Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Odd Todd

At a local art house I recently caught a couple films at a Todd Solondz salute, Palindromes and his latest, Wiener-Dog.  Never heard of him?  That would make sense.  His career has been a lesson in obscurity.

His first film, Fear, Anxiety And Depression (1989), failed to click, but he fought back and made Welcome To The Dollhouse (1996), by far his most popular title, with a gross of $4.5 million.  It's about the troubles of a junior high school girl.  Since then, every film of his has made less than the previous one.

His next film, Happiness (1998)--about various people (including a child molester) who, by and large, and not having a good time--grossed a bit under $3 million.  Then Storytelling (2002), with two stories involving death, rape and so on, made under a million.  Palindromes (2005) made about half a million, Life During Wartime (2010) --a sequel of sorts to Happiness--made under $300,000 and Dark Horse (2012) made under $200,000.  His latest, Wiener-Dog, is presently in theatres, so we'll see how much it grosses.

Pardon me for bringing up money where art is involved, but no matter how artistic you want to be, you can't make a film without financial backing, and it's hard to get that unless your stuff makes money or you have a patron (or a trust fund).

But Solondz is almost defiantly uncommercial.  Watching two of his films on two days sometimes had me thinking "why am I going through this?" I know what I'm going to see is people--often horrible people--have bad things happen to them.  Are we supposed to enjoy it?

It's been said commercial Hollywood films tell you what you want to hear, while art films don't.  (I wouldn't go so far as to say they tell the truth, but they don't necessarily protect you from it either.)  But when you see a Solondz film, you have to brace yourself, because things are not going to work out as planned.

And yet, the films hold up.  They're not all great, and I don't think he's made an all-time classic, but they're memorable. I think they'll last not just because of his sense of humor (these are comedies), but because for all the awfulness, Solondz is not condemning these characters, he's not judging them, he's giving them their moment.  And after you've been through the worst, you come out the other end feeling, if not cleansed, maybe a little better.   Life isn't perfect, and recognizing how imperfect it is can be therapeutic.

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