If you like your comedies dark or your characters deeply eccentric and emotionally fraught, then chances are you’ve stumbled onto the work of writer/director Todd Solondz. The filmmaker found himself a success straight out of NYU, landing a three-picture deal with 20th Century Fox off of the strength of his student films. However, the lack of control and immense disappointment saddled on Solondz during his first feature Fear, Anxiety, And Depression (a potential subtitle for any of his movies) was enough to send him fleeing from the film industry for six years. He returned with the independently financed high school humiliation comedy Welcome To The Dollhouse, which promptly won awards at Berlin and Sundance. He then achieved infamy with his multi-character masterwork Happiness (which notoriously brought a compassionately and frighteningly written pedophile into his harsh comedy world). The self-conscious Storytelling and experimental semi-sequels Palindromes and Life During Wartime followed, inevitably garnering controversy, critical acclaim, and cult appreciation.
Some excerpts from the interview:
Do you think of your movies as comedies or consider yourself as someone who writes jokes?
Solondz: Yeah, I wouldn’t say there are any jokes. I don’t really tell jokes and I’m not a good audience for them. But I like to joke around, play and have fun. The movies in their own way are comedies, it’s just that they are sorrowful comedies. They are very sad and for me very moving. So it’s that marriage between the comedy and the pathos that defines so much of what I do. That excites me, the challenge of navigating that line. I think for many people it’s a difficult line and so I have a divided audience consistently over my career. I hear “it’s too funny in an inappropriate way” or “it’s too sad and should be funnier.” I don’t know. I can’t please everybody and I don’t try to. If I can please myself that’s enough. For the rest, I just hope for the best.
Since that line is so delicate, does it frustrate you when people laugh when it’s inappropriate or are shocked when they should be laughing?
Solondz: Well, it’s beyond my control. 8 years ago after Storytelling came out, I said that my movies aren’t for everyone, especially people who like them. When I said that I think it was motivated by an experience I had with a college kid who came up to me after a screening of Happiness. He loved the movie and was a little drunk I suppose, he said “I loved it, it was great and when he raped that kid it was hilarious.” I knew I was in trouble. I don’t know what to say. It reminds me of a story Buck Henry [writer of The Graduate and To Die For] told. He used to write for Get Smart in the 60s and they had an episode where there was a villain with a missing arm on which hung a lot of jokes. The episode was very funny and everyone loved it, but then he got a letter from a woman who said, “How could you write that? There’s nothing funny about it, my son doesn’t have an arm.” So, no matter what you do, once you start attempting any sort of humor about the subjects I’m often interested in, it’s a delicate and risky enterprise. That just comes with the territory.
Solondz is back with a new movie Dark Horse. Here is a teaser from TIFF 2011:
For more of the interview, go here.