Friday, July 1, 2016

The Films of Todd Haynes: A Conclusion

In terms of my updated rankings, I do not think anything has changed as much as the ranking of Haynes films. And yet, my opinions on the films themselves has not changed all that much – just what I preferred this time around. Ask me again in a month – or a year – and it could be something completely different (the top 4 are pretty much interchangeable).
I have always loved Haynes’ work, but after watching all of his films in such a short period of time, I have even greater respect for him. There is not a film he has made that isn’t worth watching – even if some are certainly stronger than others.
Anyway, my updated rankings are belong. 
10. The Suicide (1978) – Haynes’ first college film, including on the Safe Criterion Blu-Ray. I didn’t write about it before because a) I saw it out of order, and b) there isn’t much to say. It’s not bad for a student film per se – but it is very much a student film.
9. Velvet Goldmine (1998) – The weakest of Haynes’ features – it is his loosest film, and I don’t think it all hangs together – as well as being insulting to David Bowie (intentional or not). There are some great moments here – but I don’t think it adds up to all that much, despite all the ambition.
8. Poison (1991) – Haynes’ first film – a trio of intercut shorts – is wildly ambition, and technically impressive, but it does remain more of an intellectual exercise than anything else. A great place to start – but Haynes would do much better very shortly.
7. Dottie Gets Spanked (1993) – In some ways, this 30 minute TV short could have been intercut with Poison – except that it’s a comedy, so it would have ruined the mood of Poison, which was so depressing. The story of a young boy who is a fan of an I Love Lucy like TV show – and how that makes him an outcast. The film is slyly subversive, and funny enough to make you want Haynes to do another comedy at some point.
6. Mildred Pierce (2011) – Haynes 5 part miniseries, running 5 and a half hours, adapting James M. Cain’s novel is a wonderful period piece, that is far more concerned with mood and character than story (in fact, he spends so much time on those things, he has to sprint through a lot of plot in the final installment). Kate Winslet is wonderful in the title role – as a woman who sacrifices everything for her spoiled brat of a daughter, who doesn’t deserve it. It is a more faithful adaptation than the 1945 Michael Curtiz, Oscar winning film – with Joan Crawford – but not quite as entertaining. Still, an excellent miniseries – just a notch below Haynes’ best work.
5. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) – There are many things to love about Haynes’ underground film – that used the Carpenters music to great effect, and Barbie dolls to greater effect, as all the characters in the film are Barbie’s. You may think that Haynes is doing all of this mocking his subject – but he isn’t. He actually seems to love Karen Carpenter’s music, and the movie is genuinely moving. This seems like a stunt – and maybe it is. But it’s a brilliant stunt.
4. I’m Not There (2007) – Bob Dylan is an impossible biopic subject, because I don’t think he’s ever let the public in on who he actually is, what makes him tick, and why he changes his persona so often, while remaining perfectly consistent in other ways. Haynes finds the only way to make a Dylan biopic and make it work – and delivers a stunning technical achievement, with many great performances. The drop from #1 to #4 is not because I love the film less – just that it perhaps moved me a little less than the top 3 this time through.
3. Far From Heaven (2002) – Haynes does a brilliant job of recreating the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk – like Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life or All That Heaven Allows, but going further than Sirk ever could in terms of sexuality and race. Films like this – so stepped in homage – can feel like mere exercises – but Haynes’ films works brilliantly on its own terms in addition to be an homage. A stunning film.
2. Carol (2015) – This is perhaps the simplest of Haynes’ masterpieces – the film that doesn’t have as many ideas as the others. Yet, it is also among the most stunning visual achievements of Haynes’ career, and the best quietly moving. I’ve lived with this for a much shorter period of time than the rest – so perhaps this changes (either up or down) – but for now, this feels like the right place.
1. Safe (1995) – Out of all of Haynes’ films, Safe is the one that haunts me the most – the one I cannot stop thinking about. I think the first few times I saw it – years ago – it transfixed and confused me in equal measures. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of it – I just know I want to see it again. Right now. A masterpiece.

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