Todd Solondz was born in Newark, New Jersey. One of his earliest jobs in the film industry was when, as a young man, he worked as a messenger for the Writers’ Guild of America. During this time, he wrote several screenplays.
Solondz’s first color film with sync sound was the short “Schatt’s Last Shot” (1985). Solondz played a high schooler who wants to get into Stanford, but cannot because his sadistic gym teacher fails him. He also has no luck seducing the girl he desires. It was a student film, and is still screened at NYU, where Solondz made it.
Solondz’s first feature was Fear, Anxiety & Depression (1989), a piece about a writer (Solondz) writing a play and sending it to Samuel Beckett.
Solondz found great critical acclaim with his second feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), a film about the cruelty of junior high school, parents, adult figures, and suburban life. The film won awards at Sundance, Berlin, and countless other festivals for its cruel realism, bitter humor, and unflinching portrayal of adolescence.
His third feature effort, Happiness (1998), was a wildly edgy and provocative film. The film revolves around a group of people who are miserable in their conventional lifestyles and pursue happiness in various forms of perverse sexuality. It featured a murderer, a rapist, a pedophile, and a man who harasses others with sexually obscene phone calls The film incited major controversy and was dropped by its original distributor, only to be picked up by another company. One of the particularly controversial aspects of the film was the element of the child psychologist as a repressed pedophile. In the film, he molests his son’s friend at a sleep-over; but the character was sympathetic and deftly presented. Once again, the film was lauded with numerous awards and strong critical praise.
Solondz made it clear he was not softening up with his next effort, Storytelling (2001), which was about the artistic process. The film is divided into two halves, “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction.” “Fiction” centers on a character in a creative-writing class, and “Non- Fiction” on a desperate filmmaker making a documentary about a depressed, listless, unmotivated teenager. “Fiction” concerns how fictional stories can be used to distort rather than illuminate reality, which is displayed via the exploits of the protagonist, a college student in a creative writing class. The film was in danger of being rated NC-17due to a racially charged sex scene. Solondz’s response to the threat of the NC-17 was quite clever (and a bit tongue-in-cheek). Instead of trimming the scene, he simply blocked the image of the copulation with a large orange box. The film got an R rating. “Nonfiction” was loaded with social commentary. Topics covered in this part included a listless teenager and his overbearing family, homosexuality’s current parallels to the scarlet letter, drug use, gun control in the home, and one’s capability to murder.
Solondz’s next film was Palindromes (2004), which was also controversial, due to the fact that the protagonist was played by eight people of differing size, race, and gender.
Solondz has established himself as a consistently engaging and unique filmmaker, as opposed to just one more cookie-cutter conformist director making his movies on the Hollywood assembly line. He is a real writer and filmmaker, agent provocateur, and a force with which to be reckoned.
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