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Hailing “America’s crown prince of comic discomfort,” Film Society of Lincoln Center celebrated Todd Solondz with an advance screening of his new film, Dark Horse (part of the Indie Night series in early June)—and this video attempts to do the same. It is, I hope, the ultimate ode to the inimitable films of Todd Solondz. No director in the past three decades of American cinema has been as good at taking audiences where they don’t want to go as Solondz, who pokes at the ugliest of human behaviors and taps into an oozing vein of unexpected humor and pathos.
Watching all six of Solondz’s features prior to Dark Horse (including his debut, Fear, Anxiety and Depression), I was newly struck by how critical a role music plays in the work. From Welcome to the Dollhouse, with its suburban garage band’s off-kilter cover of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and Dawn Weiner’s harrowing rendition of her school’s fight song at the end, to Jared Harris’s surprisingly touching serenade of “You Light Up My Life” in Happiness down to Life During Wartime‘s haunting interlude where Joy sleepwalks through suburban Florida to the tune of Devendra Banhart’s “Heard Somebody Say,” some of Solondz’s funniest and most lyrical moments have come through music. And while Solondz has dismissed Fear, Anxiety and Depression as a failed work due to reported lack of creative control, arguably its finest assets are the abundant musical numbers that run throughout, mostly written by Solondz, that charge the film with a giddy (if deranged) Broadway energy. His penchant for music is most explicit in his NYU student short “Feelings” where his own nasal crooning gleefully tears a new one in the old lounge chestnut.
This video takes three musical instances from Solondz’s filmography to form a kind of mini-tribute concert for the man’s work. Each song has its own distinct mood reflecting one side of Solondz’s flms and sensibilities, from tentative, hopeful yearnings of happiness, to painfully awkward romantic expressions, to surreal visions of suburban devastation. Once these songs lined up, the best moments of Solondz’s body of work fell into their natural place among them. Still, many great moments and lines didn’t make the cut, but this final musical trilogy still offers a potent six minutes of happiness, Solondz style.
PS: Some folks I’ve shared the video with have noted that the second half stands on its own as a kind of fan video for the Devendra Banhart song “Heard Somebody Say” matched with Solondz’s film clips. So I’ve made a separate piece as an unofficial music video:
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Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor Keyframe, and contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.