the ways we signify or apply meaning and causality to illness, and the way it sort of undermines our sense of autonomy and freedom has gone away. I'm happy that [Safe] still triggers that, and feels like it's maybe ahead of its moment slightly in discussing those themes in a more philosophical way, even though it also draws from very popular traditions of "disease movies of the week," or a psychological horror film, in its structure. Those are things that hopefully make it more accessible as a film to younger audiences today. At least, the themes I think are relevant. I feel proud to have the film come out [on Blu-ray]. You know, it's my first official Criterion release. They did a gorgeous job as they always do, and I thought Dennis Lim's essay was spot-on and fantastic, as his writing always is. The whole thing was a great experience.

And come on, it's funny how Julianne Moore—I'm very dear, good friends with Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who directed Julianne in Still Alice, which is again a film about illness, early-onset Alzheimer's, and it's getting so much great attention, and it may be singling Julianne out in the awards shuffle, which for me is something long overdue. I just feel real excitement for all those guys in Still Alice. Safe gets mentioned from time to time in the reviews for Still Alice, and I'm just very proud of all of them. It's a nice time to have Safe coming around.

The Dissolve: The thing that's interesting with regard to Julianne Moore in both Safe and Still Alice is that she has illnesses in both, but her characters have such contrasting reactions. Carol is such a passive character and Alice is a character who does everything she possibly can to hold on to her memory, to the point where she's able to cover up how rapidly she's deteriorating.

Haynes: They're almost mirror images of each other as characters and in narrative trajectory. In Safe, you find this women who's almost a cipher, even though she lives the American Dream and this life of luxury. She has the lifestyle and material things that are valued in our world, but in many ways her encountering of illness is the thing that triggers her worry that maybe something is not quite right in her life. It was always true for this character, but not something that she was motivated to challenge or look at deeply until her illness. In many ways, her illness is the very thing that shakes her free from her comatose state. And obviously in Still Alice, it's exactly the opposite. Alice is an extremely intellectually advanced and productive and professional subject at the beginning of the movie, and the horror of Alzheimer's is the slow degeneration of all of that in somebody so vital and so intellectually engaged. Yeah, it's completely the opposite direction. I just don't have enough good things to say about Julianne. Of course, I've continued to work with her after Safe. Every experience has been extraordinary. That's to say nothing against the other amazing women I've worked with throughout my lucky career, but I don't know that there's a better living actor than Julianne Moore. She deserves everything.

The Dissolve: How did your conception of Carol change once Moore got the part? What did she bring to it that you didn't imagine in the writing of it?

Haynes: That's a good question. Whether or not you write and originate your own material as a director, I think it's always a mystical, mystified kind of process from page to screen, and how concepts on the page become embodied by real people and real actors. It's hard to overestimate the importance of casting in films, and finding the right person for the role, but in this particular case, I don't know if I had a bigger eureka moment than when Julianne auditioned for me for Safe. I had just been getting to know her [on screen]. I had just seen an early advance screening of Short Cuts, but I hadn't seen her work on soap operas like some of my friends did, and didn't really know who she was. She was starting to be discussed as someone who had a bit of buzz in the industry, and then I saw Short Cuts, and I was sufficiently blown away by her in that. It was an extraordinarily brave performance. But still, this role was so transparent. And I was impressed with how she could make somebody who is that much of a cipher into somebody who you believe is a real person, but not over imbuing it with too much editorializing or second guessing, or kind of winking to the audience.

That took a kind of bravery on her part, and an intuition that I never fully appreciated until she was there in the room doing it for me. All of a sudden, it really was a flesh-and-blood person who was speaking these lines, and that felt like a revelation. She said something similar about having read the script saying she was very excited about it, and she had never read something like it. She sensed that she had an understanding of the script that was her own, and if she didn't jibe with the director, there's nothing she could really do. All she knew is that she had some intuition about it. And as it turned out, she couldn't have been more on the mark. I continue to watch that amazing ability of hers to know how to maintain restraint, and to really trust the viewer that you don't have to do all this extra footwork to cajole the sympathies of the audience. They have tremendous powers themselves that you can respect, and you can elicit through all kinds of means. She really understands the complexity of that contract.

The Dissolve: What's your favorite memory of making the film? Is there a moment that really stands out?

Haynes: It was a tough shoot. I've told this story before, but we lived through the L.A. earthquake on Safe, and it really did send shudders through the production itself. So we found ourselves shooting scenes with aftershocks still happening. in fact, this was true of all of the scenes at Wrenwood, which we shot at a Jewish day camp in Simi Valley, which was close to the epicenter of that earthquake in January of '94. Literally, we were shooting through aftershocks, like the scene were Julianne gives that amazing, rambling speech at the end on her birthday celebration at Wrenwood. The reaction shot of Peter [Peter Friedman] and Claire [Kate McGregor-Stewart] and James Le Gros all looking at her—an aftershock actually occurred on camera, and they were just acting through it. The sense of existential uncertainty that the film does convey was only strengthened by the actual seismic conditions we were experiencing at the time. And it made everything just feel like we were really hanging from this apocalyptic edge where Christine and Lauren Zalaznick and I were all living, right off Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevard. It's in a really seedy part of Hollywood in a very cheap and seedy apartment house we could afford. The car wash across the street became a service center and water-resource center for people after the earthquake. Everything that was at work in that film was being played out externally around us in a trippy way. That didn't make it easier, but it sort of resounded in what we were doing as filmmakers.


Carol to be released December 18, 2015


Todd Haynes Is Working On A Limited TV Series About The '70s 'Source Family' Cult
via The Playlist

Haynes is planning a return to television in a similar format to "Mildred Pierce."

"There are other things I've thought of that could only be handled in that way, with a bigger palette and more extended shape," Haynes said. "I'm conceiving a limited series based on events that really occurred in the early '70s in L.A. based on the 'The Source Family' documentary."

In case you haven't seen it, our review here, the 'Source Family' was essentially about a cult and cult leader. The doc's official synopsis reads:

"The Source Family was a radical experiment in '70s utopian living. Their outlandish style, popular health food restaurant, rock band, and beautiful women made them the darlings of Hollywood's Sunset Strip; but their outsider ideals and the unconventional behavior of their spiritual leader, Father Yod, caused controversy with local authorities. They fled to Hawaii, leading to their dramatic demise."

The Source Family - Vimeo


Todd Haynes To Direct Adaptation Of 'Hugo' Author's 'Wonderstruck'
via The Playlist

Screen Daily reports that Haynes will write and direct an adaptation of "Hugo" author Brian Selznick's award-winning "Wonderstruck." The book itself is ambitious stuff, telling a story split in two different time periods, one described in words, the other completely in pictures. Here's the book synopsis:

From Brian Selznick, the creator of the Caldecott Medal winner THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, comes another breathtaking tour de force.

Playing with the form he created in his trailblazing debut novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick once again sails into uncharted territory and takes readers on an awe-inspiring journey.

Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother's room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories--Ben's told in words, Rose's in pictures--weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder. Rich, complex, affecting, and beautiful--with over 460 pages of original artwork--Wonderstruck is a stunning achievement from a uniquely gifted artist and visionary.

Apparently, the script is already finished, but it's not certain when Haynes might get to tackle it. In case you forgot, he's also attached to helm a Peggy Lee biopic that has Reese Witherspoon slated to star. Meanwhile, the filmmaker's Source Family show could actually get bigger. "It has an elasticity to it so it could expand or contract accordingly but has more of a series rather than a mini-series concept to it," he told the trade.


Director Todd Haynes Gets The Spotlight In Upcoming Walker Retrospective
via CBS Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The focus of the Walker Art Center's next cinematic retrospective is the work of ground-breaking director Todd Haynes, whose films (such as "I'm Not There" and "Far From Heaven") are known for being controversial, complex and genre-breaking.

"Todd Haynes: 20 Years of Killer Films" runs from Nov. 5-14, and a dialogue with the director and top Variety critic Scott Foundas will be held on Nov. 6.

The works featured as part of the retrospective include "I'm Not There," "Far From Heaven," "Velvet Goldmine," "Safe," and the filmmaker's latest, "Carol."

A critical darling at this year's Cannes Film Festival, "Carol" tells the story of forbidden love between two women in 1950s New York. It's the second film in which the director has teamed up with actress Cate Blanchett. The first was the experimental biopic "I'm Not There," which examines the life and work of one of Minnesota's most famous sons, Bob Dylan.

Retrospective screenings will be held in the museum's cinema, and individual tickets cost $9.

Admission to the dialogue is $20, and it grants one free admission to the screening of "Carol."

For more on "Todd Haynes: 20 Years of Killer Films," click here.


A Haynes retrospective is coming to Film Society of Lincoln Center in NY this November. The movies will be paired with films by other directors that influenced his career.




Julianne Moore Reteams With Todd Haynes For 'Wonderstruck'
via The Playlist

While Todd Haynes is likely already wading through scripts, given the rapturous reception and awards season heat his latest film "Carol" has earned, the director already seems to be ready to take on his next gig. Following the premiere of "Carol" at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, the director signed on to direct an adaptation of "Hugo" author Brian Selznick's award-winning "Wonderstruck." And now the project has added a longtime Haynes collaborator.

"Safe," "I'm Not There," and "Far From Heaven" star Julianne Moore will reteam with Haynes on the movie. The script is already completed for "Wonderstruck," telling a story split in two different time periods — 1927 and 1977 — that follows the interconnected lives of deaf children, Ben and Rose. Here's the book synopsis:

Ben and Rose secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother's room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing.

Set fifty years apart, these two independent stories — Ben's told in words, Rose's in pictures — weave back and forth with mesmerizing symmetry. How they unfold and ultimately intertwine will surprise you, challenge you, and leave you breathless with wonder.