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26 Cinematic/Sexual: An Interview with Todd Haynes Justin Wyatt / 1992 From Film Quarterly 46, no. 3 (1993). Reprinted by permission from the University of California Press and Justin Wyatt. Justin Wyatt: Has your academic background had a bearing on your filmmaking practice? Todd Haynes: In high school I had a teacher named Chris Adams. Chris had studied with Beverle Houston at USC and that was really important to her way of thinking about film. Chris showed a lot of experimental films in her classes, which was great. We saw James Benning, Stan Brakhage , Ken Jacobs, Oh Dem Watermelons, even the trash classics of early American avant-garde cinema. I remember that it was a big breakthrough for me when Chris Adams said, based on Beverle Houston’s writings, that film is not reality. Reality can’t be a criterion for judging the success or failure of a film, or its effect on you. It was a simple, but eye-opening, way of approaching film. You would go to these new Hollywood films and you would say, “It wasn’t very realistic, that wasn’t a very ‘real’ scene.” This sense of real all the time was pervasive, very easy, and a completely accepted form of critiquing and analyzing what worked and what didn’t work. But it wasn’t a way of critiquing at all: it was really a way we represent ourselves. So that approach was planted in my brain as a way of looking at film as completely constructed, and then trying to create different criteria for how to look at film. I actually made my first film in high school—with a crew and a big production. It was called The Suicide. We emulated the Hollywood practice of oppression: script girls and all the obligatory hierarchies and stuff. I was the co-producer. I wrote the story for a thesis exam in high school, and it’s a film that actually is very similar to Poison in structure: it has justin wyatt / 1992 27 all these different voices and intercuts all these different realities. We started to shoot it in tenth grade, and we worked on it for two years. The entire second year was devoted to the sound track. We started in Super-8, but by the end of the year we had blown up all the tracks to 35mm. We were able to use the Samuel Goldwyn studios to do our final mix through film brat kids’ connections. We went in and did it right after Barnaby Jones and right before The Last Waltz. At the end, for our final party, we rented a theater in Westwood and somebody hired a limo to pick us up and take us to the theater. I was so disgusted with the whole thing that I vowed to make weird, experimental, personal films, with no sound, for a while. This idea continued to develop and become clearer throughout college. At that time I was also very seriously into painting. A lot of people who know me from Brown probably think of me more as a painter than as a filmmaker. While studying film theory and getting pretty excited about it, I found that there was something very different about what could be expressed in film. To me the difference was societal and political . It was a matter of using images and representation. In a way, I felt that I had acquired a skill about representing things as a child. I would practice and practice—I would draw all the time. It was replication of what representation is. By the time I was in college and painting abstractly, I felt that these acquired representations were a weird burden that I carried. Just ignoring them would be a denial that I thought was important to address. In a way, I wanted to use these emblems , these images of the world that I had perfected: images of men, images of women, who look this way and that way, that you can take apart to put on the canvas, and then take apart and discuss. But I kind of hated them. I hated representation, I hated narrative, and yet I felt that I had to deal with it, I had to. I thought that film was the most appropriate medium for an exploration of that idea. JW: You’ve said that one of the reasons you made Superstar was to experiment with questions of identification and to see whether audiences could become...


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