Todd Haynes (born January 2, 1961 in Los Angeles, California) is an American director, screenwriter and producer generally regarded as one of the most offbeat and unique filmmakers currently working today. His films are noted for a variety of recurring themes as well as their tendency to constantly subvert his audience's expectations so that they'll be more open to his social commentary, if there is any at all.
Haynes got his start with 1987’s Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, an experimental short film which, instead of using actors, employed Barbie dolls to tell the story of the rise and fall of the Carpenters, with Haynes whittling down Karen's doll in order to simulate her slow death from anorexia and depicting Richard as a Jerkass deeply in denial about his homosexuality. Haynes ended up getting sued by Richard due to this presentation and the fact that Haynes failed to get proper licensing for the duo's music. Haynes lost, and the film was barred from theatrical release and was only officially available as a bootleg.
Nevertheless, Haynes went on to make his feature-length debut with 1990's Sundance-winning Poison, which drew the ire of Moral Guardians (most of whom didn't see the movie to begin with) due to it having received partial funding from the National Endowment For the Arts, and the media promptly pegged Haynes as part of the New Queer Cinema movement along with other directors such as Gus Van Sant and Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin).
Beyond that, Haynes’ films since then have focused on a variety of topics including Gayngst (Poison, Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, Carol), Stepford Suburbias (Safe, Far From Heaven, Mildred Pierce, Carol), the nature of fame (Velvet Goldmine, I'm Not There, the silent portions of Wonderstruck), the toxicity of chemicals that humanity takes for granted (Safe, Dark Waters), and out-and-out weirdness (everything except his latest works).
- Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)
- Poison (1990)
- Safe (1995)
- Velvet Goldmine (1998)
- Far from Heaven (2002)
- I'm Not There (2007)
- Mildred Pierce (2011)
- Carol (2015)
- Wonderstruck (2017)
- Dark Waters (2019)
- May December (2023)
Tropes applying to his oeuvre and the man himself:
- Acclaimed Flop: Every film of his, save Far from Heaven and Carol, has bombed, yet they're praised to high heaven anyways.
- Award Snub: Each of his films failed to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Director and wins for other awards.
- Mind Screw
- Playing Against Type: Haynes is known for his complex, confusing movies about identity and sexuality. In Mildred Pierce, he presents a straight adaptation of the book with none of his transgressive subtext. Wonderstruck, his first family film, is an adaptation of Brian Selznick’s YA novel, a love letter to the silent film era, and a dual period piece, with two storylines, one taking place in the 1920s, the other in the 1970s. And Dark Waters is in a similar mold to socially aware fact-based legal thrillers about environmental pollution, such as A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich, but with a murkiness and attention to gory detail that is all Haynes’ own.
- Postmodernism: Especially when it comes to the ideas of identity and/or sexuality being used to show the artificiality of film as a whole. Confused yet?
- Production Posse: Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale in starring roles, and Christine Vachon as his go-to producer.
- Spiritual Successor: I'm Not There is one to Velvet Goldmine, given their focus on fictionalized versions of famous musicians.
- Haynes himself is one to Douglas Sirk, given old-school Melodramas such as Heaven and Carol.
- Carol is one to Heaven, being another 1950s-set romance film dealing with homosexuality in a Stepford Suburbia environment.
- Dark Waters is one to Safe, as it pulls back the curtain and dramatically shows the downsides of chemicals that are part of everyday life.
- Straight Gay: A lot of his characters and the man himself.