Director Todd Haynes and producer Christine Vachon have been working together for 20 years under her production company, Killer Films. Fans and critics celebrate their partnership for their focus on gay and lesbian themes, seen in flicks including Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven, and their latest, Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Carol is based on The Price of Salt, the second book by Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Strangers on a Train). The story examines the growing romance between a young department store clerk (Mara) who falls for an older, but married, high-society woman (Blanchett) who she meets at her store.
“It's the kind of material that attracts very strong actresses, which is a big part of how you get your movie made,” says Vachon.
"[We're] at a time where I would say more adventurous gay and lesbian themed films are being produced, so there's a newly defined audience for that work,” Haynes adds.
One of the exquisite aspects of the film is how it looks. The costumes, sets, and overall production design provide sensory overload in the best possible way. Haynes and his cinematographer, Edward Lachman, were inspired by Saul Leiter, a photographer who snapped bustling cities images and quiet portraits of women in the '40s and '50s.
“His work really stands on its own, and it’s unlike [any other] stuff being shot in that time and place," says Haynes. "It’s so abstract, and favors imperfect views of the city; how much more they tell you.”
Another contributing factor to Carol’s 1950's look was the decision to film in Super 16mm instead of using the now standard digital camera. “The technology these days — in terms of lenses, in terms of vast speed stocks — are so sophisticated that the grain element goes away,” says Haynes. It’s that grainy element that many film buffs miss from so many contemporary films.
Haynes and Vachon have worked with some of today's best leading ladies, including Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, and Cate Blanchett. Carol star Rooney Mara is certainly on target to have a similar career trajectory.
“I feel like what they bring is a level of complexity," says Haynes of his leading ladies. "It makes us all want to do something extremely special and unique. In doing so, they find themselves in unexpected conditions. That’s challenging to them. They’re artists. They’re not just these amazing movie stars; they want to stretch themselves, challenge themselves, and find themselves in unknown territory.”
Carol was recently nominated for multiple Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards, including one for Haynes. It opens in theaters on Christmas Day.