Thursday, September 21, 2006

Todd A-O


The other night, me and my friend Gail went to IFS (the CU campus film series) to see Todd Solondz breakthrough flick, Welcome to the Dollhouse. Here’s the sweet-ass original title track from the movie:

Welcome to the Dollhouse - The Quadratics

This was the third time I’d seen it (but my first time on 35mm) and I loved it more than ever. I’m a huge Solondz fan and I think all his movies are fantastic, but for whatever reason Dollhouse was always one of my least favorites. However, it’d been a few years since I’d seen it and as I was watching it this time it seemed to me that in terms of tone, structure and balance, this may be one of the most perfectly crafted American films of the last 10 years. I know that sounds like a complete exaggeration, but it truly is such a beautiful, clever, and sophisticated work. It has this tightly oppressive structure of expression and mood which keeps the characters and the audience trapped in this suffocating institutional nightmare. But at the same time, this rigid atmosphere is spun to be just flexible (even fragile) enough that it allows its doomed characters small momentary but no less meaningful acts of rebellion and escape. Little beautiful moments of hope that make the rest of existence just bearable. It’s this highly sophisticated tonal balance of hopelessness and transcendence, exaggeration and penetrating truth, and humor and pain, all contained within this uniform structure that I think makes the film (and all his films, really) such a high achievement.

Anyway, my buddy Dave was taking tickets that night, and he told me that Solondz, after having invested his life savings into his most recent film, Palindromes (because no studio would touch it) had gone bankrupt. That really freaked me out. I personally think Solondz is one of the overall best, most unique and most important recent filmmakers anywhere. Most living directors are nowhere near his level of wit and deep observation, and everything he makes has a tangible and lasting impact on the face of modern filmmaking. How could we allow such an important artist to go under? Well, I did a little research on the intra-net and found out that in fact, no, Todd Solondz managed to recoup his initial investment due to the film's relative success on the foreign market and is currently at work on another project (scheduled to be released in 2008). Thank god for open-minded foreigners like Laz. I think it’s funny though that the most political and topical film (dealing unblinkingly with abortion and the U.S. ‘culture wars’) of a quintessentially American director would only be able to make any money in Europe. What the fuck.

What I love about his movies is that nothing comes easy. These are bleak portraits of flawed and often cruel characters, but there are no cheap shots. The films’ moralities are so complex and ambiguous that every moment of pain, laughter, and identification you feel is a total mindfuck that forces you to reexamine yourself and your culture. Although Solondz’ lack of narrational moral guidance is a huge part of his films’ power, it’s still great to hear him explain the motivations behind his movies. Here’s a really great interview I found with him from this online magazine called The Believer. It’s the transcription of three conversations between Solondz and a novelist friend as they walk aimlessly through New York City. Laz told me she saw Solondz speak after a showing of Palindromes at a film fest in Stockholm, and I am eternally jealous. I need to move to a new town.

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