Todd Haynes


After three decades of directing actresses including Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore in their defining roles, Todd Haynes finds himself amazed by deaf 14-year-old Millicent Simmonds

Portrait of Todd by  Ellie Smith

Portrait of Todd by Ellie Smith

Todd Haynes has been living in the past for some time. Each of his films – from Velvet Goldmine to I'm Not There to the sublime Carol – has been set in earlier periods and made using cinematic techniques from those eras. His most recent film Wonderstruck splits its time between pasts, telling an intertwined story of two deaf children in the 1920s and 1970s as they each run away from home and experience New York's frenzied enchantment.

Wonderstruck nods towards silent movies and 1970s American cinema. Are you interested in capturing something about how the world was at certain points, or is it more what older films tell us? It varies. Speaking through the prism of film language is sometimes exclusively, almost academically what I'm trying to do: Far From Heaven was set in the late 1950s and was about what those films said about their own time through the artificial language of Technicolor melodramas. Wonderstruck is a little different in that I was thinking about the kids' subjectivity. I felt a messiness in the 1970s. You see images of children from that time and their hair is in their face! Particularly there was a sense of the tactile in their creative interests. I think of Wonderstruck as what they're making with their hands. It feels handmade in that way, and going back and forth between the stories it's almost like pieces of a puzzle being pressed together by little dirty fingers. My films are always interpretations of cultural themes, stories, characters, real people, cinema. I never feel like I'm inventing new ideas, nor is that my intention – I'm just commenting on the culture as it exists and recombining components. I'm curating my films, maybe, much like these kids explore the idea of museum curating.


Is there a kinship between the job of film director and museum curator? You both locate different things, put them together and find the relationships between them. Absolutely. You're not just curating themes and references and in my case historical moments – selecting what is relevant from your research and films and popular culture – you're also putting together creative partnerships. Actors, cinematographers, costume designers, all of those elements are selected yet also have an autonomy. You may guide them but ultimately as a director you're letting something out of your control happen, and that's also the thing you want to capture, to let it in.

Until now you've collaborated mostly with adults, but much of the film is on the shoulders of Millicent Simmonds, a deaf 14-year-old. Did that affect how you worked? Every actor is different anyway. They bring their own personality, temperament, and in the case of professionals, their own training and approach to their work. The cliché that directing is really about casting is true: it's selecting that right person and providing them with confidence so they can take risks and do things that neither of you knew were possible. I know I have good instincts and I'm surrounded by people whose opinions I trust, but I've also been very lucky. With Millie there were unknowns on top of unknowns, but we followed our instincts and met this extraordinary kid. She has an understanding of the camera and the medium that you can't teach, that you can't direct out of anybody. I'm not sure how she knows just the right amount of information to express, or even what she looks like when she's performing. How many of us really know what we look like as we talk and emote? And she's a kid! It's a weird thing. Julianne Moore, who has that same understanding of the scale of the medium, would look at Millie on set and say wow, there's something remarkable here.

WS_D09-Millicent Simmons.jpg

There are few deaf characters in cinema, let alone stories about deaf people. Do you feel that in losing dialogue you also gain something in those complications of communication? It asks the audience, who will mostly be hearing viewers, to supplement information, to imagine what it's like to be without hearing but also to interpret things in ways they're not usually asked to. When I was 12, The Miracle Worker became a point of obsession for me. I know it was about Helen Keller as a phenomenon but it made me think about language. Initially she represents a rejection of social norms and law and language, a wilful postponing of entering the codes and terms of a society. That's fascinating when you're young. I think kids feel an affinity for deafness and blindness, for limits and novel ways of improvising how to communicate and express yourself. Limited abilities and freedoms and constraints are built into their status – they get it.

Wonderstruck is in UK cinemas 6 April 2018


Culture Monday

Anna Meredith, who plays the Simple Things festival this week. Portrait:  Lauren Maccabee  for  issue 33 . 

Anna Meredith, who plays the Simple Things festival this week. Portrait: Lauren Maccabee for issue 33

Another week, another opportunity to throw yourself into our cultural picks. From photography to film, music to MADE, there's masses on this week - the problem will probably be deciding where to start! Do let us know what you get up to, and if there is anything you think we really should be checking out ourselves...


Unveil’d Photography @ various venues, Exeter (20 to 23 October)

Helen Marten: Drunk Brown House @ Serpentine, London (until 20 November) 

Quentin Blake: Inside Stories @ National Museum Cardiff (until 20 November 2016)



Cambridge Film Festival @ various venues, Cambridge (20 to 27 October)

Aberdeen Film Festival @ various venues, Aberdeen (17 to 26 October) 



James Vincent McMorrow @ The Roundhouse, London (17 October) 

The Duke Spirit @ Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, London (17, 18, 19 & 20 October). Read our interview with Leila Moss in Oh Comely issue 31.

The Simple Things festival @ various venues, Bristol (22 and 23 October), featuring issue 33 interviewee Anna Meredith 

Slow Club @ Brighton, Bath, Leicester (20, 21, 22 October) 


Theatre & Comedy

Lost in the Stars @ Union Chapel, London (17 to 19 October) 

Bridget Christie: Because you demanded it @ Leicester Square Theatre, London (19 & 20 October)

Cathy Come Home @ Bristol, Southend, Luton (21, 22, 24 and 27 October) 



Undiscovered Islands @ Stanfords, London (19 October)

New Writing @ Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London (24 October) 



Bloomsbury Festival @ Bloomsbury, London (19 to 23 Oct)

MADE London Marylebone @ One Marylebone, London (20 to 23 October)

How To Hygge Festival @ The London EDITION, London (22 and 23 October) 

Battle of Ideas 2016 @ Barbican, London (22 & 23 October)


Show us where you've been and tell us what we should include in next week's round-up via our Twitter or Instagram.

Culture Monday

Georgia O’Keeffe,  Abstraction White Rose , 1927.  Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 (91.4 x 76.2). Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Gift of TheBurnett Foundation and Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, Abstraction White Rose, 1927.

Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 (91.4 x 76.2). Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Gift of TheBurnett Foundation and Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation ©Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

The nights are getting longer and the days cooler so even more good reason to throw yourself into all things cultural. To inspire you, here are our pick of events happening this week, ranging across art, film, music and books. One strong piece of advice, if you can get yourself to London - don't forget to visit the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition before it closes at the end of the month - as the curator told us in issue 30, it's a once in a generation chance to see the artist's work in Britain. Enjoy! 



Georgia O’Keeffe @ Tate Modern, London (Until 30 October). Read our interview with the exhibition's curator in issue 30

Jeff Koons @ Newport Street Gallery, London (until 16 October)

Lie of the Land @ Gallery 40, Brighton (until 22 October)

Girl Town @ St Margaret’s House, Bethnal Green, London (until 1 November)



Wild Beasts @ The Junction, Cambridge (10 October)

Sussex Songfest @ Snape Maltings (15 October), featuring issue 33 interviewee Anna Meredith. 

Hackney Wonderland @ various venues, Hackney, London (15 & 16 October)

Mystery Jets @ Coventry, Cambridge, Bath, London (11 to 15 October)



London Film Festival @ various venues, London (until 16 October). Our associate editor, Jason, recommends: 

  • American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold @ Odeon Leicester Square (11 October)
  • Certain Women, directed by Kelly Reichardt @ Embankment Garden Cinema and Hackney Picturehouse (12 & 13 October)
  • Prevenge, directed by Alice Lowe @ Haymarket and Picturehouse Central (13 & 16 October) 
  • A United Kingdom, directed by Amma Asante @ Curzon Mayfair (11 October)
  • Heal the Living, directed by Katell Quillévéré @ Prince Charles Cinema (14 October)

The Greasy Strangler @ general release (requires a strong stomach!)


London Literature Festival @ Southbank Centre, London (until 16 October)

Birmingham Literature Festival @ various venues, Birmingham (until 16 October)

Waterstones presents Vivienne Westwood @ St James’ Church, Piccadilly, London (14 October) 



Plant Life Drawing @ Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, London (11 October) 

Wool weaving workshop @ Wool BnB, De Beauvoir Town, London (12 October)


Show us where you've been and tell us what we should include in next week's round-up via our Twitter or Instagram.

Capturing the atmosphere

Meet Maya Beano, the photographer behind our main homepage and social media cover images this month. We were so taken with her haunting 35mm film photos after printing one of her pictures in issue 32 that thought we'd quiz her about her inspiration and process.

When did you first fall in love with film photography? 

I've always really loved cameras, but it was only a couple of years ago that I properly got into it. After shooting with a digital camera for five years, I decided to take up something different. 

What is it about 35mm film in particular that you love?

My friend's room was where I shot my first full 35mm film roll – a group of us were just sitting around eating chocolate on a chilly autumn day. I remember being enamoured with how real the photos from that day felt. There was something very therapeutic about that tangibility. I also see 35mm film as a stepping-stone towards exploring other film formats, like instant and medium format, which I will hopefully have time to do one day. 

What advice do you have for people who want to start exploring film photography?

I would encourage everyone not to shy away from experimenting. I think it's important to realise that no matter how good you get at film photography, it can still be full of surprises. Also, photograph what you love. 

What's been your proudest creative moment so far?

It's satisfying when I look back at a photo that captures the exact emotions I was feeling at the time of the shoot. I try to do this with all of my series, and when it works, it is a proud moment. 

What's your favourite photograph you've taken? (Can we see it?!)

Oh this is a difficult question, because I feel attached to different photos at different stages of my life. Right now, I'd go for the image above, that I took of my brother just before his birthday last December – it was the perfect winter sunset and the moon had just come out. I'm a big fan of peaceful moments. I could always do with more of those! 

Who inspires you?

Friends, family, kind people. Everyone I love.

What are you working on at the moment?

I've taken photos during a couple of road trips this summer, so I'm currently busy with those. Most of these were taken in Northern Ireland where my best friend grew up. I'm also going to the US later this year for both work and leisure, so I plan to make the most of my time there photography-wise.

Maya Beano is a UK-based photographer. You can see more of her photography series at, and her wanderings in film at

Notes on Blindness: In Conversation with James Spinney and Peter Middleton

Just days before the birth of his son, writer and theologian John Hull went blind. Desperate to make sense of a world that was rapidly evaporating, he filled hundreds of cassettes with daily musings on life, loss and love. These lay abandoned in his office for almost a quarter of a century, stacked from the ceiling to the floor, until James Spinney and Peter Middleton decided to turn them into a film.

Notes on Blindness is the stunning result. Shining a light in the darkness, it blurs the lines between drama and documentary and delves into the heart of what it means to see and be seen. 

I sat down with the duo to talk about paradoxical gifts, memory, and the challenge of making the invisible visible.

The making of the film has been an extensive journey for you both. When did you first decide to tell John's story through film? 

Peter: About five years ago, James and I were researching first person testimonies on sight loss and came across John’s book Touching the Rock, which is essentially a collection of diary entries he kept between 1983 and 1986, documenting his adjustment to blindness. We found these incredibly compelling, so we reached out. Within six months John sent us the original diary tapes and a box of c90 cassettes that hadn’t been played for nearly twenty five years. They’d been gathering dust. 

So, no one else had access to the tapes apart from immediate family? 

P: Even immediate family didn’t access them, really. John started the diaries as a sort of catharsis. He felt that if he didn’t try to probe blindness it would destroy him, and he didn’t want to burden his family with this pain. They were records of very private acts, and no one had listened in since they’d been transcribed for the publication of the book. 


How has his wife, Marilyn reacted to the film? There are some really vivid depictions of John's internal world. Did these allow her to access parts of her husband she may not have seen before?

James: Absolutely. John and Marilyn were incredibly supportive and open. They described the process as reopening a thirty year-old wound. They were newly married when John started keeping the diary. For Marilyn now, there’s an additional layer of complexity. John sadly died during the second week of filming, so it's a tribute to him. We always saw the project as a collaboration, and our interviews (with them) were a joint act of remembrance. 

The actors in the film lip-sync from the original audio material. Was there any method acting involved? It must have been difficult to portray blindness authentically as a sighted person…

P: It was very difficult, because as well as denying Dan's voice (Skinner, who plays John) we were also denying him his eyes. He lost all of his key faculties, in a way. But when we auditioned him he excelled at lip-synching, and he had this wondrous facial furnishing, that reminded us a lot of John's beard. We sent him audio, and instead of rehearsing he'd just play it over and over again to familiarise himself with the cadence of the voices. Then, on set, a playback engineer would count him in. 

J: I love how grandiose the term playback engineer sounds.

P: Yeah. In reality, we just had a guy sat in the corner with a laptop... 

J: On a surface level, blindness is one of the easiest things to imitate, because you can just close your eyes. But actually, it took John several years to stop himself from having a sighted person’s brain, to truly "become" blind. It was partly a neurological re-wiring over time, but it was also a conscious decision to no longer live in what he called the nostalgia of the visual world. What he initially saw as a loss became a simple process of change and, eventually, a paradoxical gift. 


I was really intrigued in how that manifested for John, actually. Like when he stops smiling because he can't see if his smiles are being returned, and feels suddenly exposed and conscious. 

J: Through the process of grieving his sighted life, John starts conceptualising what sighted experience is in itself. He loses eye contact, intimate glances, and smiles, but the account looks both ways. Back at what he has lost, and forwards to what he has yet to discover. 

P: His dreaming life was also so compelling. John continued dreaming after losing his sight and his mind had an incredibly active dreaming life. He dreamt of seeing his children’s faces, of being dragged down to the depths of the ocean, of biblical rain and floods... so we had this huge range of cinematic, vivid material to draw from and visualise. The film is designed as an entry-point to his story. 

Notes on Blindness is currently in UK cinemas nationwide. Several screenings will also feature a Virtual Reality experience that delves deeper into John's internal world. 

Further reading: Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness by John Hull, The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sachs

Interview with the writer-director of Green Room Jeremy Saulnier

Interview with the writer-director of Green Room Jeremy Saulnier

Like a thunderous punk song that's over before it's really begun, Green Room can be surmised in a single slight phrase: neo-Nazis versus punks. Jeremy Saulnier's siege horror concerns a struggling band who find themselves trapped in a far-right dive bar, trying to fend off a murderous gang led by an against-type Patrick Stewart. While Green Room is an unabashed, whippet-thin genre exercise, it has been patently crafted with a great deal of care: ahead of its release, we spoke to its thoughtful writer-director about making the film.

London lesbian and gay film festival

Friday marks the start of the BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, reliably one of the stronger of London’s many film festivals.

The significance of the Festival is that it exists both as a celebration of a community, as well as a cultural entity in its own right. There’s an unfortunate tendency to ghettoise queer filmmaking, and the Festival’s value derives from the range of work it shows not just to a LGBT community, but to a wider audience as well.

Highlights this year include special screenings of classics such as When Night is Falling and Mysterious Skin, to celebrate the Festival’s 25th anniversary; Resist Psychic Death, a lecture on “DIY cultural production for queer community building”; a discussion on feminist pornography, and novelist Sarah Waters in conversation. An adaptation of her excellent book The Night Watch is also being previewed.

The Festival’s gala opening film is Kaboom, written and directed by Gregg Araki. Its the story of a libidinous college student who somehow finds the time to uncover a conspiracy between his endless couplings. As a film Kaboom is profoundly stupid, but it’s difficult not to be charmed by it. It’s hard to hate a film that’s enjoying itself so much. The whole thing is effortlessly subversive and its lack of shame is gleeful.

Look out for our interview with Gregg Araki when the film is released nationwide in June. For now, more information is on the festivals website.