Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dottie Gets Spanked

Dottie Gets Spanked is a short film that Todd Haynes did between Poison and Safe. It's not his strongest work, but it's a really interesting piece that contains a lot of the themes and motifs that inform his later work.

One of the things I love about Todd's stuff is that all of them take place in a slightly skewed version of our reality, making the ordinary into something alien and disquieting. This is most notable in his early stuff, Safe and Poison both make you slightly uncomfortable, and Dottie Gets Spanked also has that slightly off feeling. It's a film that you don't enjoy in the typical way. Dottie feels very similar to Poison, and could probably even have been incorporated as another piece of that film. However, it's also clearer and more well developed than most of the stuff in Poison, and a bit more thematically dense.

I listened to the commentary included on the DVD, and that illuminates a lot of the motivation behind the film. The main character, Steven, is a stand in for Haynes, who went through most of the stuff that he does. Nearly all of Todd's films are concerned with the way that the typical suburban family structure is constricting and damages those in it, be it Karen Carpenter's cruel parents or Cathy's snarky neighbors in Safe.

Almost all of Haynes' films are concerned with troubled female protagonist, a tendency that first emerged in his childhood drawings, much like Steven's. What makes this film interesting is that even though the film is essentially about Dottie, it's the only Haynes film that addresses the suburban family from the perspective of the male child. Steven's mother may feel the same constriction that pains Cathy or Carol, but that's not what the film is about, it's about the development of this kid.

I admire Haynes for taking on tough subject matter. It's shaky territory dealing with childhood conceptions of sexuality, but this film pulls it off, and the dream sequences present things from Steven's uninformed point of view, while at the same time showing us the tendencies that will most likely inform his later life. He knows that his attraction to spanking is something to be ashamed of, but at the same time, he can't let go of it. This sentiment is eloquently summed up in the finale, when Steven buries the picture, with the assumption that eventually he'll return to that fantasy.

The film is very economical in the way it sets things up, to some extent, Haynes uses archetypes, the gruff father who's not able to understand, the overindulgent mother, but I don't think that hurts the work. Like Lynch, he takes this somewhat cliched suburban setting and then peels back its layers to reveal the dysfunction beneath.

The dream sequences reminded me of the scenes in Natural Born Killers which also used the laughtrack as an ironic counterpoint to onscreen action. To some extent, I feel like this sort of postmodernism is a bit passe. It's been done so much that it's not as shocking as it might have been back in 1993.

This doesn't hold back Dottie from being a really successful, haunting film. Haynes is a consistently intriuging and challenging filmmaker and I'm really looking forward to his upcoming Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan.

The Dottie DVD also included a short that Haynes produced back in the 80s called He Was Once. It's a dark parody of 60s TV show Davie and Goliath. This one suffers much more from the fact that this ironic deconstruction has been done a lot in recent years. However, it's still out there enough that it works.

I haven't seen the original material, so I'm probably not the best audience for the film, however, I'm aware of the basics, it's a moralistic claymation story of a boy and his talking dog. The first notable thing about this film is the great makeup and set design, which is designed to mimic the claymation aesthetic of the show. The actors move in an odd way, which contributes to the illusion. It's a very good looking movie.

It's tough to evaluate the film without having seen the show. I'd imagine the belt stuff is drawing out something implicit in the original material, that his parents don't believe Davie's story. Here it's turned into a sadomasochistic ritual which serves as the primary form of communication between family members. The thing that makes the film work is that it's not played as something jokey, the characters behave in an exaggerated way, but events are given gravity and played seriously.

The two dream sequences are fantastic, really dark interesting stuff. It's a good companion piece to Dottie because both explore the way that children rebel against their powerlessness in relationships with their parents. So, this was a cool film, definitely worth seeing.


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I think that it is so important to know,I feel so interesting in the information because listened to the commentary included on the DVD, and that illuminates a lot of the motivation behind the film. I would like to be a famous film critic!!!22dd

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