I had the pleasure of watching a screening of HAPPINESS followed by LIFE DURING WARTIME at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood tonight. Todd Solondz was there for a post screening Q&A. He’s a really cool person! Here are some fun things he said (paraphrased):
1. He auditions the same actor multiple times to save money on rehearsing!
2. He chose screenwriting over novels, plays, etc., because it chose him.
3. Though he may write a script in only a few weeks, it really took a lifetime of experience to prepare him to write that script.
4. Making a film is an evolving process and you never know what you’re going to get up to the final cut.
5. He doesn’t discuss the difficult subject matter with his child actors; he leaves that up to their parents, who always must read the script first.
6. Child actors always have their lines memorizes, whereas adults often do not – one notoriously needed cue cards!
7. He used the phrase “God willing” quite often, though he proclaimed to be an atheist!
8. He prefers to watch films in the dark on a big screen with a bunch of people.
9. The fact that he continues to make films that are shown around the world makes him a “commercial” filmmaker.
10. The only thing that can get in our way creatively is our own mind.
I have long been a fan of Solondz and try to include him in as many talks about directors as I can since I don’t think he gets enough attention. I want to see him make more movies and I want them to actually get decent releases!
I don’t want to watch any Solondz films, I watched the first half of Storytelling then I turned it off, I despised it.
Todd Solondz is the king of dark and funny. I like the philosophy his films express, which I call “earned pessimism.”
“Unearned pessimism” is found in films so gloomy they’re silly — the result of a slow leak in Germany, I suspect.. (I thought up this category after pulling the plug on Last Exit to Brooklyn, a German directed film which made my beloved Brooklyn look like a precinct of hell.)
“Earned pessimism” is a realistic appraisal of how f’d up, hypocritical & cruel humans from earth are, and how little sympathy most of us deserve. I find Soldonz’s grasp of human perversity as strong as Bunuel’s. While neither Solondz or Bunuel makes me laugh OUT LOUD, they’re both pretty damned funny.
Todd Solondz is especially deserving of our encouragement because he’s an AMERICAN pessimist — a pessimist trying to make his case in the capital of “unearned optimism”. This peculiarly American philosophy is reflected in tales crammed with “uplift” in which characters succeed against overwhelming odds, die nobly or are otherwise too good to be true. It’s our patriotic duty to support an honest man who appraises his fellow Americans with a jaundiced eye. Let’s pledge allegiance to Todd Solondz — Long may he wave!!
I couldn’t disagree more. Solondz, for me, is the definition of unearned pessimism (kudos to Mark for introducing this dichotomy as it’s useful in discussing these films.) His characters are two dimensional freak shows, defined by whatever anti-social behavior they’re engaging in. There’s no arch or motivation. Solondz just seems convinced that people are shits and we’re invited to join in the mocking. It’s just as naive to refuse to recognize the good in people as to ignore the ugliness or evil. Dollhouse, Happiness and Storytelling are among the worst art-house films I’ve seen.
Glad my terminology is useful, even though we do disagree!
i just watched his"Happiness" and liked it very much.it was dark,funny, beautiful and also great performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman
I’m not a fan. I like Welcome to the Dollhouse and disliked Happiness, not for the execution of the story, but for the story itself. And I felt Dylan Baker’s performance was amazing, and if it can be used in the context of a film, brave to take on such a roll.
Kudos on the Bunuel comparison, I could not agree more. That reminds me of Palindromes, his most underrated film and easily second to Happiness as his best film.
I know he gets accused of mocking his characters a lot, but I don’t see it that way at all. His characters are extremely flawed, disturbed people but he has a lot of affection for them. I never got the sense that he was pointing and laughing at Dylan Baker or Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Both are allowed to be both vulnerable and strong and you are allowed to feel sympathy for them.
I see Todd Solondz as the king of the misfits. If Spike Jonze hadn’t directed Where the Wild Things Are, Todd probably would have.
Nice article on Solondz in yesterday’s NYTimes.
I really like HAPPINESS…it’s certainly one of the most unflinching films in the last 20 years.