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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

Todd Haynes uses this sequence to specifically highlight how he’s displaying familial relationships. The clip begins with a long shot. The father is sitting, illuminated by a television screen. The mother is in the back drop of the scene, shaded and almost blending into the kitchen whose doorway she’s standing in. Stevie emerges, at first a silhouette. As he moves closer to his father to ask permission for him to mail something, Stevie becomes illuminated as well. He’s moving away from the matronly sphere and into his father’s domain of reign. He asks his father to mail something. It’s interesting what Haynes does next - he show a close-up of Stevie’s face as his mother begins to answer for him. His mother’s voice serves almost as a type of expression of Stevie’s actual wants and desires. He then cuts to the mother who finishes explaining. It’s a long shot. She’s dark and silhouetted against the pink background of the hallway. She stands docile - feet together, arms crossed not even centered in the frame. Then back to the father, where an eye-line match is made. He’s clearly not interested in the subject matter and we quickly see what his focus has been on, and interestingly enough - how he’s been illuminated the whole time against the shadow of the house. The illumination is revealed through a close-up of the TV screen showing a football game. He dismisses the issue immediately. It’s fascinating that this football game, not only keeps him entranced (maybe an interesting commentary on media and gender), but that it’s the only way he’s illuminated, as if yes, they’re all existing within his space in the home, but in general he too is existing within the frames of what society views as manly (and football being manly as its most ultimate form). When he denies him, Haynes shows a close up of Stevie and again an eye-line match to his mother. Stevie’s mother, as I’ve argued, has become his form of expression. He is looking to her to answer, but even she’s in the shadow. She breaks into the scene for the first time, fighting for her child’s interests and expressions. As she bursts into the forefront of the scene, the camera doesn’t move. She’s invading our space - our privileged space as a viewer, as she is invading the father, the man’s privileged space, or place even as he is able to say no to his child’s desires in ways that she cannot.

Nurturing Mother v. Disciplinary Father

by Ethan Foster

This clip is a perfect example of just how much Steven and his father differ and how his mother tries to comfort Steven through his childhood. As Steven sheepishly approaches his preoccupied father, the viewer can see his mother constantly in the background, encouraging him to ask his father if he can enter The Dottie Show competition. Disgusted and muttering, “Oh, Christ,” Steven’s father rejects to send the letter because it is a show for women. An important thing to note here is the close-up shot on the television as it shows football because it defines Steven’s father as a stereotypical, manly figure as he watches sports. In addition, his stern demeanor and rejection of the letter completely contrasts with the mother’s enthusiastic support as Steven asks his father. After his father angrily rejects in an almost ashamed and embarrassed manner and tells Steven to go to bed, Steven storms out of the room in tears with no reaction or sympathy from the father who is supposed to be stoic and uncompromising. The mother rushes in to confront the father, Evan, and yell at him for being so stubborn, and she asserts herself as the more caring and understanding parent of the two. As the camera switches to Steven’s room, it pans across the numerous pictures Steven has drawn of Dottie, portraying Steven’s obsession with The Dottie Show and how much of a blow it is to Steven that his father is not supportive of his interest in the show. In addition, the viewer can hear Steven weeping quietly in bed, almost as if he does not want his father to hear him crying so he does not disappoint him anymore than he already has. After this clip, the mother then enters the room, sits right next to him and pours out compassion for her son, saying she will mail the letter instead. Overall, this scene shows the clear divide between the mother who stands up and constantly encourages her child while the father remains cold and stern to his sons interests that are not interests of his own.

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).

Dottie Gets Spanked: Father and Son

This clip shows a timid Stevie (Evan Bonifant) responding to his father's refusal to submit his entry into a contest to see Dottie, his favorite television star.

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