You can forget Zombie Strippers (2008), nothing quite equals Dyn Amo (1972) as a burlesque horror show! I caught a screening of the movie on Thursday 7 May 2009 as part of the BFI’s Stephen Dwoskin season. The film is disturbing and quite a few audience members walked out before the end. I lost count of how many once the numbers reached double figures.
Although the Dwoskin movie is based on the play Dynamo by Chris Wilkinson, the original narrative is stripped away and the focus of the film is the emotions of the cast; these are mainly revealed through facial close-ups. In the earlier parts of the movie, three actresses playing strippers run half-heartedly through their routines. They are not meant to be convincing or arousing. It is the director’s intention that they are seen as what they are, actresses standing in for strippers, rather than genuine burlesque artists. The first girl (Jenny Runacre) strips to three pop tunes, but her act and this music is interrupted by the film titles (which are accompanied by an ambient Gavin Bryars soundtrack). Bryars then provides the deliberately inappropriate music to which a second girl (Pat Ford) strips with the assistance of a punter (John Grillo). A third desultory burlesque routine is performed by Catherine Kessler, once again to incidental music by Bryars. The constantly flowing camerawork and cutting was very trippy and made me lose all sense of time. Adding to these psychedelic effects were the exaggerated pouts of the actresses pretending to be strippers, who had an androgynous appearance thanks to both their moves and bad make-up. At times they looked remarkably similar to second-rate male rock singers like Mick Jagger and David Johansen.
The introduction of a fourth girl, Linda Marlowe, was the cue for Dwoskin’s trade mark visual sadism to really kick in. Marlowe was made-up to look prettier than the previous three actresses, so obviously something ‘bad’ was going to happen to her. Four males with wonderful early seventies hair (including some truly groovy sideburns) and clothes, proceeded to strip, torture and rape Marlowe. This was done at great length and very slowly, with the camera playing a leading role in the rape. Marlowe was blindfolded, gagged and bound with red and blue strips of material, that sometimes matched – at other times contrasted – with the clothes worn by the male actors. Despite its colour-coded visual beauty, this sequence was extremely unpleasant to watch; so I wasn’t surprised it caused some audience members to get up from their seats and walk out. As the sequence progressed, the Bryars soundtrack became increasingly industrial in tone. Marlowe’s onscreen rape and torture was followed by a long shot of her twitching face in extreme close-up; as I’ve said, I lose all sense of time watching Dwoskin films, I’ve seen this close-up described as lasting 30 minutes, but it felt shorter to me. That said, it sent yet more audience members scurrying home, while one of those who stayed complained at its conclusion that it was the longest close-up in the history of cinema. Dwoskin’s depiction of women is widely viewed as problematic and I certainly find it unpleasant at times. He aims for an alienation effect and he is perhaps too successful at this.
After eventually pulling back from the close-up of Marlowe’s face, Dwoskin cut to a shot of the actress in a crucifixion pose, with his four male actors arranged in front of her brandishing burning sparklers. Aside from Grillo who I’ve already mentioned, the other male players were Derek Paget, Andrew Carr and Malcolm Kaye. Dwoskin is an amazing film-maker, and at the end of Dyn Amo I found it hard to believe I’d sat through a two hour film. The time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. While Dyn Amo is available on DVD, to get its full visceral effect you really do need to see it in a cinema. On the night I went, there was not only an introduction from Jackie Holt, but Linda Marlowe sat right in front of me. It was reassuring to see Marlowe hadn’t been permanently traumatised by appearing in Dyn Amo; she was alive and well and looked very sprightly for someone in their late-sixties.
When the film finished, one of Marlowe’s friends asked her if she found it difficult watching herself in Dyn Amo. She replied that her younger self was so different to how she is now, that it was like watching someone else. She quickly became very animated talking about the film, and eventually an usher had to come into the theatre and chuck Marlowe and her companions out; alongside the odd eavesdropper on their conversation, including yours truly. Before we were thrown out, Marlowe explained that in the original stage version of the film, the rape and torture scenes formed part of a psychological interrogation; while during the long close up that followed, her character talked obsessively about her life. Dwoskin, of course, had eliminated virtually all the dialogue from the original work!
The Dwoskin season at the BFI continues until the end of May, so there is still plenty of time to catch some of it, if you haven’t done so already.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!