Todd Haynes on His Sigmund Freud Project, Peggy Lee Biopic
Todd Haynes spoke about his plans to make a Sigmund Freud film at the Zurich Film Festival, where he is presenting his documentary “The Velvet Underground.”
“I have to make a film about Freud before I completely retire,” he shared during his masterclass. “Every day we slip toward authoritarianism, anti-immigrant sensibility, conservative governments and fundamentalist instincts, and that’s just one small part of what Freud anticipated. There is something very radical and intensely observant about his work.”
Before he starts focusing on the father of psychoanalysis, Haynes will first turn to singer Peggy Lee, with biopic “Fever” set to begin production next year. Long time in the making, the project was originally supposed to star Reese Witherspoon, with his “Wonderstruck” and “I’m Not There” collaborator Michelle Williams now tapped as the lead.
“It’s something I’d started to develop between ‘Carol’ and ‘Wonderstruck.’ Then I put it aside and read it again during COVID-19,” he said, adding that the film will explore jazz culture in mid-century America and the role of a woman as a performer.
“A very unique kind of performer who represented overt sexuality, particularly for her time. She was the Mae West of popular songs,” he said about Lee, mentioning that the script will be structured around her memorable performances.
“Something happens with Peggy in these rooms that’s so strange – it feels utterly intimate and honest. She has that incredible cool about her but there is something performative too. And a great deal of sadness.”
Haynes discussed how he tries to depict music in film, arguing it’s all about finding the right visual counterpoint.
“[In ‘The Velvet Underground’] I wanted you to travel through this film, feel that the music and the images were leading you. Not the words, even though we got fantastic people to tell us this story,” he said.
Mentioning his friendships with director Kelly Reichardt (“one of my favorite filmmakers”) and long-time producer Christine Vachon, he also talked about his family, who got to see him perform as Shakespeare’s famous lovers, inspired by Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film.
“There is some footage of me, aged 9, popping up first as Romeo and then as Juliet. My mom was like: ‘That’s cool. Whatever.’ My first endeavor as a young, precocious little filmmaker,” he joked, also mentioning “Mary Poppins” as a perennial childhood favorite.
“I became, apparently, obsessed. It made me want to draw pictures, perform the songs, replay the scenes and dress my mom as Mary Poppins. Just relive it all. Now, kids can watch things over and over again.”
Haynes, who went on to score Oscar and Emmy nominations for “Far From Heaven” and “Mildred Pierce,” first gained public attention with his experimental short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,” made with Barbie dolls. Due to a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the late singer’s brother, it still can’t be exhibited publicly.
“It was ultimately about the music rights,” he said.
“I thought: wouldn’t it be interesting to make a ‘star story’ genre film, follow the conventions very lovingly and not have any actors in it, just dolls? I remember sitting in a café in New York, hearing The Carpenters’ song. I hadn’t thought about Karen Carpenter in a long time, even though she had recently died of anorexia nervosa. All of a sudden that deep voice and that pain registered something really authentic.”
Arguing he was always interested in how genre and narrative traditions form a communal language everyone can understand, he mentioned that his films have been “challenging systems of conformity.”
“This was something [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder said about movies: You can’t give the audience the revolution. What you can do is show them the conditions under which a revolution is necessary: a revolution of the mind, spirit, in your own life and your own choices. When you show it as a spectacle, you deprive the audience of their own ability to make an effective change.”
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