Todd Haynes (/heɪnz/; born January 2, 1961) is an American independent film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is often identified with the New Queer Cinema movement of filmmaking that originated in the early 1990s.
Haynes is known for having directed the acclaimed films Safe (1995), Far from Heaven (2002), I'm Not There (2007), and Carol(2015). He also directed the short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), Poison (1991), Velvet Goldmine (1998), and the five-part miniseries Mildred Pierce (2011).
Far From Heaven, I'm Not There and Carol received Academy Award nominations, with Haynes being personally nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the former.
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. His younger sister is Gwynneth Haynes of the band Sophe Lux.
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.
1987–1993: Superstar, Poison, Dottie Gets Spanked
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. The film presents Carpenter's struggle with anorexia and bulimia, featuring several close-ups of Ipecac (the nonprescription 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. Bootlegged versions of the film are still circulated, and the film is sporadically made available onYouTube.
Haynes' 1991 feature film debut, Poison, garnered Haynes further acclaim and controversy. 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. 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.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.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.
Haynes' next short film, Dottie Gets Spanked (1993), explored 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
1995–1998: Safe, Velvet Goldmine
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. 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.[original research?]
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. 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.
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.]
Safe was critically acclaimed, giving Moore her first leading role in a feature film, and gave Haynes a measure of mainstream critical recognition.
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.
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. 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) 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. Velvet Goldmine premiered in main competition at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, winning a special jury award for Best Artistic Contribution. Despite initial critical praise, the film received mixed reviews from critics. 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.
2002–present: Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, Mildred Pierce
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.
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.
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.
2015–present: Carol, upcoming projects
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, where it won the Queer Palm and Best Actress for Mara. Carol received critical acclaimand was nominated for six Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, nine BAFTA Awards, and six Independent Spirit Awards.
Haynes is set to direct an untitled Peggy Lee film based on a screenplay by Nora Ephron, starring Reese Witherspoon. He is adapting Brian Selznick's children's bookWonderstruck, produced by his collaborator Christine Vachon. He is also working on a TV series based on the 2012 documentary The Source Family.
Style and Themes
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."
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).
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
Haynes is openly gay. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon. An edited book of personal interviews was published in 2014, entitled "Todd Haynes Interviews"
I mean, making a film is so scary and there's such a kind of void that you're working from initially. I mean, you can have all the ideas and be as prepared as possible, but you're also still bringing people together and saying, "Trust me", even when you don't necessarily trust every element. You're making something out of nothing and it requires so many people's collaborative efforts and participation that it seems like at any moment it could just fall through the cracks and be gone forever.
You can be a smarty-pants director, but that won't matter if the movie doesn't work emotionally as well as intellectually.
It's funny, when I watched Safe (1995) I thought of Lejos del cielo (2002), becauseDouglas 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]
It's impossible to overstate the experience of working with Julianne Moore on Safe(1995), 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.
[on his home base 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.
In Safe (1995), 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.
[on Los Angeles in Safe (1995)] 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: Una odisea del espacio (1968), 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.
[on Safe (1995)] It was a tough shoot. I've told this story before, but we lived through the L.A. earthquake on Safe (1995), 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 [Julianne Moore] 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 [producers] Christine [Christine Vachon] 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.
[on shooting _Safe (1995) low budget] 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.
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 Moore auditioned for me for Safe (1995). I had just been getting to know her [on screen]. I had just seen an early advance screening of Vidas cruzadas(1993), 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.
[on Safe (1995)] 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 (1995). 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 (1991). 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.
Love stories, unlike war films which are about conquering the object, are about conquering the subject. It's always the subject who is in a state of vulnerability and peril. What I loved about the story is that what happens to the two women moves them through a series of events which change them both, and by the end of the film it shifts. All the elements of looking and who's being looked at, were conducive to the cinematic feeling.
Todd Haynes: ‘She said, there’s a frock film coming up, with Cate attached … It sounded right up my alley’
As Carol – Todd Haynes’s film of Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian love story – opens, the film-maker talks about getting the 50s look in Cincinnati and the enduring influence of … Mary Poppins
Sunday 15 November 2015 09.30 GMT
odd Haynes first got wind of the fact that someone was hoping to make a film of Carol, Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian love story of 1952, from his friend and long-term collaborator, the “insatiably brilliant” Oscar-winning costume designer, Sandy Powell. It was 2012, and the two of them were appearing at a 10th anniversary screening of Far from HeavenThe Price of Salt [the original title of Highsmith’s novel] and Cate [Blanchett] is attached.’ It sounded right up my alley.”
Haynes, busy with other things, thought no more about it until 2013 when Christine Vachon, his long-time producer, had a conversation with Elizabeth Karlsen, the producer of Carol. The film was, as they say, in transition, which on this occasion meant that it was in need of a new director; by happy coincidence, Haynes was in a similar state of interregnum. Soon after this conversation, he read both Phyllis Nagy’s script and Highsmith’s novel and, as predicted, he was sold: “truly taken with all of it”.
Carol is, he says, irrefutably a love story: in its day, its controversial reputation had as much to do with the fact that Highsmith, who published it first under a pseudonym, allows her protagonists a measure of happiness as with their sexuality. But he saw immediately that it is also a thriller, and this had a deep appeal. “The suspense lies in the audience’s anticipation of how these women will find intimacy. Whose territory is going to offer the other the most freedom? When, if ever, are they going to consummate their relationship? Everything is filtered through the eyes of Therese [the younger, less sophisticated of the two lovers], and this is the key. While she is an open book, unformed, we don’t always have access to Carol’s world, and so there are these inexplicable moments of silence and drifting, maybe even, on our part, impatience with Therese. I love that tension. That is so much what falling in love is like.”
It’s for others to review Carol. All I can tell you is that I watched it in a kind of swoon. It seems to me to be a masterpiece. Its woozy, saturated colours and clanky, echoing sound-mix; its sets, so casually precise, and its costumes, all brooches and gloves and fiddly fastenings: these things lend it such authenticity, you struggle to believe it’s ersatz, not a product of the 50s at all. And then there are the immaculate performances: Rooney Mara as Therese and (loyally attached right till the end) as Carol. Blanchett, in particular, seems to have been lit from within.
The script, faithful to the spirit of Highsmith, is minimalist, almost terse, and yet the audience experiences Carol’s emotions, her unexpectedly masculine rapaciousness shading eventually into something more undefended, with a force that is almost physical. Even the extras are perfect, as if the film’s director had torn a page from an old Life magazine and somehow brought it to, well, life.
How did he do it? This is my first question, and my last, and I expect him to tell me everything. Haynes – a warm, energetic and gracious man with extremely round eyes – laughs, and then pulls something from a bag. “Well, I do a look book,” he says. “As all directors do. But what’s interesting about this one is that it really looks like the movie, or at least, the movie looks like it.” Placing it on the table between us, he turns its pages. “The settings, the mood, the temperature… There are references here to other films, but what I found myself looking at more was photography from the time.”
One name in particular drew his eye: (1923-2013), a contemporary of Robert Frank and Diane Arbus, and a founder the New York School. “He’s known for shooting through windows, for using reflection. His work is impressionistic: these exquisite frames, and then that blown colour palette, muted overall with flashes of colour. I’m so proud that people look at this and think: wow, that’s the film. It means that we got it.”
Carol was shot in Cincinnati, Ohio, over the course of 35 days: “The state had newly introduced tax rebates for film-makers, so it was a financial decision first of all. But then we went there, and we were like, oh, my God.” The city had everything he needed, 50s-wise, including a well-preserved but gloriously empty department store [when the film opens, Therese is a shop girl: this is how she meets , who comes in to buy a Christmas present for her child]. “It had all its original skin and bones. We even found a lot of glass cabinets on the premises.” But there was more.
“Oh, the extras. These were Cincinnati folks, non-union extras. At first, I thought: uh-oh, aren’t they going to be really self-conscious? But it was the opposite of that. They looked like real people, they moved like themselves, they had a normal, messy human way that came through.” The effect of the city and its denizens on cast and crew alike was, he says, hugely important. “Cate and Rooney continue to talk about the way it took them someplace else.”
His stars didn’t know each other well before shooting began, though they chose to take – not every film actor does – two weeks of rehearsal. “They’re similar in lots of ways,” he says. “They come well prepared, are attentive to detail, conscientious, hardest on themselves, and kind to the people working with them. But the fact that they didn’t know each other, and that we also spent a lot of time shooting them apart – we see Therese’s world, and then Carol’s, before we ever see them together – supported the differences between their two characters: differences not only of class and age, but of knowledge. It’s a gulf, and you need to feel it. The fact that they weren’t hanging out on set together every day probably helped that.”
Ever since Cannes, people have been asking Haynes if the long slog of gettingCarol funded can be attributed to the fact that its characters are gay. But he isn’t convinced. The truth, if anything, is even more depressing. “It’s a movie about two women,” he says. “Cate and Rooney are in every single frame. It has no lead men.” And what about those moments of “silence and drifting”? His film refuses to tell its audience what to think. Didn’t anyone try to persuade him to make it more literal, or faster paced?
“Actually, I have to say I was so supported by my production team and ultimately by Harvey Weinstein . He wasn’t around on set. He just had a pick-up deal [ie to distribute it], and he waited until I was ready to show him a cut. He saw it only once, and he gave us hardly any notes. He knew exactly what to do with it, he knew what potential it had. It was the first of my films that he knew exactly how to market, and he was delighted. But then, to his credit, there have been films of mine that have been more structurally complicated, with less commercial potential, and he has always kept coming back.”
Would he stand his ground in a fight with Weinstein, or anyone else? “I would. I have absolutely been in that position before. Some directors do recut their films, but I don’t, if I disagree, and what you suffer is a less passionate marketing campaign, less investment in the film at the other end, which is… fine. I get it.” So he’s able to take criticism? “Oh, yeah. A key part of the process for me is having screenings: not official test screenings, just gatherings of people, some I know and some I don’t. We ask what is working, and what isn’t. So it’s not as if I’m shutting out input. You have to be somewhat ruthless with your work. You have to let things go. Even your favourite little part might not work in the end.”
As for Carol’s extraordinary last scene – skip this paragraph if you plan to see the film – an epiphany that nevertheless arrives lightly mottled with doubt, he was confident: not just when he saw the rushes, but even before that, on the day of filming itself. The actors were ready. Everyone knew what the camera was going to do. This wouldn’t require too many takes. “I kept thinking of the final scene ofThe Graduate. That moment, when they [Benjamin and Elaine, played by Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross respectively] are on the bus and it’s quiet at last. There’s a feeling of… now what? The ending is also the beginning – of real life.”
As he goes on, speaking more quickly now, he starts to muddle characters and actors, as if they were one and the same. “There’s so much meaning there. She sees Carol, and we push in on Rooney, and she’s going to make this walk. But she has changed. They both have. Therese is different. She’s no longer that open book. She has erected defences.” A slight pause for emphasis. “The ending is the beginning. They have a shot.”
Haynes grew up in Los Angeles. His parents weren’t involved with Hollywood – his father imported cosmetics – but there were family links. “My grandfather worked at Warner Brothers in the 40s; he started as a union organiser, worked his way up, and then left in the [McCarthyite] blacklist period, when a lot of his friends were affected. He was a huge presence in my life, so we knew people, and then I went to a private high school: arty, hippyish, a lot of actors’ kids. I was exposed to that world, but not of it.”
Can he remember the first film he saw? He makes a noise that’s close to a squeal. “Yes, I can, and it was Mary Poppins, and it conducted an intense power over me.Oh, my God. Something about it conspired to make it an indelible piece of… psychic formative work for me. It produced obsession, utter obsession. I was only three, and this was a time [before video] when you saw a film only once. I would spend days drawing pictures of it, and acting it out, and dressing up, making everyone into Mary Poppins: ‘Mom, put this hat on and then I’m going to put flowers on it!’ It was a way of life.”
To a greater or lesser degree, all his films can be traced back to Mary Poppins. “After I did Velvet Goldmine, which is also set in London and a fantasy, a crazy but well informed fan made me a T-shirt that had Jane and Michael Banks [the children in Mary Poppins] looking up at the star next to a picture of Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale [who appear in Velvet Goldmine] looking up at the spaceship. They all have the exact same expression, the same lighting… Yes, I see the continuum.”
The teenage Haynes wasn’t exactly a film nerd – he was into the theatre and painting as well – but he saw a lot of movies. “I took full advantage of that revival house culture [repertory theatres showing classic movies] that was very prevalent in cities in the 70s, especially in Los Angeles, and that was combined with something that I took for granted then, which was that we were in the most remarkable period of American film-making. The riches were all around us, to the extent that I didn’t really appreciate them. I remember thinking: oh yeah,Chinatown, that looks really commercial. I’m not going to see that.”
After school, he went to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “Yes, I cheated and clawed my way there. It was the east coast, so it was a whole different world for me, but more than that, the English department where I’d accidentally landed was the one place there where film production courses could be found, though you had to go through theory: they called the programme Semiotics.”
A nostalgic sigh. “You forget – I’m so old – that all those Laura Mulvey [the influential British feminist film theorist] articles had only just been written then. New French theory and feminist film criticism were new, and our department would later make an impact on the academy, though we didn’t know we were at the cutting edge at the time.
“At high school, I had made some big projects on Super 8 film that took years to finish. [A film called] The Suicide was a big opus for me. But at Brown I was exposed to experimental film and that paved the way for my asking theoretical questions about representation and narrative form and feminism. I started to feel, then, that I would end up being an experimental film-maker like the ones who taught at Brown. They made their living by teaching, but had the freedom to do their work. That was a beautiful plan to me.”
In 1985, though, he moved to New York, where Christine Vachon, whom he’d known at Brown, helped him get a job writing capsule reviews at Cable View magazine, and eventually they and another friend launched Apparatus Productions, a non-profit organisation whose aim was to help experimental film-makers get their shorts made. Meanwhile, Haynes began work on his own experiment: , a Karen Carpenter biopic that uses Barbie dolls in place of actors.
“It’s not a joke at all,” he says, when I laugh slightly about this (though I should add that I love it – to me, and this can only be a good thing, it’s the bastard child of Thunderbirds and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?). “It’s surprisingly emotional. You forget you’re watching dolls. It’s quite serious, and I have to say that it collects all the themes and instincts of every film I’ve made since in one little movie. It’s about pop culture, women, domestic life; it experiments with formal traditions; it sets up certain boundaries that the viewer has to overcome.”
Superstar eventually disappeared from view, Richard Carpenter having sued Haynes for copyright infringement (he had used Carpenters songs without obtaining the proper licences). But by then, it had done its work. “At first, no venue would touch it,” says Haynes. “They thought it was campy. The tone wasn’t dead serious, as it is in most experimental film. No one knew what to do with it. But then the Museum of Modern Art showed it, and it got a review in theVillage Voice, and so it had a robust couple of years of free display everywhere. Its days were numbered, but this was more than I had expected – and when Christine saw it, she said she wanted to produce my next film, an offer that put us in these roles in which we have remained, and built our careers from.”
His first feature, the queer-themed Poison (1991), inspired by Jean Genet, was in part powered by what had happened to Superstar. “After Superstar, I was encouraged. I felt audiences wanted to be challenged. But there was the Aids epidemic, too. The urgency of those times, the dire situation, but also the empowerment of grass-roots activism, produced artistic results. Time was fleeting, lives were being cut short, and that combusted into a period that was formative for me. It defined me as a film-maker.”
His mainstream career – the junkets, the awards, the red carpets – has come, he says, as a huge surprise: “Yes, it’s utterly strange.” Safe, his 1995 film about a housewife (played by Julianne Moore) who is allergic to the 20th century, flummoxed audiences at first, but somehow it stuck around, and after this, he was off: it was followed by his glam-rock tribute, Velvet Goldmine, the Oscar-nominated Far from Heaven and I’m Not There Carol
His optimism for the future is not, however, uncomplicated. “A lot of the hope in film-making right now lies with cable and streaming. The healthy competition among cable providers has enabled the presentation of characters who would have a hard time being in films because they are ambiguous or outright dislikable, complicated and sullied. That’s almost a requirement these days of dramatic long-form television, and that is great. But as a film-maker who loves film and who was formed in a movie house in the dark sharing that experience with strangers… to see how much that has dwindled is hard. Film stock isn’t even being produced.”
Movies, meanwhile, are becoming ever more conformist in ways that we may not even notice – though as Haynes points out, this is perhaps just a reflection of wider society. “What’s funny is how much of the conforming has come from within the gay community itself,” he says. “It’s part and parcel of the tremendous, almost unimaginable legislative advancements we’ve made. I’m not married myself, but I support gay marriage, gays in the military, all that. But those are the last places. When we were in our activist years, when the government was just allowing people to die from Aids, our understanding of the threat that marginal lives imposed on dominant lives was a tool for exposing the hypocrisy of the status quo, let alone [the government’s] heartlessness and neglect. Now, for the most part, everyone’s new favourite topic is how much they all love gays and lesbians, and transgender people are the trend.”
What does he feel about this? What he says next is one of the most surprising things I’ve ever heard in a hotel that is full to the brim of movie stars and their publicists (though, as he and I both know, that is not saying very much). “Well, for the little kid, the teenager coming out, that’s great. It’s essential. But there are things we have traded in for that as well. Where is the outside now? Who stands beyond capitalism? Who is questioning corporate culture? The market has won. It accepts gay and lesbian lives because those people can spend money like anyone else. It is issues of poverty and race than need attention now, because they can’t spend the money.”