Todd Haynes

Todd Haynes

Haynes at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival
Born (1961-01-02) January 2, 1961
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Residence Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Alma mater Brown University
Bard College
Occupation Director, screenwriter, producer
Years active 1985–present

Todd Haynes (/hnz/; born January 2, 1961) is an American independent film director, screenwriter, and producer. He is considered a pioneer of the New Queer Cinema movement of filmmaking that emerged in the early 1990s.[1][2] Haynes first gained public attention with his controversial short film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), which chronicles singer Karen Carpenter's tragic life and death, using Barbie dolls as actors. Haynes had not obtained proper licensing to use the Carpenters' music, prompting a lawsuit from Richard Carpenter, whom the film portrayed in an unflattering light, banning the film's distribution. Superstar became a cult classic.[2][3]

Haynes' feature directorial debut, Poison (1991), a provocative, three-part exploration of AIDS-era queer perceptions and subversions, established him as a formidable talent and figure of a new transgressive cinema. Poison won the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and is regarded as a seminal work of New Queer Cinema. Haynes received further acclaim for his second feature film, Safe (1995), a symbolic portrait of a housewife who develops extreme allergic reactions to her suburban life. Safe was later voted the best film of the 1990s by The Village Voice Film Poll. Haynes' next feature, Velvet Goldmine (1998), is a tribute to the 1970s glam rock era, drawing heavily on the rock histories and mythologies of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. The film received the Special Jury Prize for Best Artistic Contribution at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design.

Haynes gained critical acclaim and a measure of mainstream success with his 2002 feature, Far from Heaven. Inspired by the cinematic language of the films of Douglas Sirk, Far From Heaven is a 1950s-set melodrama about a Connecticut housewife who discovers that her husband is gay and falls in love with her African-American gardener. The film received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Screenplay for Haynes. His fifth feature, I'm Not There (2007), marked another shift in direction. A nonlinear biopic, I'm Not There depicts various facets of Bob Dylan through seven fictionalized characters played by five actors and an actress. I'm Not There received critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett. In 2011, Haynes directed and co-wrote Mildred Pierce, a five-hour mini-series for HBO, which garnered 21 Emmy Award nominations, winning five, as well as four Golden Globe Award nominations and a win for lead actress Kate Winslet.

In 2015, Haynes returned to the big screen with Carol, his sixth feature film and the first film not written by him. Based on Patricia Highsmith's seminal romance novel The Price of Salt, Carol is the story of a forbidden love affair between two women from different classes and backgrounds in early 1950s New York City. The film received critical acclaim and many accolades including six Academy Award nominations, five Golden Globe Award nominations, and nine BAFTA Award nominations.

Early life

Haynes was born January 2, 1961, in Los Angeles, and grew up in nearby Encino. His father, Allen E. Haynes, was a cosmetics importer, and his mother, Sherry Lynne (née Semler), studied acting (and makes a brief appearance in I'm Not There). Haynes is Jewish on his mother's side.[4][5] His younger sister is Gwynneth Haynes of the band Sophe Lux.[6]

Haynes developed an interest in film at an early age, and produced a short film, The Suicide (1978), while still in high school. He studied semiotics at Brown University, where he directed his first short film Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud (1985), inspired by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud (a personality Haynes would later reference in his film I'm Not There). At Brown, he met Christine Vachon, who would go on to produce all of his feature films. After graduating with a BA in Arts and Semiotics, Haynes moved to New York City and became involved in the independent film scene, launching Apparatus Productions, a non-profit organization for the support of independent film.[2]


1987–1993: Superstar, Poison, Dottie Gets Spanked

In 1987, while an MFA student at Bard College, Haynes made a short, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which chronicles the life of American pop singer Karen Carpenter, using Barbie dolls as actors.[2] The film presents Carpenter's struggle with anorexia and bulimia, featuring several close-ups of Ipecac (the nonprescription drug Carpenter was reputed to have used to make herself vomit during her illness). Carpenter's chronic weight loss was portrayed by using a "Karen" Barbie doll with the face and body whittled away with a knife, leaving the doll looking skeletonized. The film is also notable for staged dream sequences in which Karen, in a state of deteriorating mental health, imagines being spanked by her father.

Superstar featured extensive use of Carpenter songs, showcasing Haynes' love of popular music (which would be a recurring feature of later films). Haynes failed to obtain proper licensing to use the music, prompting a lawsuit from Karen's brother Richard for copyright infringement. Carpenter was reportedly also offended by Haynes' unflattering portrayal of him as a narcissistic bully, along with several broadly dropped suggestions that he was gay and in the closet. Carpenter won his lawsuit, and Superstar was removed from public distribution; to date, it may not be viewed publicly.[2] Bootlegged versions of the film are still circulated, and the film is sporadically made available on YouTube.[7][8]

Haynes' 1991 feature film debut, Poison, garnered Haynes further acclaim and controversy.[2] Drawing on the writings of "transgressive" gay writer Jean Genet, the film is a triptych of queer-themed narratives, each adopting a different cinematic genre: vox-pop documentary ("Hero"), 50s sci-fi horror ("Horror") and gay prisoner romantic drama ("Homo"). The film explores traditional perceptions of homosexuality as an unnatural and deviant force, and presents Genet's vision of sado-masochistic gay relations as a subversion of heterosexual norms, culminating with a marriage ceremony between two gay male convicts. Poison marked Haynes' first collaboration with his longtime producer Christine Vachon.

Poison was partially funded with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.[2] The film subsequently became the center of a public attack by Reverend Donald Wildmon, head of the American Family Association, who criticized the NEA for funding Poison and other works by gay and lesbian artists and filmmakers. Wildmon, who had not viewed the film before making his comments publicly, condemned the film's "explicit porno scenes of homosexuals involved in anal sex", despite no such scenes appearing in the film.[9] Poison went on to win the 1991 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize, establishing Haynes as an emerging talent and the voice of a new transgressive generation.[2][10][11] The film writer B. Ruby Rich cited Poison as one of the defining films of the emerging New Queer Cinema movement, with its focus on maverick sexuality as an anti-establishment social force.[12][13]

Haynes' next short film, Dottie Gets Spanked (1993), explored the experiences of a quiet and gentle six-year-old boy in the early 1960s who has various indirect encounters with spanking, most significantly involving his idol, a TV sitcom star named Dottie. The film was aired on PBS.[2]

1995–1998: Safe, Velvet Goldmine

Haynes' second feature film, Safe (1995), was a critically acclaimed portrait of Carol White, a San Fernando Valley housewife (played by Julianne Moore) who develops violent allergies to her middle-class suburban existence.[2] After a series of extreme allergic reactions and hospitalization, Carol diagnoses herself with acute environmental illness, and moves to a New Age commune in the New Mexico desert run by an HIV positive "guru" who preaches both that the real world is toxic and unsafe for Carol, and that she is responsible for her illness and recovery. The film ends with Carol retreating to her antiseptic, prison-like "safe room", looking at herself in the mirror and whispering "I love you" to her reflection.

The film is notable for its critical (though not entirely unsympathetic) treatment of its main character. Haynes observes Carol coolly through a series of static deep-focus shots, placing her as an invisible woman who appears anesthetized in her materially comfortable but sterile and emotionally empty life. The ending of the film is highly ambiguous, and has created considerable debate among critics as to whether Carol has emancipated herself, or simply traded one form of oppression (as a housewife) for an equally constricting identity as a reclusive invalid. Julie Grossman argues in her article "The Trouble With Carol" that Haynes concludes the film as a challenge to traditional Hollywood film narratives of the heroine taking charge of her life, and that Haynes sets Carol up as the victim both of a repressive male-dominated society, and also of an equally debilitating self-help culture that encourages patients to take sole responsibility for their illness and recovery.[14] Carol's illness, although unidentified, has been read as an analogy for the AIDS crisis of the mid-1980s, as a similarly uncomfortable and largely unspoken "threat" in 1980s Reaganist America.[2][15] Safe was critically acclaimed, giving Moore her first leading role in a feature film, and gave Haynes a measure of mainstream critical recognition.[2] It was voted the best film of the 1990s by the Village Voice’s Critic Poll.[16]

Haynes took a radical shift in direction for his next feature, Velvet Goldmine (1998), starring Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Toni Collette. Filmed and set mostly in England, the film was an intentionally chaotic tribute to the 1970s glam rock era, drawing heavily on the rock histories and mythologies of glam rockers David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. Starting with Oscar Wilde as the spiritual godfather of glam rock, the film revels in the gender and identity experimentation and fashionable bisexuality of the era, and acknowledges the transformative power of glam rock as an escape and a form of self-expression for gay teenagers.

The film follows the character of Arthur (Bale) an English journalist once enraptured by glam rock as a 1970s teenager, who returns a decade later to hunt down his former heroes: Brian Slade (Rhys Meyers), a feather boa-wearing androgyne with an alter ego, "Maxwell Demon", who resembles Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation, and Curt Wild (McGregor), an Iggy Pop-style rocker. The narrative playfully rewrites glam rock myths which in some cases sail unnervingly close to the truth. Slade flirts with bisexuality and decadence before staging his own death in a live performance and disappearing from the scene, echoing Bowie's own disavowal of glam rock in the late 1970s and his subsequent re-creation as an avowedly heterosexual pop star. The film features a love affair between Slade and Wild's characters, recalling rumors about Bowie and Reed's supposed sexual relationship. Curt Wild's character has a flashback to enforced electric shock treatment as a teenager to attempt to cure his homosexuality, echoing Reed's teenage experiences as a victim of the homophobic medical profession.

Haynes was keen to use original music from the glam rock period, and (learning his lesson from Superstar) approached David Bowie before making the film for permission to use his music in the soundtrack. Bowie declined, leaving Haynes to use a combination of original songs from other artists and glam-rock inspired music written by contemporary rock bands for the film, including Suede. Velvet Goldmine premiered in main competition at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, winning a special jury award for Best Artistic Contribution.[17] Despite initial critical praise, the film received mixed reviews from critics. Costume designer Sandy Powell received an Academy Award nomination for her costume design, and won the Oscar in the same year for her work on Shakespeare In Love.[18]

2002–2014: Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, Mildred Pierce

Haynes achieved his greatest critical and commercial success to date with Far From Heaven (2002), a 1950s-set drama inspired by the films of Douglas Sirk about a Connecticut housewife Cathy Whittaker (Julianne Moore) who discovers that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is secretly gay, and subsequently falls in love with Raymond, her African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert). The film works as a mostly reverential and unironic tribute to Sirk's filmmaking, lovingly re-creating the stylized mise-en-scene, colors, costumes, cinematography and lighting of Sirkian melodrama. Cathy and Raymond's relationship resembles Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson's inter-class love affair in All That Heaven Allows, and Cathy's relationship with Sybil, her African-American housekeeper (Viola Davis) recalls Lana Turner and Juanita Moore's friendship in Imitation of Life. While staying within the cinematic language of the period, Haynes updates the sexual and racial politics, showing scenarios (an inter-racial love affair and gay relationships) that would not have been permissible in Sirk's era. Haynes also resists a Sirkian happy ending, allowing the film to finish on a melancholy note closer in tone to the "weepy" melodramas of 1940s and 1950s cinema such as Mildred Pierce.

Todd Haynes and actors of his 2007 film, I'm Not There posing at the 64th Venice Film Festival in 2007.

Far From Heaven debuted at the Venice Film Festival to widespread critical acclaim and garnered a slew of film awards, including the Volpi Cup for Moore, and four Academy Award nominations: lead actress for Moore, Haynes' original screenplay, Elmer Bernstein's score, and Edward Lachman's cinematography. Far From Heaven lost in all four categories, but the film's success was hailed as a breakthrough for independent film achieving mainstream recognition, and brought Haynes to the attention of a wider mainstream audience.[2]

In another radical shift in direction, Haynes' next film I'm Not There (2007) returned to the mythology of popular music, portraying the life and legend of Bob Dylan through seven fictional characters played by six actors: Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Christian Bale. Haynes obtained Dylan's approval to proceed with the film, and the rights to use his music in the soundtrack, after presenting a one-page summary of the film's concept to Jeff Rosen, Dylan's long-time manager.[19] I'm Not There premiered at the Venice Film Festival to critical acclaim, where Haynes won the Grand Jury Prize and Blanchett won the Volpi Cup, eventually receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.[20][21]

Haynes' next project was Mildred Pierce, a five-hour miniseries for HBO based on the novel by James M. Cain and the 1945 film starring Joan Crawford. The series starred Kate Winslet in the title role and featured Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo, James LeGros and Hope Davis. Filming was completed in mid-2010 and the series began airing on HBO on 27 March 2011. It received 21 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, winning five, and Winslet won a Golden Globe Award for her performance.[22][23]

2015–present: Carol, upcoming projects

Haynes' sixth feature film, Carol, is an adaptation of the 1952 novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. The cast features Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson and Kyle Chandler. The film premiered in competition at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Queer Palm and a shared Best Actress prize for Mara.[24][25] Carol received critical acclaim[26] and was nominated for six Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, nine BAFTA Awards, and six Independent Spirit Awards.[27][28][29][30]

His next film is an adaptation of Brian Selznick's children's book Wonderstruck. It stars Julianne Moore and is produced by Haynes' collaborator Christine Vachon and Amazon Studios, which is also distributing the film.[31][32]

Haynes is also set to direct an untitled Peggy Lee film based on a screenplay by Nora Ephron, starring Reese Witherspoon.[33] He is also developing a TV series based on the 2012 documentary The Source Family for HBO.[34][35]

Style and themes

AllMovie writes that "Haynes is known for making provocative films that subvert narrative structure and resound with transgressive, complex eroticism…. Although he doesn't characterize himself as a gay filmmaker who makes gay films… Haynes' name has become synonymous with the New Queer Cinema movement and its work to both explore and redefine the contours of queer culture in America and beyond."[36]

Haynes’ work is preoccupied with postmodernist ideas of identity and sexuality as socially constructed concepts, and personal identity as a fluid and changeable state. His protagonists are invariably social outsiders whose "subversive" identity and sexuality pits them at odds with the received norms of their society. In the Haynes universe, sexuality (especially "deviant" or unconventional sexuality) is a subversive and dangerous force that disrupts social norms and is often repressed brutally by dominant power structures. Haynes presents artists as the ultimate subversive force, since they must necessarily stand outside of societal norms, with an artist's creative output representing the greatest opportunity for personal and social freedom. Many of his films are unconventional portraits of popular artists and musicians (Karen Carpenter in Superstar, David Bowie in Velvet Goldmine and Bob Dylan in I’m Not There).

Haynes's films often feature formal cinematic or narrative devices that challenge received notions of identity and sexuality and remind the audience of the artificiality of film as a medium. Examples include using Barbie dolls instead of actors in Superstar, or having multiple actors portray the protagonist in I'm Not There. Stylistically, Haynes favors formalism over naturalism, often appropriating and reinventing cinematic styles, including the documentary form in Poison, Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There, the reinvention of the Douglas Sirk melodrama in Far From Heaven and extensive referencing of 1960s art cinema in I'm Not There.

Personal life

Haynes is openly gay. As of 2015 he lives in Portland, Oregon.[37] An edited book of personal interviews was published in 2014, titled "Todd Haynes Interviews".[38]


List of Accolades
Year Work Award Result Ref(s)
1991 Poison Berlin International Film Festival Teddy Award Won
Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature Nominated
Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize - Dramatic Won
1995 Safe Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay Nominated
Seattle International Film Festival American Independent Award Won
1998 Velvet Goldmine Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
2002 Far From Heaven Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay Nominated
Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Won
Provincetown International Film Festival Filmmaker on the Edge Award Won
2007 I'm Not There Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
Independent Spirit Award Robert Altman Award Won
2015 Carol Alliance of Women Film Journalists EDA Award for Best Director Nominated
Austin Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Direction Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Director Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Nominated
Golden Globe Award for Best Director Nominated
Independent Spirit Award for Best Director Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle Award for Director of the Year Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Runner-up
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Director Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Won
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Director Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Nominated
St. Louis Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Nominated
Toronto Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Won
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Director Nominated


Feature films

Year Film Director Writer Producer Notes
1991 Poison Yes Yes Co-edited with James Lyons
1992 Swoon Actor. Role: Phrenology Head
1995 Safe Yes Yes
1997 Office Killer Yes Additional dialogue
1998 Velvet Goldmine Yes Yes Co-written with James Lyons
2002 Far from Heaven Yes Yes
2006 Quinceañera Executive producer
2006 Old Joy Executive producer
2007 I'm Not There Yes Yes Co-written with Oren Moverman
2008 Wendy and Lucy Executive producer
2010 Meek's Cutoff Executive producer
2012 Buoy Executive producer
2013 Night Moves Executive producer
2015 Carol Yes
2016 Certain Women Executive producer
2017 Wonderstruck Yes

Short films

Year Film Director Writer Producer Notes
1978 The Suicide Yes Yes
1985 Assassins: A Film Concerning Rimbaud Yes Yes Himself
1987 Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story Yes Yes Yes Actor
1989 La Divina Yes Assistant director
1989 He Was Once Yes Actor


Year Film Director Writer Producer Notes
1993 Dottie Gets Spanked Yes Yes Short film
2011 Mildred Pierce Yes Yes Five-part miniseries; executive producer[62]
2013 Enlightened Yes Episode: "All I Ever Wanted"
Six by Sondheim Yes Segment: "I'm Still Here"


Year Commercial Title Subject
1988 "Share the Good"[63] Heineken Premium Light


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  63. Full credits and video on Boards

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