7.06.2015

Todd Haynes' queer children



As I look forward to the premiere of Todd Haynes’ new film Carol (scheduled to open this December) I’ve been looking back at several of his early shorts, in which Haynes explores the emotional landscape of queer boyhood.  The Suicide (pictured below) is a very early effort dating from 1978, when Haynes was not much older than a boy himself.  It’s been unearthed by Criterion and included as a bonus feature on their recent reissue of Haynes’ [Safe].  Haynes’ juvenilia is more intellectually sophisticated and stylistically sure-handed than many filmmakers’ mature work.  The story of a sensitive mama’s boy whose torment at the hands of his classmates drives him to attempt suicide—and who changes his mind only upon realizing that he has grown to enjoy the pain and humiliation he suffers—The Suicide is a pitilessly ironic study in masochism, shot to look like an after-school special.  Dottie Gets Spanked (1994, pictured above) is a more oblique portrait of queer childhood fantasy in which effeminate six-year-old Steven unconsciously combines his fascination with a zany TV comedienne with a desire to be spanked by his parents.  Inspired by Haynes’ own childhood obsession with Lucille Ball by way of Freud’s “A Child Is Being Beaten,” it’s wonderfully perverse stuff, set in a lovingly re-created 1960s suburbia.  Where Haynes’ narrative features explore the lives of adults (usually women) and tend to utilize a more restrained tone, the shorts tap more shockingly into the raw nerves and seething desires of a child’s world.


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