Todd Solondz (2016) #audio

While I've seen most of Todd's library, I can honestly say I am not a fan of the Solondz-verse. Sure, he has a voice, and I can appreciate that, but his movies make me feel as if I am being punched in the stomach while my parents get divorced. Maybe you're a glutton for punishment, but I'm not. And I like my parents. Despite not being a huge fan though, I was almost sure his latest, Wiener-Dog, would prove that I was missing something. Although I had good intentions, I quickly found myself, once again, hiding the sharp objects. While Wiener-Dog is basically the adult version of a childhood favorite, Bingo, I felt like Solondz' only intention was to make the audience depressed. So, when I had the opportunity to find out which one of us was crazy, I accepted the challenge.

Jessie Hobson: Before we jump right into the film, I'd wanted to know your opinion on the trailer. You're known for the dark, socially conscious satire, I didn't get that from the trailers for Wiener-Dog. So, do you have any opinion about the trailer? Do you think it captures the true tone of the film?

Todd Solondz: Um, I don’t know that, I don’t know. I think the intent of a trailer is to recommend, to excite people, to go see the movie. It’s ultimately a trailer, a sales ploy. They ultimately try to get people to show up in the movie theater. I leave it up to the discretion of the distributor to find the best way to attract an audience would be.

JH: Alright, the distributor and you, you guys might not really see eye to eye on an audience, but did you have a particular audience in mind when you were writing this or when you were on set?

TS: Well, I’m always grateful that I have any audience. I never take that for granted. I look at my audience as, I suppose, as having an open mind and receptive to a sensibility that is distinctly outside of the studio system, but I don’t have any, I never know who is gonna show up.

JH: In your earliest stages, as far as preparing for Wiener- Dog, how did you come up with the concept for the film and where did your inspiration to get what we saw on screen?

TS: Well, I wanted to do a dog movie. I had seen Au Hasard Balthazar, it was made fifty years ago and I watched it again. It’s about a mule, and it has a very oblique narrative and that gave me a certain confidence to devise a structure as I’ve done of passing, the dog passing from one owner to another, and that that would define his life trajectory. But, ultimately the movie, for me, is not so much about a dog, which is more of a concedes, that it is about the nature of mortality and how that shadows or hovers over each of the protagonists and storylines.

JH: Excellent, yes. As far as I know, this is kind of a new style for you, the anthology route, was it the mule movie that inspired that or had you decided that you wanted to do something like the prior?

TS: I guess, I think it just evolved from the course of writing. And, I liked the idea, as I say, of this dog going from owner to owner. It’s not the trials and tribulations and triumphs of the dog, as I say, but the way of exploring other matters.

 JH: So, you said that the movie obviously isn’t really about the dog necessarily, considering this, were there any other working titles for the film before settling on Wiener-Dog?

TS: No. Yes and no... it is about the dog and it’s also not about the dog. The movies I make are always filled with ambiguity and ambivalence. Once I settled on a dachshund, it was clear what the title would be. And, bringing back Dawn Wiener to seal the deal there. These dogs, unfortunately, because the way they are bred for the marketplace, like the bulldog who has a lot of physical ailments, the dachshund has reduced intelligence. So, that was a challenge working with this dog. I learned this from the ASPCA representative, and so, even though I had three or four show dogs to work with, they were all remarkably stupid and unable to respond to any command.

JH: So, you mentioned Dawn coming back. As far as Heather, any reason as to why she didn’t reprise her role from Welcome to the Dollhouse?

TS: Well, years ago, she told me she didn’t want to be an Antoine Doinel for me, she didn’t want to be defined by that character and that kind of freed me, which is why I killed her in Palindromes and waited for an opportunity to offer her another life possibility, something a little for funnier and more hopeful as I did in this movie. But that’s part of what I do as a filmmaker, I create other lives and other lives, other lives to the extent that I have actors reprise, and different actors take over roles that are previously established. I think that there’s something I’d like to play with here that’s crystallized in the scene with Ellen Burstyn looking at the other possible lives that she could have led as well. Of course, as we all know, we have but one.

JH: Obviously, this cast, it’s insane. It’s a fairly robust cast. What was it like having all of that talent at your exposal?

TS: Well, I never, all I did was, I offered parts to people I thought would be appropriate for the roles. People, whose work I respected. And then, I had a very pleasurable experience. There wasn’t a need for much in the way of rehearsal, I think, they all understood what my aims were. I really, if you cast the right actor in the right part at the right time, they make you look like a better writer and director than you really are.

JH: Speaking of all the people that were a part of this film, what can you tell us about the scene with Brie Larson that was cut? And will it be available when this comes to a home release to see?

TS: No, I didn’t see any point. The movie is, as you saw it, I don’t see any purpose in sharing material that was left on the cutting room floor any more than, I suppose, a novelist would want to show you what he removed from his first draft. Brie was wonderful to work with, but it was a scene that I felt was superfluous, and it’s one of my failings, I suppose, as a filmmaker that I always cut actors out of movies. But, just because you like an actor or a performance, it’s often times enough reason to keep them in a movie. But, Annapurna was very kind in allowing me to remove what we all knew was going to be the next Oscar winner.

JH: Understandable. Keeping everything in mind, everything we’ve discussed, is there a particular segment that stands out for you more than others? Or one that maybe you prefer over the rest?

TS: Not really, I’m happy with the movie, and I’m very lucky that I got it financed, and that I’m getting it… that it was bought, and it’s getting released. So, I have nothing to complain about.

JH: Excellent. As you know, and as your said, you spoke with an ASPCA member, animal lovers are extremely passionate. So, what was your reaction of the Sundance crowd?

TS: I only went to one screening. I was happy with the experience. As I say, I’m certainly feeling generalized about dog-lovers, I love dogs too. The movie is really something that speaks to those with a certain kind of openness of mind, and sensibility… receptiveness to the sensibility that is on display.

JH: Is that the goal, is that what you want to leave with the audience? What’s your goal as a filmmaker? What do you want to make me feel by the end of this movie?

TS: Well, I’m moved by the plight of these characters, and I also find so much comedy in the pathos. And, if an audience is able to experience or share what I feel then that’s all I could hope for.

JH: Well, Todd, I definitely was touched by the film, every path made me feel a different way. So, as far as I’m concerned, you definitely accomplished your goal. I want to take this time, and say thank you for giving your time to me, I definitely appreciate it, sir.

TS: My pleasure, thank you very much. Good luck with your piece.

Who's crazy? Better yet, who's crazier? You be the judge. Regardless of your answer, it was nice to get a better understanding of the man that continues to churn out some of the most original content in Hollywood. If you haven't got a chance to check any of Todd's work, see Wiener-Dog. Just remember to hide the silverware.