Todd Haynes - Style and Themes

Style and Themes

The All Movie Guide 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 filmsHaynes' 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."

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. Unsurprisingly, many of his films are unconventional portraits of pop 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.

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