‘ he movies I make aren‘t for everybody.‘ admits
I Todd Solondz. ‘You have to have a certain
kind of open mind to sit through them because
they touch nerves. And that‘s why my movies don't make much money and why they're made on a low budget.‘
Solondz announced himself to audiences with the jet- black comedy Welcome '12) 7710 Dull/muse. in which the protagonist is an eleven-year-old schoolgirl who is mercilessly bullied at school (where she‘s known as ‘Wiener-dog‘) and shunned by her suburban Jewish family. liven more challenging in its blend of humour and pathos was his next film. Happiness. another sad comedy. which peered beneath the facade of a ‘normal' extended American family to reveal a profound feeling of loneliness. alienation and sexual frustration. But October Films. the American distributor of Happiness. was so alarmed by the plot strand involving a paedophile attracted to his son's schoolfriends that it dropped the film. leaving production company Good Machine to supervise its release.
Solondz now returns with the two-part Storytelling. which uses comedy to examine issues of personal. sexual and artistic exploitation. and which gives the filmmaker the opportunity to counter those critics who regard his work as being smugly condescending towards its characters. ‘Huppiness and Welr'nme In the Dull/muse did receive a certain amount of criticism for being mean and
cruel and misanthropic.‘ he concedes. ‘In the course of
writing the two stories in Sims-telling. ‘liiction' and ‘Non- liiction‘. opportunities arose to vent my response in a playful way to the responses I had had to my films. But also those criticisms. whether or not you think they are valid. bring up legitimate questions. If these movies are
predicated on condescension and inappropriate uses of
cruelty. then you have to question what you're doing. And 1 do feel I can stand by my work and defend it.‘
One particular scene from the 'Fiction‘ segment of Storytelling will almost certainly engender controversy. In it. a black creative writing tutor Mr Scott (played by Robert Wisdom). has anal sex with one of his white students Vi (Selma Blair). ordering her to repeat the phrase. “Nigger. fuck me hard." In America this sexual encounter will be
obscured by a large red box on the screen. ‘A great deal of
effort and discussion went into this scene.‘ says Solondz. ‘lt was not a rape and it was never scripted that way. Vi is the one who initiates everything and at every point she has the freedom to walk away from this. You see the scene and then you hear the story she reads out to her creative writing class. People respond to her story. not to what we saw.‘
In spite of his upbeat attitude to his detractors. Solondz may quit the filmrnaking business (which he did before for five years after the disaster of his debut Fem: Anxiety And I)e]n‘es.si(m). Interestingly. it’s not the fact that his films polarise opinions that will influence his decision. rather it‘s that he doesn‘t relish the pressures of a hectic film shoot. ‘lt‘s too stressful] he says. ‘lt takes so much out of me and I don't want to give my life for a movie. I don‘t think I'm as hearty as other filmmakers. The future. in my dream. is to find a career that is a bit more pleasurable.’ (Tom Dawson)
Storytelling and Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back both open Fri 30 Nov. See reviews.
American Pie and its endless rip-offs have created a new appetite for gross-out comedy, but they’re just pretenders to the crown of crudity. The real
offenders are two New Jersey filmmakers, TODD SOLONDZ and KEVIN SMITH. Their brand of subversive black humour is far from Dumb And Dumber.
ﬁfthese movies are predicated on cruelty, then you have to question what you’re doing’
John Goodman denies everything (top); Todd Solondz (below)
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