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« While you are waiting for Star Wars... | Main | Interview: The Actress & Director of "The Second Mother," Brazil's Oscar Hopeful »
Wednesday
Dec162015

HBO’s LGBT History: Mildred Pierce (2011)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we talked about polygamy and homosexuality in Big Love, all the while singing Chloe Sevigny’s praises. This week, we focus on the “genius” Todd Haynes, who's obviously on our minds what with our infatuation with Carol. HBO, as we’ve seen, has always celebrated and supported out gay filmmakers, from Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (Common Threads, The Celluloid Closet) and Cheryl Dunye (Stranger Inside) to Gus Van Sant (Elephant) and Alan Ball (Six Feet Under). It makes sense that Haynes’s adaptation of Mildred Pierce, led by the incomparable Kate Winslet found a home at the cable network.

We could spend all day gabbing about this languid adaptation but I’ll keep it short and sweet today with 5 Reasons Todd Haynes’s Mildred Pierce is deliciously gay...

 

5. Its source material (and the looming noir shadow of one Miss Joan Crawford). One of my favorite books of cultural criticism is David Halperin’s How to be Gay which is basically a book-length tome on gay men’s fascination with Michael Curtiz’s Mildred Pierce which Halperin reads as a metaphor for gay male culture.

“Veda’s revolt against the family is not merely against its values, but against the very conditions of and norms of heterosexual femininity.”

4. Guy Pearce. With (and without) his short shorts.

3. Anne Roth’s fabulous costume designs. Steering clear of Crawford’s angular outfits, Roth gives Haynes’s miniseries a lovingly earthy look and feel. I particularly love Mildred’s golden dress which is just exquisite, equal parts dowdy and extravagant.

2. Evan Rachel Wood’s opera scene. Cher, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, J. Smith-Cameron, Cate Blanchett: I do love a good scene at the opera with actressing that matches the grand sensibilities of that fey classic art form. Winslet doesn’t disappoint.

1. Haynes. It’s not just that he’s an out gay director; his sensibility, as his filmography clearly shows, is steeped in a gay aesthetic. In Emily Nussbaum’s words, Mildred Pierce “feels a bit like Black Swan, only told from the maternal POV, with chicken and waffles instead of pink cake” which is just a great distillation of the operatic and feminine sensibility that so runs through this six hour miniseries. “You sigh over every dress. Even a close-up of restaurant workers chopping chickens feels like a waltz.” This is gay sensibility made flesh. Or rather, made film.

Fun Awards Fact: We all know Kate giddily won everything in sight, but I was saddened to remember that Haynes’s miniseries went up against the juggernaut that was Downton Abbey in its first season (which was submitted as a miniseries and thus hogged a lot of those categories). In hindsight, the win for Downton over Mildred Pierce as Best Miniseries, and perhaps more infamously, of Brian Percival (of The Book Thief fame) as Best Director over Haynes, Olivier Assayas (for Carlos), Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini (for Cinema Verite; discussed here) and Curtis Hanson (for Too Big Too Fail) is too much to bear.

Next Week: We keep revisiting visionary auteurs as they dip their toes in cable network productions with the lavish Steven Soderbergh Liberace film Behind the Candelabra (Watch on HBO Go & Amazon Video) starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Spoiler alert: I have a lot of issues with this beautifully lensed film.

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Reader Comments (10)

Behind the Candelabra. Spoiler alert: I have a lot of issues with this beautifully lensed film.

The fact that it manages to be both antiseptic and lurid at the same time?

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Thanks for this, Manuel! You could, also, argue that the relationship between Mildred and her daughter was one step away from culminating in hate-sex. I just feel like taking it too far, just for fun, and say that it was kind of a Halliwell-Orton relationship.

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

On it's own merits this is an accomplished piece of work but for me it's not a patch on the Crawford original despite the extended length and more fidelity to the book.

Kate's a great actress, surely in the long run a better actress than Joan Crawford but I think Crawford's is the stronger more focused take and that the larger canvas this film covers lessens the impact of the role.

Wood was fine but didn't knock me out as Veda, the casting of two actresses minimizes the impact of the role and neither actress can not possibly compete with the cancerous, psychopathic venality of Ann Blyth's pit viper in the original.

The film's attention to detail in the sets and clothes is impressive but it's missing that certain special something that made the first one compelling.

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

You name all these actresses at the opera while forgetting Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman!

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Thank God for Todd Haynes.

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

OMG /3rtful! I can't believe I forgot Pretty Woman!!

December 16, 2015 | Registered CommenterManuel Betancourt

Never saw the original film, but I remember giving up on this after the first episode when it first came out. I decided to revisit it this weekend (since I can't see Carol yet) and ended up watching the entire miniseries in one sitting. I don't know what changed for me, but none of the disinterest I felt the first time around was present in the second attempt. I really loved it and it may even be one of my favorite Winslet performances now.

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I hear opera scene and I just think of Mulholland Dr. But lots of things make me think of Mulholland Dr. lol

December 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I keep meaning to get around to seeing this... but every still and clip and trailer and poster and review makes it look so weirdly bland. Especially for a Haynes joint.

And that gif above of Winslet at the opera? Yeuch! Are we kidding here?

In fact what the hell happened to Winslet in the last decade? She used to be so primal and - I don't know how to put it - let's say, unrestrainable, but in the best possible sense of the word. Even in bland pap like Finding Neverland, she not only retained her dignity, she was downright compelling.

Then she peaked with Eternal Sunshine, and ever since then, it's the same skin-deep, table read-through, wind-up puppy-dog-eyes with the occasional arbitrary icy snap.

Even in Steve Jobs, I've no idea what people are seeing in her work. What half-proficient actress couldn't deliver exactly the same (capable, unintrusive, thoroughly uninspired) line readings? In fact, what half-proficient actress couldn't manage to all that and stick to just the one damn accent?

Purely from watching Winslet's body of work out of context, you'd think she won her Oscar in 2004 and just decided she can now rest on that forever. The same kind of 'blandifying' happened to Witherspoon (until Wild) and briefly to Theron too. It's eerie.

Anyway. I hereby promise to quit bitching and give at least Mildred Pierce a proper shot.

December 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

goran: Well, she did actually stick to the accent, even when it seemed like it was slipping. Her accent wasn't straight Polish, it was THAT SPECIFIC WOMAN'S accent.

December 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

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