Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Oscars are Coming Up and I Have a Bone to Pick

Todd Solondz
Let's be honest, I have many bones to pick (keep your dirty jokes to yourself). The snub list goes on and on. Can you believe that Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and PT Anderson have never won jack shit? Can you believe that Stanley Kubrick only won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects? Why is it that I keep watching this show, honestly? We all know it's so political it's almost rigged and that The Weinstein's run such expensive Oscar campaigns for their films that they are guaranteed nominations every year? Yeah, I'm saying it; you can buy a nomination if you have the money. It's clearly not based on merit, I mean come on. One anonymous member of the academy once said publicly that the way it works is that they receive all of these DVD's in the mail, with a watermark on them saying 'consider this...' Any one who has ever illegally downloaded a film (which is all of us) has seen that watermark. Anyway, he said that if they don't have the time, or they are bored, or don't get a DVD, it doesn't get watched, ergo it doesn't get voted for. A lot of the time, votes go to a person that an Academy voter likes, regardless if the performance was shitty or not. Why do you think Joaquin Phoenix never wins anything? I remember very well when esteemed documentarian Errol Morris who has been working for over 20 years on some of the most iconic documentaries in the American idiom FINALLY won for The Fog of War in 2004. The first words that came out of his mouth at the podium said it all; 'I want to thank the academy for finally paying attention to my films'. This is the man that made The Thin Blue Line and A Brief History of Time amongst a plethora of genius documentaries and only in 2004 did they finally give him the honors he well deserved. 
But my bone to pick I have to focus on one filmmaker because if I focused it on all the snubs this blog post would never end. One of my favorite filmmakers is Todd Solondz. I met him once when I was working at the New York Film Festival. I touched his arm, and I swear you guys, I saw Jesus. That's a lie, and even if it wasn't it wouldn't mean that much to me because I'm Jewish, but it was like a regular person meeting...Brad Pitt I don't know. This filmmaker has always worked slightly on the fringes of Hollywood and every film he's made has been strictly independent. Over time, he has garnered a cult following, and status as a rebel. He's quirky, funny, and undeniably weird. Even in real life he just looks like he'd rather be in his room staring into space. But this introverted man completely lacking of social skills has given us such gargantuan gifts of cinema that if only more people paid attention to, would have status as a reputable filmmaker, but he doesn't, except for his niche cult followers (myself included). 

Dawn Wiener in front of her locker at school.
In 1995, he made what I consider to be one of the best films of all time; Welcome to the Dollhouse. It concerns a lowly pre-teen loser named Dawn Wiener played impeccably by Heather Matarazzo. She lives in the whiter than white suburbs of some unknown Midwestern town, is constantly bullied by her classmates, and resented if not totally ignored by her family. Her plight as a woman (albeit a very young woman) is comparable to that of those great female characters that overcome insurmountable odds that we all applaud and shower with awards. Out of the twisted mind of Todd Solondz, this character rebels in her own very special way, which none of us would imagine anyone in her situation doing. She lusts after a popular guy that she has no chance with to the point of out right asking him for sex, almost kills her baby sister with a hammer, and has perhaps one of the most memorable and disgusting masterbation scenes in cinema. Suffice it to say she never gets her comeuppance. SPOILER ALERT: the film ends with her on a school bus driving to a summer camp her parents are making her go to, singing to herself, implying that no matter what she does, nothing in her life will change and she's doomed to be miserable for the rest of it. 
Something happened between director and star over time, because in the next series of films we learn that she has committed suicide. Solondz didn't make any direct sequels to Dollhouse, but made films about people that somehow knew about her. 

The image of Dawn Wiener in her 'sexy clothes' trying to seduce Steve Rogers has become iconic, well in niche circles.
As I said, over time Solodnz has garnered a following and with his much anticipated new film Wiener-Dog (Dawn's horribly offensive nickname in Welcome to the Dollhouse), the cast consists of much bigger industry names than when he first started working. I mean, Greta Gerwig is in it for chrissake. I just hope this doesn't mean he's sold out, but that he's finally being taken seriously. 
The only award this director has EVER won was 'A Filmmaker on the Edge' award (whatever that means) at the Provincetown Film Festival. That basically says it all. Even the Indie Spirit awards are afraid of him. If there's a filmmaker who truly displays an indie spirit, it's Solondz (and Harmony Korine) but that's a whole different story.

Solondz's biting indictment of suburban culture is hilarious and tragic.
He's a true Hollywood rebel in that unlike filmmakers that we consider to be rebellious we still constantly hear about because, yeah they are rebelling but somewhere along the line the acquiesced to the rules of the business. Solondz on the other hand, seriously does not give a shit. He barely gives a shit about his audience. He makes films about people that he finds interesting, and because he's such a social outcast, they are barely relatable, but my god they are fascinating. And whatever even the most liberal mind might deem 'too much' he'll throw into the plot. Because it's his baby, it's his project, and it's him on celluloid. Over almost two decades, this man has never lost sight of who he was, and his abiding belief in his talent as a filmmaker and dedication to his marginalized stories have brought him a success he probably never imagined or cared about. Now I know that if his fellow 'rebels' like PT Anderson, Harmony Korine, and Jim Jarmusch get no love from the Academy, it's almost ridiculous that I demand that he does. In fact, he probably not only doesn't care but doesn't want it. He does what he sought out to do and he did it on his own terms and continues to. Inadvertently, his films have become cult if not iconic. I for one definitely consider Welcome to the Dollhouse to be an integral part of my adolescence. And Dawn Wiener is just as much a feminist icon as anyone Meryl Streep has ever played. At barely 11 I was able to recognize that this was an iconoclast, and that his films though not all good were something to behold. So perhaps it's best that The Academy and basically all awards continue to ignore him, giving him total free license to do whatever the fuck he wants on film. Keep the money, the glory, and the false sense of entitlement out of his ego and away from his movies. But please acknowledge to me, and more importantly yourself, that Solondz is one of the most unique, galvanizing, and intriguing filmmakers of our time. 

Below, the trailer for Welcome to the Dollhouse.

Below, someone made a music video. Go them. 

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