Film

Todd Haynes: 'Cinema still has a problem with women'

Todd Haynes, director of the Oscar-snubbed Carol, says that Hollywood is shifting to the right

Do you feel Carol was overlooked at the Oscars?

Um… Well, yes. With all the discussions about race and diversity, one wonders to what degree that played. It’s very hard to determine the sentiment of the country when you look at the political circus unfolding and the kinds of messages that certain parts of the population are responding to. Populist conservative ideology seems to be summoning a new strain of voters. We’re divided. Questions come up when you single out an elite body that’s there to speak for the whole. It always reveals stubborn blind spots. Our system in general is imperfect, finding representation of the whole is never achieved fully. So representation of diversity and the ranges of experience are always going to be imperfectly depicted. But that’s the messy and often great part of democratic systems.

The more muscular action adventure films have a militant nationalist quality about them

The presidential race is revealing a large number of crazy right wing people out there. Is Hollywood too liberal? Will it start trying to appeal to that audience?

I already feel it. More so on small screen but there are certain films where you really feel they have crossed over to audiences that one doesn’t necessarily define as the liberal or west coast elite. It was interesting that True Grit is the most popular film the Coen Brothers have made to date. I remember reading that certain conservative senators said it was their favourite film that year. I’m sure it was not by design on the part of the Coen Brothers – they were wryly exploring yet another genre – but sometimes it feels intentional. Some of the more muscular action adventure films have a militant nationalist quality about them that might appeal to conservative audiences.

Commentators have said that the industry’s problem with Carol wasn’t that it was about a lesbian relationship but that it was a film with two female leads. Does cinema still have a woman problem?

Yes, I think this was a factor. The lovely thing about almost all my films is they’ve generated their own discreet audiences. In this case there has been a groundswell of interest among lesbians. The fact they have felt a movie has never really spoken to them and addressed their lives and experiences like Carol has while also being a film that’s very accessible, in terms of its description of anxiety around love and the slow evolution of a romance, has been thrilling. All of this has to be put into perspective for me, because it’s still going to end up the biggest grossing movie I’ve made.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4z7Px68ywk

Carol is based on a book written in the 1950s. What makes it a story relevant today?

Maybe we’re still not ready for that story – if people continue to ask these kinds of questions. All I know is Carol had its own unique struggle getting made. You can never plan the moment when something lands on the Earth when it takes this long for it to come together. And films like this are hard to get made period, purely from the financial, practical level and this was no different.

Being able to step away from the industry has certainly given me some fresh air

Cate Blanchett has praised your “outsider’s perspective”. What makes you an outsider?

That’s been manifested in the kind of films I’ve made, the kind of audiences I’ve courted and also where I’ve literally placed myself in the world, not living in Los Angeles although I grew up in Los Angeles, moving to Portland, Oregon. Being able to step away from the industry has certainly given me some fresh air. As we’ve all been reflecting back on the surprisingly broad impact David Bowie had on our lives and popular culture, I think he generated most of his energies from looking at and trying to incorporate marginal perspectives. He brought them to more popular forms like rock ‘n’ roll but always with a curiosity and insatiable interest in alternative, if not radical and queer traditions. He made young, suburban kids, like he once was, feel like there’s different ways possible for them to express themselves.

And you get a similar thing from living in Portland?

Only up to a point! I’m not sure it provides all my cultural orientation.

You are planning a biopic of Peggy Lee. What fascinates you about musicians, whether they’re Bowie or Karen Carpenter or Bob Dylan?

I think it has so much to do with the huge footprint that these artists made. In each case they conjure up a very specific time and place. Musically and culturally they reflected the contradictions and possibilities and specificities of the times in which they lived. They inspire a bigger story than just the music itself, even though the music is where it begins.

Rumour has it that the voice of today, Adele, wanted you to make her next music video

We talked about it and she just blew me away. I’m such an admirer of what she’s done and how she does it. The song in particular that she was talking to me about just floored me, When We Were Young. She had a very narrow window and my dad had major heart surgery (he’s in great shape) and the timing didn’t work out.

Carol is released on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from 21 March

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