Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Dottie Gets Spanked (1993): Six Year Olds Have Fetishes Too

Anyone who has nursed a childhood obsession with a television program (and who hasn't devoutly wished at one time to escape childhood growing pains by diving through the tube into a magical realm?) should find a haunting resonance in Todd Haynes's ( director of Velvet Goldmine, Sonic Youth's Goo music video, I'm not there, etc.) half-hour film, Dottie Gets Spanked.

Dottie Gets Spanked observes the world through the eyes of a shy 6-year-old boy  in 1960's suburban New York. Steven has a fixation on a Lucy Ball-like television star named Dottie Frank. His fervor is so all-consuming that his parents are beginning to worry.
Sitting inches from the television set, Steven scrawls scenarios starring his idol in a drawing book. 


At night, Dottie's zany misadventures become entangled with his own dreams. Even after Steven wins a contest to visit the New York studio where the program is shot and discovers that the actress playing Dottie is a tough professional cookie who is not like her character, he persists in his obsession.


During the episode under way in the studio, Dottie is given a comic spanking. And the image becomes confused in his own mind with his stern father's tacit threats of corporal punishment. It all comes together in a dream sequence in which spanking assumes a mythical import, and shame and desire become intermingled. 
 One could say it's an excellent depiction of a young boy's Oedipal phantasies and desires over his father.

A similar sense of an oppressive, regimented society cruelly bearing down on a sensitive individual infused Haynes's films Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and Poison. The most daring sections of the film are its dream sequences, in which the director tries to go beyond surrealistic symbolism and evoke actual dreams.

The film recalls Haynes’ interest in sexuality as well the theme of repression in the family home that would come in later films like Safe and Far from Heaven.

Swallow the pill:

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Capturing the Freedmans: Paedophile Clowns and Computer Geeks

First-time feature filmmaker Andrew Jarecki intended to make a lighthearted documentary about children's party clowns. But after poking into the family history of one of his subjects he found he had the makings of a very different story on his hands, a story of pedophilia, child pornography and terrible accusations of sexual abuse. Jarecki discovered that clown David "Silly Billy" Friedman was the oldest son of Arnold Friedman, a well-respected Long Island schoolteacher who, along with David's younger brother, Jesse, was arrested and charged with crimes ranging from possession of kiddie porn to child molestation. Arnold came under the scrutiny of postal inspectors in 1984 when he ordered child pornography from the Netherlands; three years later, the police raided his house. In addition to Arnold's sizable stash of smut featuring underage boys, they found a list of all the kids Arnold taught at home in an after-school computer class. Suspecting the worst, Nassau County's sex-crimes unit began aggressively interviewing Arnold's students and amassing allegations of sexual abuse that also implicated Arnold's 18-year-old son, Jesse. .

The charges against Arnold and Jesse Friedman escalated rapidly, suspicion turned to hysteria and the whole horrible story spilled into the national news. Through David, Jarecki not only gained access to Jesse and Arnold's wife Elaine (Arnold died in 1995), but the family's huge collection of home movies. They captured not only the Friedman pere et fils in happier times, mugging and capering for the cameras (performance and role playing appear to be a disquieting theme in the Friedman household), but also the terrible arguments that began tearing the family apart. The footage feels like a documentation of derranged family therapy sessions.  

Monster or victim? By switching from the public trial to the private, domestic life and family history of a convicted, and now dead, paedophile, 'Capturing the Friedmans' raises profound questions about prejudice and hysteria in our society, and about the ultimate inscrutability of the human soul in a mediated age. Quietly explosive and determinedly controversial...

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