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Mommy and Daddy Issues: Exploring Parental Roles within the Films of Solondz and Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

This student project will explore the treatment of parent-child relationships in the films Dottie gets Spanked and Dark Horse, directed by Todd Haynes and Todd Solondz, respectively. Both directors portray parents in rigid, traditional roles, where the father is the disciplinary figure and the mother coddles and nurtures. By examining these relationships we plan to enter a larger discourse on the appropriate role of parents. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Technically Speaking, What is Todd Haynes Up To?

by Erica

The clip starts as a type of over-the-shoulder shot, looking between Stevie and his mother and looking at a storybook Stevie has drawn to give to Dottie. Here we see Haynes exploring the relationship between mother and son - or the supposed relationship between mother and son. They share a mutual bonding over the child’s success and expression. The child’s form of expression is what brings them together; what sits between them, literally. As Stevie reads the story, it remains in this position zooming out as the story goes further. This is interesting. This zoom out can be seen as Todd Haynes examining the household. He starts up-close with person-to-person relationships. Mother and son. Stevie and his mother bond over Stevie’s artistic expression and interest in the Dottie Show. However, they’re still part of a larger household sphere - which Todd Haynes quickly reminds us. Stevie’s narration makes up a large portion of the audio, however as the zoom out progresses, music begins to play and the camera pans up to reveal the emergence of Stevie’s father. He almost appears as if a silhouette - arguably, a presence (a MALE presence). In the next shot, we switch to an eye-line match. It’s now his world and his POV - this is the first time we get to see Stevie and his mother face-to-face and it’s through the scope of the emergence of the father. They immediately begin to put away everything they had been doing, the expression is stifled; it’s his world. As they pack up, the camera switches back to its original position behind Stevie and his mother. It’s now a long-shot. Stevie and his mother are against the frame, and the father (now illuminated) stands as a presence watching over them in the background - finally, the full portrait. In the male’s scope. The way that this sequence in particular is shot leads us to more directly engage with Todd Haynes’ view of the family scope - or the way in which he’s engaging with it in this particular film. It’s clearly a highly masculine world, and we watch as a small child a ‘feminino’ is struggling to work inside of it. Nurtured by his mother, he’s defined (literally in the film) by the scope of his father, an overbearing presence of masculinity - literally the shadowed male silhouette.

A Mother and Son under Father Dominance in the 1950s

by Ethan Foster

The beginning of this clip automatically sets the son and the mother very close to each other as Steven and his mother are reading from his book he made for Dottie. They are both laughing and having a great time as the son excitedly recites his work. However, as the father suddenly approaches and the camera tilts up to view the father, the viewer can sense that the fun is about to end. Starting slowly from his legs as he walks down the hall, the camera shoots the father from a low angle as if he is overlooking Steven and his mother, showing dominance and power over them. In addition, the ambient piano playing in the background stops as the mother notices the father standing at the doorway, not amused at the fact that his son is reading what he wrote about a feminine show. The mother’s expression turns from happy to panicked as soon as she sees him, and she hurriedly closed the book so the father would not have to endure what he was hearing anymore. She urges him to go to bed and rest up for the big day as Steven looks at his father with sadness. When he goes to bed, his father casually puts his head down and only says, “Goodnight, son” in an almost forced way. His sudden appearance completely ruins the happiness Steven experiences while talking to his mother about Dottie, but he and his mother are both shown as powerless and almost fearful to the father’s reign in the house. This is also shown near the end when the father convinces the mother to get on his side and try to convince Steven to watch more “manly” things besides Dottie. Throughout the film, the father’s dominance is shown more and more, and this clip is an example of the father’s growing authority in the household.

Addressing Children

In this clip from director Todd Haynes' Dottie Gets Spanked, Steven reads to his mother a book which he has written and illustrated to give to Dottie Frank when he visits the set of her show.

from Dottie Gets Spanked (1993)
Creator: Todd Haynes
Distributor: Caboose Productions
Posted by Michelle Robinson