Todd Solondz’s “Happiness” and “Life During Wartime” are among my favorite American independent films. While Solondz was a household name in the indie movement in the mid-’90s with “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and the searing social satire “Happiness,” his popularity has faded. But I can’t think of a director who so brilliantly uncovers social discomfort, and who so effectively combines humor, cruelty and sadness. In a recently published interview in the Financial Times, of all places, Solondz faced up to his unsteady standing in the industry.
“Look, my movies make less and less,” he said. “Each movie makes half as much as the last one. Happiness made half as much as Dollhouse. Storytelling made half as much as Happiness. My audience has shrunk. I was surprised to be able to make a movie at all,” he noted of his most recent film “Dark Horse.”
When I saw “Dark Horse” in Toronto, I was admittedly a little disappointed. But since pondering it and reading this article, it occurs to me I need to see it again. The film is still without a distributor (for all those critics compling their list of best films this year without distribution, let’s reconsider it). And it seems tragic that the industry has forgotten one of its most groundbreaking pioneers.
One thing about the article that immediately seemed to resonate about the film is the suggestion that it is kind of anti-sitcom.
“These scenes are done in a style of Extreme Sitcom – ‘the brightness chafes against the fragile parts of the characters’ – and their acoustic is enlarged by a quasi-Pirandellian brainwave,” reads the story. “Seinfeld” actor George Constanza was even hired to do a voice from a TV in the background in one of the scenes. I hadn’t thought of the film in this way before, but it seems to make sense. I hate to admit it, but I wonder if “Dark Horse” might work better on a small screen, as a kind of subversive counterpunch to the inanity of network television family shows, revealing a depth and melancholy that is repressed.
So what is the fate of the film?
In a recent Twitter post, producer Ted Hope said, “I’d still rather secure a distro slot with the right distributor early than earn a small fraction more by bringing it to market.” I assume he was talking about “Dark Horse.”