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Todd Solondz (born October 15 1959 in Newark, New Jerseymarker) is an Americanmarker screenwriter and independent film director known for his style of dark, thought-provoking, socially conscious satire. Solondz has been critically acclaimed for his examination of the "dark underbelly of middle class American suburbia", a reflection of his own background in New Jersey. His work includes the cult hit Welcome to the Dollhouse, the award-winning Happiness, Storytelling, and Palindromes.

Biography

Solondz originally considered becoming a rabbi, but eventually set his sights on writing screenplays. He wrote several while working as a delivery boy for the Writers Guild of America.

Solondz earned his undergraduate degree in English from Yalemarker and attended New York Universitymarker's (NYU) Graduate MFA Program in film and television, but did not complete a degree.

During the early 1990s, Solondz worked as a teacher of English as a second language to newly arrived Russianmarker immigrants at NYANA, a refugee resettlement agency in New York City (his co-workers there included Alexander Gelman, Gary Shteyngart and Roman Turovsky), an experience he has described as deeply rewarding. (In his film Happiness, the character Joy finds a similar experience to be traumatic.)

Solondz is currently an adjunct professor at New York Universitymarker's Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore, where he teaches writing and aesthetics.

Early films

One of Solondz's short films was Schatt's Last Shot, made in 1985. The title character is a high schooler who wants to get into Stanfordmarker, but his gym teacher hates him. The teacher fails him because he cannot make a shot in basketball. He has no luck with the girl of his dreams, but he wishes he was more like the coach, whom he challenges to a game of one-on-one. The short has seldom been seen outside film schools.

In 1989 Solondz wrote and directed Fear, Anxiety & Depression, an episodic comedy about fledgling playwright Ira (played by Solondz) and his frustrating interactions with the opposite sex. The film's fractured narrative structure and casual relationship with the "fourth wall" are somewhat reminiscent of Annie Hall, and the neurotic, bespectacled protagonist uncomfortable with attainable love is reminiscent of many of Woody Allen's roles. As Solondz's approach to writing changed considerably after this film, it bears little resemblance in tone or style to his later work, except in its bleak world outlook and the way in which it draws humor from grim situations such as suicide attempts and sexual assault. Characterizations are broader than viewers of Solondz's more deadpan later films might expect. The film contains several musical interludes, including three songs written for the film. Stanley Tucci appears in one of his earliest roles as an old, disliked acquaintance of Ira's, who takes up playwriting on a whim and instantly becomes the toast of Off-Broadway. The studio's second-guessing soured Solondz on the film and directing in general; as a result, the film rarely appears on Solondz's official filmography.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

The frustrations of his first feature led Solondz to swear off further involvement with the industry. More than five years later, an attorney friend urged Solondz to give filmmaking another go, and promised to partially finance any project Solondz came up with. The end result was 1995's Welcome to the Dollhouse, which went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The dark comedy follows the travails of Dawn Wiener, a bespectacled, toothy, and shy 7th-grade girl who is mercilessly teased at school and treated to alternating contempt and neglect at home. It was distinct from most earlier films about adolescent abuse due to its complex characterization. It gave a sympathetic portrayal of the bully antagonist Brandon, and its depiction of Dawn, the ostensible protagonist and victim of the story, showed her as deeply flawed and sometimes cruel. The film was a major success among critics, and a moderate success at the box office. It was a festival hit, with screenings all over the world, paving the way for a film which would attract more attention.

Happiness

Solondz's next piece was Happiness (1998), a highly controversial film due to the themes explored in it, which range from rape, pedophilia, suicide and murder to a bizarre sexual phone caller. After the original distributor October Films dropped it, the film was scooped up by Good Machine Releasing. The movie received numerous awards, including International Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker, and yielded strong critical praise for Solondz.

Storytelling and Palindromes

In 2001, Solondz released Storytelling, which premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. It is a film separated into two parts, entitled "Fiction" and "Nonfiction." The two stories share two thematic elements, but deal with each in an autonomous manner. This format was utilized because the filmmaker wanted to "find a fresh structure, a fresh form and a different way of tackling what may be identical geographical material." When Solondz initially presented the film to the MPAA, he was told that if he wished to receive a rating other than NC-17, he would have to remove a scene of explicit sex involving a white female and a black male. However, due to a clause in Solondz's contract, the censors were forced to admit the scene with a bright red box covering the actors. "For me it's a great victory to have a big red box, the first red box in any studio feature [...] it's right in your face: You're not allowed to see this in our country." Solondz did, however, remove a portion of the film (which has variously been reported as either a subplot of the second story, or a third story entirely) which contained a scene of sensuality involving two male actors (one of whom was James Van Der Beek).

Solondz's next film, Palindromes (2004), raised the eyebrows of many pundits and reviewers due to its themes of child molestation, statutory rape and abortion. The film was financed largely by the filmmaker. Like all of Solondz's previous films, Palindromes is set in suburban New Jersey. It was released unrated in the US.

Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime (formerly known as "Forgiveness") is Todd Solondz's newest film, produced by John Hart at Evamere Entertainment. The new film was said by Solondz in an interview at Cannesmarker to be a companion piece to Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse. It has also been described as "A Dark Comedy of Sexual Obsession." It features Ally Sheedy, Renee Taylor, Paul Reubens, Chane't Johnson, Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Michael Lerner, Michael Kenneth Williams, Rich Pecci, Charlotte Rampling, Allison Janney and Chris Marquette; with a budget of $4.5 million.

The film debuted at the Toronto Film Festivalmarker in September 2009, and has been competing for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in August-September 2009, obtaining the Osella for Best Screenplay award. The basic changes in the life of main characters have been known since at least August 2009.

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