January 2, 2010
Interviews with TODD HAYNES (born 1961) are well-stocked with the film-studies and queer-theory jargon the filmmaker absorbed at Brown and Bard, and several of his movies have the air of academic exercises, at least on paper: the anorexic decline of Karen Carpenter, told entirely with Barbie dolls (Superstar, his career-launching, copyright-flouting 1987 short); an oblique, Jean Genet-inspired triptych (Poison); a gay-themed pastiche of Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor melodramas (Far from Heaven). Haynes has consistently managed to draw engaging — and even moderately popular — cinema out of such conceits, perhaps because the intellectual and formal games aren’t just games to him but also, in his words, “a desperate attempt to remember other ways of keeping your politics alive.” Whether maddeningly sloppy (the glam-rock opus Velvet Goldmine) or claustrophobically controlled (Safe), his films always side with their protagonists’ (often doomed) attempts to resist, or at least withstand, the invisible repressions and restrictions of their social environments — or as the director might have it, “ideology.” Whether Haynes’ latest project — an HBO miniseries based on the Cain/Curtiz/Crawford weeper Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet — is a mess or a masterpiece, it’s certain to be a more substantial rethinking than, say, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.
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