Watch Todd Haynes’ 1993 Short Film ‘Dottie Gets Spanked’

“Films reflect and instruct us at the same time, and that’s strong stuff. So I do delight in the idea that by playing around, tinkering or upsetting that process of identification a little bit,” said filmmaker Todd Haynes. “A viewer has to ask the question: where’s this idea coming from? Without losing all the pleasure that’s part of that process.” And whether he’s telling a quiet psychological horror story about a woman allergic to the 20th century or a debauched look at love and 1970s glam rock,  Haynes’ films share the mark of director with a very specific taste for storytelling. His work displays an affinity for taking the mundane realities of everyday existence and setting them off-kilter, over-exposing obsessions and desires that plague our lives and overcome our being.

With his work—from Safe and Velvet Goldmine to Far From Heaven and Poison—we’re given an insight into pockets of the psyche that we often leave dormant, while still hitting our emotions and giving us something beautiful and evocative. He takes socially constructed ideals of gender and sexuality and portrays the outsiders that are forced to challenge them. But for all the modernity and challenging of convention that exists in the world of his characters, in style and aesthetics he tends to fall towards the formalistic—giving us an expressive and subversive reinvention of a classic cinematic structure.

And in 1993, just after making Safe and before completing Poison, Haynes made a psychosexual take on suburban childhood with a 30-minute film—which originally appeared on PBS—titled Dottie Gets Spanked. Focusing on the erotic fascination of spanking, childhood sexuality, and repression, the short tells the story of a quiet six-year-old young boy and his obsession with a TV comedienne named Dottie. It’s a fascinating and dark 30-minute feature that truly “packs an emotional wallop.” So if you haven’t had the chance to see the short for yourself, I’d suggest heading over to UbuWeb and doing so HERE.

In the meantime, we’ll be awaiting Haynes next feature Carol, one of our most anticipated films of 2014.




The Quiet Terror of Todd Haynes’s ‘Safe’

My first viewing of Todd Haynes’ quiet psychological horror film Safe came unfortunately late in life.  I only wish I could have seen it sooner, devoured it earlier, and let it live inside me for longer. But upon my first watching last winter, I had to pause the film after about fifteen minutes to text a friend. “Hey, so is the sound in Safe as unsettling and disorienting as it seems or did I just find a really janky version online?” “Oh no, that’s just the movie. Continue on,” he replied. And as the film continued to unspool and show its brilliance, I realized the power of deteriorating world Haynes had created.

“I agree with Fassbinder who said, ‘revolution doesn’t belong on the cinema screen, but outside, in the world,’” Haynes said in the linear notes for Safe’s soundtrack. And as one of his best features, rather than handing his audience a solution or spelling out exactly what he was trying to say, he opted to show us and make us feel his motives and desires—’to give them the revolution is to deprive them of the necessity of creating their own. Viewers of film have extraordinary powers: they can make life out of reflections on the wall,” he said. And as someone who favors the work of directors such as Chantal Ackerman, who chooses to expose the moments most filmmakers would leave behind or cut out in order to allow the viewer to impress themselves into the storytelling and create a genuine curiosity, Safe was born out of a “strict opposition to current trends in movies,” and distaste for Hollywood’s “histrionics and technological gimmickry” which leave you numb.”

Starring the incomparable Julianne Moore, in a time when she was just beginning to play a string of career-changing roles, Safe tells a hysterical story lurking behind the pleasant facades and perfectly manicured lawns of suburbia. Set in the San Fernando Valley in 1987, the film follows Moore as Carol White, a normal housewife who develops a “Twentieth Century disease”—MCS, a chemical sensitive triggered by the manufactured environment, triggered by chemicals found in household and industrial products. As she begins to get sick, we watch her fragile body breakdown and become inundated with worsening symptoms and bodily reactions—nosebleeds, convulsions, the inability to breathe, fatigue, etc. No one knows quite how to help her and as she begins to deteriorate further with doctors at a loss, she begins to attend psychotherapy and eventually ends up a New Age retreat in the desert. Completely isolated, quarantined, it’s there she is sent to recover. But as Haynes mentions: “Safe is a movie: It tells lies. But unlike most movies, Safe lies on purpose.”

My initial reaction to the sounds of the Safe’s world are precisely what the director intended—what we hear and what we see, in opposition to one another. “The film’s cool presentation dehumanizes the affluence of the suburban Los Angeles; just as the mysteries of the environmental illness undermine the surety of New Age thought.” And its in the films score that this dichotomy exist so strongly and rise and cover the surface of  the film with ominous force. In his linear notes for the film’s soundtrack, Haynes notes:

 What matters is not composition but instrumentation: the way the sounds are treated, layered, lacquered. The reverberation of analogue synthesis as opposed to the cleanness of digital recording. Random experimentation. Mistakes. I watched as Ed, stealing sounds from the pits of tenement piping or the cacophonous mass of his industrial orchestra, collected raw material for his own brand of aural alchemy.

 In strict opposition to current trends in movies, I wanted to tell a story as quietly as possible. The result, in every aspect, is a minimalist film: from Julianne Moore’s courageous simplicity and Alex Nepomniaschy’s immaculate camera, to the bristling composure of James Lyons’ cutting and the quiet force of Ed’s music. This restraint provides spaces for the person watching, resulting in a film that cannot be read literally. Instead, the steps we take toward understanding Carol’s illness are weighted with a sense of the inexplicable – of a mystery unfolding. Ed’s music plays an essential role in that mystery.

But the psychological and emotional devastation of the film are so subtly potent and creeping, you may not even notice its effect until the end of the picture, but oh, do they linger on after. It’s a film about a woman who “develops an allergy to the 20th century”—and where does one find a cure for that in this world? The restraint and dread comes in the films quiet moments and since its release in 1995, there really had been nothing like it.

And to my great delight, this weekend the Museum of the Moving Image will be screening Safe on Sunday as part of their Julianne Moore series. You can purchase your tickets HERE, but in the meantime, check out the trailer for the feature, as well as a hour-long conversation between  J. Hoberman and Todd Haynes.

Safe 1



From Cronenberg to Tarantino, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in NYC


In terms of film, this is a good week to be sick or helplessly in love—which I suppose, are generally the same thing. But between Brandon Cronenberg’s bloody good first feature Antiviral, Todd Hayne’s brilliantly frightening Safe, and Terrence Malick’s latest poem of emotion and grace To the Wonder, there are plenty of painful and gorgeous movies to sink your teeth into. And after the death of beloved film critic and cinematic enthusiast Roger Ebert last week, we should be encouraged more than ever to go to the movies, to enjoy the art of film, and truly have an experience at the cinema. So this weekend, curl up in a darkened theater and see everything from Quentin Tarantino’s first fantastically gory feature to Kubrick’s horrific masterpiece, and a bit of something for everyone in between. I’ve rounded up the best in what’s playing throughout New York so peruse the list and enjoy.



IFC Center


2001: A Space Odyssey

Beverly Hills Cop

Play Misty For Me

Room 237

Simon Killer

Upstream Color

The Shining








Spirited Away

Porco Rosso

Howl’s Moving Castle

Kiki Delivery Service






Museum of the Moving Image

Febre do Rato (Rat Fever)

Y Sin Embargo

Las Cosas Como Son (Things the Way They Are)





Nitehawk Cinema

It’s a Disaster


Spring Breakers

Burnt Offerings

Inner Space

Room 237

A League of Their Own

A Skin Too Few





Film Forum

The Gatekeepers

Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

House of Bamboo

The Adventures of Robin Hood






Landmark Sunshine

Reservoir Dogs

To the Wonder

The Angels’ Share





Cinema Village

The Brass Teapot


American Meat

Bert Stern: Original Mad Man

Israel Film Center Festival




Film Society Lincoln Center

To the Wonder

Bye Bye Brazil

No Place on Earth

Funny Face

Subway to the Stars

The Big City





Never on a Sunday
The Golem
Chuck and Buck
The Trouble with Money

Kate Winslet and Todd Haynes to Update ‘Mildred Pierce’ for HBO

There’s a familiar tocsin that goes off in my head each time I hear that a classic film is being re-made. I understand the motivations—either cashing in on a brand (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory), well-meaning but usually foolish homage (Cape Fear), or both—but in a perfect world, I would rather see lousy pictures improved upon than great ones brought low, which is almost universally the outcome. So it was with a distinct ringing in my ears that I learned Kate Winslet and director Todd Haynes are re-making Michael Curtiz’ 1945 film noir classic, Mildred Pierce. I can think of few films in less need of monkeying with, and even fewer Joan Crawford roles in which the actress seems more irreplaceable. True, the new production will be a five hour mini-series for HBO rather than a feature, and I imagine will hew more closely to the original James M. Cain novel, but this only diminishes my skepticism in part. I can’t help but recall the last unfortunate occasion when someone tried to re-jigger a much-loved Michael Curtiz film. Behold the height of cinematic odium after the jump!

1996’s Pamela Anderson-starrer, Barb Wire, was essentially a remake of Casablanca!

To get the taste of that out of your eyes, here’s the original Mildred Pierce trailer.