‘Todd Solondz walks through the door of a Cafe on 12th Street in Manhattan, looking, apart from his trademark lemon-yellow converse all stars, like a person in disguise. He wears a floppy khaki sun hat and oversized shades. As he walks through the room, he peels off the sunglasses and replaces them with equally large eyeglasses with thick, retro frames. He yanks off the hat to reveal his hair, which is gray and thinning and bordering on mad scientist. He looks, perhaps, like an oddball character in a Todd Solondz film. The waitress recognizes him and greets him warmly, and he does the same. He’s a memorable presence. Appearance aside, he sounds a bit like a Jewish grandmother, his voice comically nasal, his words unhurried and elongated by a childhood in New Jersey, an accent that 30 years in New York City has failed to undo.
‘Talking to Solondz, his brilliance is quickly apparent. In interviews about his films, when prompted to make some sort of analysis about the meaning of his work, he’s fond of giving a sort of verbal shrug, saying “Look, I’m not an academic,” before following through with something about the “infantilization of the modern man” that sounds decidedly erudite. Solondz teaches film at NYU, and it’s easy to imagine students rushing to record his words—he’s one of those people whose casual discussion of craft is effortlessly mind expanding. He is especially likable for his openness and dry self deprecation, speaking freely about his neuroses and personality flaws. He has referred to himself as “socially maladroit” and considers the experience of being on set and shooting his films to be nightmarish, a constant state of crisis. “I feel like my obituary is going to read ‘Mr. Solondz collapsed on the third day of shooting,’ ” he joked, unsmiling. Still, he’s praised for being an “actor’s director” with a talent for figuring out exactly what each actor needs from him in order to deliver the best performance within them. He also has a reputation for being exceedingly hands-on. In an interview within the DVD extras for Life During Wartime, Shirley Henderson recalls Solondz spending several hours with her in a salon while she was getting her hair done for the part of Joy Jordan, making sure it was just right. She also spoke of the physical proximity he keeps during shooting, joking that if he could be underneath her chair at that moment, he would be.
‘The controversial content in his work has naturally triggered a fascination for many about the director and his motivations, but for the most part he declines to self analyze. Solondz grew up in a Jewish household within a middle class New Jersey enclave of ranch houses. The second youngest of four kids, he insists that he had a relatively normal childhood. “Every family has its complications, but I don’t think mine stood out in any particularly memorable way against any other families in the neighborhood.” Solondz’s mother is a musician who attended Juliard before marrying Solondz’s father, an MIT graduate. He also considers himself to have been a relatively normal, and certainly untroubled, kid. “I was a pretty easy kid for my parents, I think. Never got into trouble. Didn’t make a girl pregnant, didn’t become a drug addict. Didn’t have car accidents. I went to Yale. I mean, you know, I was basically an easy polite little boy. I don’t think I had a bad boy streak in me.”
‘Although Solondz reigns over the black comedy corner of the independent film world, he considers himself to be a commercial director. It’s his treatment of his subjects, he explains, that falls beyond the parameters of the mainstream. He emphasizes that, for all the social and political commentary inherent in his work, at the end of the day it is meant to be entertainment, and he keeps his characters and narratives accessible enough that an 11-year-old would be able to understand what’s happening. “They might have a lot of questions about the social, sexual, political ramifications and so forth, but they would be able to follow the story.”’ — Maris James, Indiewire
The Films of Todd Solondz
‘Todd Solondz: I’m Judd Apatow’s dark side’
‘Why is Todd Solondz returning to the film that nearly destroyed his career?’
‘Todd Solondz Looks Back on His Career’
Todd Solondz interviewed @ Tiny Mix Tapes
Podcast: ‘Todd Solondz Explains Later-Life Childhood’
Video: ‘The Ultimate Todd Solondz Tribute, in Three Songs’
‘Todd Solondz’s Toy Story: Director Denied at Toys”R”Us’
‘Todd Solondz’s Influence on American Independent Film’
Todd Solondz interviewed @ The A.V. Club
‘The Monstrous Masculine: Abjection And Todd Solondz’s Happiness
SOUNDTRACK: TODD SOLONDZ
Todd Solondz on independent film
In Conversation with Todd Solondz
Interview: Todd Solondz, Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair (Dark Horse)
from The Believer
TODD SOLONDZ: You know what happened today? One of those giant roaches flew through the window into my apartment. I couldn’t believe it. At first I thought it was a bat.
SIGRID NUNEZ: A water bug! Oh, those are awful. Everyone’s afraid of them. But as far as I know, they’re harmless.
TS: Well, just the idea of having one flying around your house… Then of course I had to catch the thing and kill it.
SN: I was reading in bed once and I saw one run under the bed. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I couldn’t kill it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.
TS: So what did you do?
SN: I took a double dose of sleeping pills.
TS: Oh, no! But what I can’t figure out is this: I live on the eighth floor. How did it get up there? Does this mean, way up in the sky, roaches are flying around?
SN: My guess is it crawled part of the way, saw your open window, and flew in. You need to get screens.
But enough about cockroaches. Let’s talk about “Solondzian cruelty,” a phrase I just saw in a review of someone else’s movie. Every time you make a movie you get hit with the same mud: mean, cruel, perverse, hateful, misanthropic, et cetera.
TS: Yep. Every time. [Big sigh]
SN: You are one of the least cruel people I’ve ever known. So what’s going on?
TS: I think people have a lot of trouble figuring out what I’m trying to do. In particular, people have trouble understanding where I stand in relation to my characters, and very often this gets reduced to me making vicious fun of them. Ever since Welcome to the Dollhouse, whenever a new movie comes out with characters who are portrayed as “geeky” or grotesque or who are humiliated in some way, someone is sure to compare them to mine.
One thing I want to say: I don’t like victim stories and I don’t write them. For example, I never saw Dawn Wiener [the main character in Dollhouse] as a victim, or intended Dollhouse as a victim story. That is definitely a misunderstanding between me and a part of my audience. To be honest, I am often unsettled by the responses some people have had to my movies, and that includes many people who like them. There can be a blurry line between laughing at the expense of a character and laughing at the recognition of something painful and true. But blurry as it may be, it is nevertheless unmistakable, and sometimes the laughter I hear makes me wince. “Why do you make movies about such ugly people?” I’ve been asked. Well, I don’t see them as ugly. And this is why when Storytelling came out, I said: “My movies are not for everybody, especially for people who like them.”
Another unfortunate thing is the way some people see me as dissecting my characters in some kind of heartless, coldblooded, analytical way, when in truth making these movies is a passionate, intensely emotional experience for me. I’m detached from the characters only to the degree that I have to be in order to write honestly about them. I admit there’s an element of brutality in all my work—it’s part of the truth about human existence I always want to explore—but the last thing I’m trying to do is put on some kind of freak show, inviting people to get off on other people’s pain and humiliation.
SN: But there are also plenty of people who find your attitude toward your characters empathetic and compassionate. They might not crop up as often as cruel, but I’ve seen the words tender and poetic and sweet and even spiritual used to describe your films. And I’m thinking how the portrait of the pedophile in Happiness was described by the movie’s producer as “nonjudgmental,” which is certainly accurate, but for me and many others it was also an extremely compassionate portrait, because of the way you allowed this character to fall to the very bottom, morally speaking, without ever stripping him of his humanity.
I think what confuses people is that the films are all black or—since I know you reject that description—sad comedies. If we’re laughing while watching these characters suffer, it can certainly feel—much as you don’t want this—as though we were laughing at them. And though I know you want to have it both ways, not everyone in the audience is able to escape the guilty feeling of having belly laughed at someone else’s pain. Then there’s the matter of casting.
TS: Yes. Something that drives me crazy is when I hear people talk about some of the actors in my movies, or about someone I’m considering casting, and they say, “Oh, that person is perfect because he or she is so grotesque, so disgusting.” And they assume I share these feelings.
And that reminds me. There was this one particular guy who interviewed me once and who really seemed to like me when we met. Then I read his piece, and he just went on and on, about how funny-looking I was, you know, and how I was the worst dresser, making me out to be this bizarre freaky little character, in a way that I just wanted to punch him. Then there was this reviewer who loved Dollhouse but couldn’t stop himself from saying the most awful things about the way I look and about the way Heather Matarazzo [the actor who plays Dawn Wiener] looks. Someone in the audience at a screening one time yelled “Freak!” when I walked onstage, and there are people who, without blinking an eye, refer to me as “the geek director.” All these people—to me, they’re exactly like the seventh-graders in Dollhouse whose cruelty I was portraying. And they don’t have a clue!
When I want to show the kind of meanness people are capable of, to make it believable I find I have to tone it down. It’s in real life that people are over the top. And if I have a certain view of how people behave in this regard, it’s because I’ve been a target for a certain kind of comment all my life. Perfect strangers have always felt free to say things to me in the street, or shout things from passing cars.
9 of Todd Solondz’s 13 films
Fear, Anxiety, & Depression (1989)
‘Despite Solondz’ dismissive attitude towards his debut, Fear, Anxiety and Depression is a great and decidedly funny movie (though perhaps not quite up to later films, especially technically), which deserves to be seen, esp. by anyone who considers him/herself a Solondz fan. Since Solondz’ biggest issue seems to have been creative control, perhaps a “director’s cut” – though obviously too late to change many problems – would at least allow Solondz a closer representation of the film he wanted… certainly a proper (indeed, special edition) DVD release of this film is called for in any case.’ — toddsolondz.com
Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
‘The title of Todd Solondz’s 1995 film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, serves as ironic commentary on main character Dawn Wiener’s situation (mc domain-universe)-neither welcome nor a pretty doll (mc thematic issue-attraction), she is put in her place and must stay there. Dawn is the eleven-year-old middle child of a middle class family in suburbia, New Jersey. Older brother Mark is a high school computer geek who concentrates on his college resume (objective story focus-certainty); younger sister Missy is a blonde ballerina and apple of mother’s eye. Dollhouse is a psychological (os domain) study of what happens to those who have ideas (os goal-conceiving) about what makes them unique-ideas that differ from the accepted (os solution) norm. They fail (story outcome).’ — Dramatica.com
the entire film
‘The thematic thread that permeates Todd Solondz’s Happiness is deviant masculinity, and each male in the film is burdened with a particular sexual dysfunction that gradually comes to light through displays of perverse or obscene behaviour. Situated among them is Billy Maplewood, the adolescent boy whose burgeoning sexuality emerges as the primary focus of the narrative. In mapping Billy’s horrific trajectory towards maturity, the film’s project is an abject representation of the specific rites of passage that he must undergo in order to accede to manhood. As both an application of, and a re-imagining of Creed’s concepts, Happiness addresses its theme of abject masculinity through the generic conventions of the horror film, adopting a fluid strategy that adheres to, and then traverses the boundaries of her thesis. Masculinity is constructed as monstrous in terms of the very characteristics that shape Billy’s experience of becoming a man; characteristics that are revealed as inherent in the development of his sexual identity.’ — Adam P. Wadenius
‘Todd Solondz returns with a characteristically scabrous dissection of the confused motives that can lie behind ‘true-to-life’ writing and documentary film-making. He offers two separate stories (‘Fiction’ and ‘Non-Fiction’) that unfold amid the sadly comical terrain of college and high school. In the first, a young female student has a stranger-than-fiction sexual encounter with her creative writing tutor. In the second, a struggling documentarian sets out to faithfully record the life and thoughts of an ordinary American adolescent, but finds himself irresistibly drawn to the exploitative possibilities of the material.’ — tsc
TS on ‘Storytelling’
‘The Todd Solondz problem will always be in our faces because that’s where he puts it. He doesn’t have the nyah-nyah attack of such punk auteurs as Larry Clark or Harmony Korine—just the opposite: I can’t think of a filmmaker who combines so much aggression with so little affect. But he’s one of the few writer-directors who can earn an NC-17 rating for a movie without nudity or profanity; his films are just so conceptually grotesque that you wouldn’t want to show them to anyone below the age of … I was going to write “40,” but that would be too glib. I actually respect Solondz’s purity of vision and thought Happiness worked beautifully as a sicko sitcom. I also respect his obstinacy: No matter how much his distributors plead for a slightly softer product, he’ll always show us the world through shit-colored glasses. Does Solondz deserve a rating of his own? Say, NR-DS—”Not recommended for persons depressed or suicidal”?’ — Slate
Life During Wartime (2009)
‘Elegant opening credits, written as if it were calligraphy on a wedding invitation, yield to a couple in blunt close-up—unhappy, interracial, tearfully celebrating their anniversary in a shopping-mall restaurant. After an unfathomable exchange, he presents her with an antique bowl he found on eBay and, after reciting a guffaw-worthy litany of sins, promises to turn over a new leaf. The waitress appears, recognizes the sinner, freaks out, and spits in his tearful face. Violins herald the title: Life During Wartime. Solondz understands the misery of children. But does the filmmaker have compassion or contempt for his characters? Is it possible to feel both? Solondz’s sensibility has obvious affinities to such masters of cruelty as Neil LaBute or, particularly since A Serious Man, the Coen Brothers—but he is less smugly punitive and more obviously tormented. A humanist he’s not, but he does seem allergic to hypocrisy.’ — J. Hoberman
Excerpts & interview
Dark Horse (2012)
‘Dark Horse is a psychodrama in the literal sense: Much of it seemingly takes place in Abe’s mind. It’s a terrain cluttered with demons, in the form of feel-bad consumerism, fear of Muslims, sexual neuroses, hypochondria, paternal expectations, sibling competition (Abe’s brother is “marriage material” in every way that Abe is not) and relationships with mother figures that are both stifling and seductive. The origami-like narrative is precariously hinged on a trope borrowed from midcentury soap opera, but its dismantling of otherness is graceful. If “graceful” is not a word you associate with the auteur of Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, you owe it to yourself to see what Solondz has been up to lately. Dark Horse is the most mature film of his career, and maybe the greatest.’ — LA Weekly
Todd Solondz interviewed re: ‘Dark Horse’
Excerpts from the 3013-3014 website course dialogue of the Global Union of Chinese Vassal States (G.U.C.V.S.) Cinema Academy (fall semester) (2013)
‘For this year’s Venice Film Festival, 70 renowned filmmakers made 60-90 second short films. Their concept: Future Reloaded. They that were screened at the festival and just uploaded to YouTube. Well, Todd Solondz owned this little assignment. Remember Life During Wartime? “Are you seeing anyone?” “No, I’m more focused on China right now. Everything else is history, it’s just a question of time.” Todd Solondz presents: Excerpts from the 3013-3014 website course dialogue of the Global Union of Chinese Vassal States (G.U.C.V.S.) Cinema Academy (fall semester) in form of a faux digital interface. A thousand years in the future, Cinema Academy offers a look back at the seminal works of Pre-cortical Implant Western Cinema 1985-2025 by such masters as Michael Bay, Mel Gibson and Leni Riefenstahl, as well as the ancient craft of “writing” and “filming” “stories.”’ — Animal
the entire film
Wiener Dog (2016)
‘Todd Solondz’s new film, “Wiener-Dog,” the story of a dachshund who is shunted between five different homes, is many things at once. It’s a film of anguished tenderness and of scathing derision, a trip from childhood to old age and from suddenly disabused innocence to bitterly remorseful knowledge; it’s a film of cold experience and gleeful parody, aching empathy and crabby prejudice, affecting drama and calculated symbol and freewheeling fantasy; it’s a loopy comedy that bares human strivings, cravings, and frustrations, and a lofty one that shows people as humiliated playthings of greater forces and their own impulses. It’s precise yet wild, exquisite yet imperfect, and its flaws (with one or two specific exceptions) aren’t simply detachable from the rest of the film—they’re emblems of one personality, one world view, in which the noble and the base, the visionary and the vain are inseparable.’ — Richard Brody
Todd Solondz Interview Weiner-Dog
p.s. Hey. ** Norman, Norman! You’re inside my blog, holy moly. How are you doing, man? And thank you for the potent add to my show. Much appreciated. And much love to you. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Thank you for the link to the Ashbery book review. I’m dying to get/read that. There’s a new film called ‘Four Days in France’ and I’ve never heard of it? How odd. I’ll go see what’s its what courtesy of you. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein has reviewed a new film called ‘Four Days in France’ which is described as ‘a road movie with a gay French twist’. And I think David quite likes the film. All the more reason to make the discovery of this film, etc. Which you can do here. ** Steevee, Hi. Oh, gosh, see, I think the title track marks the point where they realized they could put out fatuous, pandering ‘Rolling Stones souvenir’-like crap/product and maintain their brand. It didn’t work very well for very long, of course. And maybe the album in general is where they decided that sounding a little livelier was enough. Agree to disagree, I guess. Looking forward to your piece on Alan Clarke. I sure hope your melancholy passes swiftly. One of the qualities of melancholy seems to be its brief albeit returning life span. Here’s hoping. If you need to deal with that stuff, you must and you will. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Cool, glad you liked it! My faves? Hm, I guess the Goran Bertok, Cai Guo-Qiang, and Jeppe Hein maybe. Yes, I would love to see it when it’s healed. That’s so amazing and trippy. Thank you again! Working on SCAB constitutes a fine day. And, yes, please let the door you need to be unlocked be unlocked when you need it. Yesterday was, yes, film work-swallowed. We finished the new color grading pass. Our DP Michael ‘Kiddiepunk’ Salerno came by and watched it with us and gave us his notes on what he thinks could be bettered visually. We were all pretty much on the same page about needed changes. We’re very close to finished. We have a lot of detail work today, and our producer comes by at 4 pm to watch the current version. We’re hoping that, with the editing drama over, he’ll just relax and watch/enjoy the film. I think we might even finish the work tomorrow if all goes well, but we have Friday left if we need it. So all is very good and exciting on that front. I didn’t do much else: emails, eat, blah blah. It was miserably hot yesterday, and that made everything feel kind of bogged down, and we’re supposedly in for one more scorcher today before the cooling starts. What did Wednesday unlock for you? ** Bill, Thanks a lot, Bill! Oh, that’s a complete shame that no one would support your fire piece. Damn, can you describe it? Is it a lost cause, or is it still in the cards should some future venue be wised up? No, I hadn’t come across Michael Maierhof’s ‘Exit F’. Wow, very cool. That could be the seed of a whole blog show/post. Hmmmm. Claremont used to be awfully, awfully sleepy, and I suspect it still is. There was bizarrely a great record store back when I was at Pitzer, a branch of the late, missed Rhino Records. That sure helped. ** Jamie, Wow, cool. A home run, in baseball lingo. I’m happy that my great excitement about our film translates and has some infectiousness. Yesterday was just ongoing fine-tuning and checking. We want the film’s color to be pretty desaturated, but attractively so. The film involves a strange and careful balance of a bunch of different elements, and it’s quite delicate, and the color needs to be pretty neutral, with pointed parts where the color is enriched, to keep that balance. I think we’ve found the right outlay. No, I didn’t do much else. Like I told Dora, it was really hot and awful here yesterday, and that didn’t inspire much activity or adventuring. Your pillbox sounds cool. Show me in Paris if you’re still saddled with it then. Close to heaven: that’s more like it. Hm, that is interesting about contemporary cartoons eschewing bold colors. Yeah, I hadn’t noticed. Interesting. Is there a theory as to why? The heatwave is supposed to end tonight in a flurry of rain and lightning and so on, but we’ll see. May your Wednesday peer down condescendingly at all other Wednesdays from the peak of Mount Olympus. Rain dancing love, Dennis. ** Wolf, Ha, not bad, not bad at all. Yeah, Cai Guo-Qiang is cool. I’m a sucker for his stuff. He is to me what Yayoi Kusama seems to be to everybody else. I have not seen ‘Paterson’. Which is strange since I’ve been really wanting to see it. Padgett’s poems are definitely a big part of the allure. Yeah, I guess I’ll have to buy the DVD or stream it, I guess. Coolness, pal. You gooder than good? ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks Ben. Yeah, rightly or wrongly, I decided the Ruscha was too obvious. It’s obviously hard to judge that sort of thing, though, especially with visual art since, unless you’re hooked in and inherently interested, it’s easy not to be familiar with much of any contemporary art at all that’s not Koons or … Koons. Or Kusama maybe. Or maybe Abramovic? We’re supposed to get a rain storm later today, thank fucking god. I hope both of ours arrive as forecast. ** Misanthrope, Water? Why? That’s curious. I didn’t really know what gout was exactly. I remember people saying that so-and-so had gout, usually old people. I think I thought it was an internal organ thing or something. I was a weirdo who never liked Kiss. But I was a little old for them, I think. The Replacements recorded a few killer Kiss covers. ** S., Hey, why not? Joe Walsh? I don’t know about that. I think maybe his ancient band The James Gang in the 70s did some cool/hard stuff. Was that a Cheap Trick joke? ** Okay. Another restoration today due to the combination of my post-making time being restricted at the moment and my feeling of duty towards unfairly murdered posts of the past. See you tomorrow.