Oct 5, 2013

Dyn Amo

Plagued with and ultimately crippled by polio at the mere age of 9, which forced him to become enslaved to an iron lung, having brutal muscle transplants and never really ever recovering, even being confined to crutches and later a wheelchair for most of his life, American avant-garde auteur/documentarian Stephen Dwoskin (Central Bazaar, Trying to Kiss the Moon) was a man that knew all too well what it meant to suffer and his strikingly somber yet exceedingly ethereal cinematic works, especially Dyn Amo (1973) aka Dynamo—an ominously onieric off-arthouse work voyeuristically depicting the physical and metaphysical degradation of four somnambulist-like strippers in a superlatively seedy yet strangely dreamy titty bar that would be the director’s first feature-length film—certainly demonstrate this in a marvelously macabre manner. Based on the stage play of the same name written by Chris Wilkinson and even featuring the same actors that appeared in the live performances of the play, Dyn Amo is a minimalistic yet mesmerizing piece of celestial celluloid misery and master-slave relationships that depicts the self-imposed misery of women who sell their bodies, soul, and dignity for money and the sort of patently pathetic, perverse, and sometimes pernicious men that pay money for a peek at these lost ladies’ lecherous souls. Like an all-nighter at a Gothic strip joint co-owned by Werner Schroeter and David Lynch where only the most swarthy untermensch degenerates in town are invited, Dyn Amo is an absolutely aesthetically dynamite, if not daunting and dreary, depiction of human sexuality, primitive sexual politics, and loneliness in its most pathetically capitalist form where not only clothes are stripped, but also the soul of not just the performers, but the viewer as well in a pseudo-salacious cinematic work that acts as the closest thing to avant-garde anti-pornography. Featuring an immaculate synth-driven ethereal soundtrack by eclectic English composer Gavin Bryars that eerily complements every single second of the film, Dyn Amo is a cinematic work that is not big on plot (it has none!), but instead wallows in atmosphere of reckless pseudo-wantoness where god's most lonely and desperate women make a miserable living by fulfilling the dubious fantasies of erratic erotomaniacs who nonsensically think that their money buys them genuine love and adoration, thereupon inevitably acting upon such ill illusions in a most shuddersome yet strangely and innately intimate manner that screams perturbing psychology pathology.  A rare cinematic work that forces the viewer to be an active participant as opposed to a mere spectator due to its literally in-your-face depiction of female agony and despondency, Dyn Amo reminds the viewer of the power of cinema as an unparalleled, nuanced language without words that can express universal truths through mere physical gestures.

 Not knowing what I was jumping into (I previously viewed director Stephen Dwoskin’s documentary Pain Is… (1997), but it could not have prepared me for this film), I turned on Dyn Amo while in a somewhat sleepy mood and was instantly magnetized to the screen as I viewed a statuesque Nordic stripper dancing in a rather robotic manner while jerking-off a chain as if bored by the routine of her 'job' but also as if she had blocked out any potential for emotion between herself and other human beings, which is probably one of the most imperative tricks of the trade for strippers, hookers, porn stars, and other so-called ‘sex workers.’ For the first hour or so of Dyn Amo (the film clocks in at just under two hours), one mostly just sees a number of close-ups of the blatantly sad and objectified strippers who, as demonstrated by their blank stares and curiously mundane gestures, seem to be experiencing a sort of self-imposed out-of-body experience so as to get through their jaded ‘night job’ without going completely insane. Every once in a while, the viewer gets a glance of the more than demanding audience at the strip joint, which is mostly comprised of sleazebag types with greasy black hair who sport dark sunglasses, assumedly to hide their sickening stares as they swoon and fawn over women that would never give them the time of day in real life, thus the club offers them a contrived forbidden pleasure so as to temporarily appease their discernibly fierce fetishism. Of course, as Dyn Amo progresses, the sunglasses-adorned spectators, in their deluded erotomania, begin to take a more aggressive role as 'active' audience members, eventually joining the strippers back stage and then tying them up in bondage and completely humiliating and degrading them, with tears and terror eventually becoming quite apparent on one of the woman’s faces in an overwhelming scene without cuts (Dyn Amo has few noticeable cuts, giving it the semblance that it was shot in real-time with one mere take) that tests the filmgoer's ability to live vicariously through the misery of a nameless woman who never speaks a word, but wears her perturbing pangs of pain on her unclad sleeve. One of the sadistic spectators even goes so far as blaming the stripper for his perversions and guilt for having said perversions, hostilely yelling at her, “You stupid bitch…virgin murderer…whore…hussy…,” as if it is his god given right as a pathetic patron of perversity. After being bound for displeasure, one of the strippers is featured in an extended face close-up, sobbing with a most melancholy facial expression and moving her mouth without saying a single world, as if pleading to be put out of her misery. In the end, one of the unclad strippers is striking a heretical allegorical pose as if crucified like Jesus Christ while her patron/persecutors stand around her as if they are her executioners. 

 Featuring a song by The Rolling States set to a cowgirl-style stripper towards the beginning of the film, Dyn Amo is certainly a film of its time in terms of its uniquely unadulterated aesthetic and avant-garde experimental style, yet its overall message regarding the degradation of woman has only become all the more relevant since its release, especially considering we live in a sad, sexually dysfunctional society that includes sexual innuendos in children’s films and expects grown women to have to shave their naughty bits in order to resemble prepubescent girls. Somewhat kitschy and campy in aesthetic but anything but humorous, Dyn Amos—with its meta-voyeuristic camera angles and decidedly decadent yet dreamy sets—is a film that features socially conscious scopophilia and static dead time reminiscent of Paul Morrissey and the tasty and aesthetically titillating operatic high-camp tableaux of Germanic auteur filmmakers like Werner Schroeter, Daniel Schmid and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. A singular celluloid work that will paradoxically appeal to both morbid male sadists and pissed feminists but also chivalrous empathetic men and debauched female masochists, Dyn Amo is a rare avant-garde experiment of its time that has aged quite gracefully, which in part has to do with its universal theme of female debasement and the males that love to debase them, but also due to its intensely idiosyncratic style that reminds the viewer of the seeming limitlessness of cinema as a means of artistic expression. In a review from 1972 written by female film critic Ros Spain (who later worked as a location manage on Dwoskin’s work Central Bazaar (1976)) for Cinema Rising regarding Dyn Amo and its effect on her personally as a woman, “The film, especially towards the end, is very harrowing. The camera persistently strips each girl both physically and emotionally, and in sometimes violent ways; as a woman, l found the implication of my sex's frailty and the film's denial of female will and sex-drive disturbing,” thus demonstrating the absurdity of feminism on a real and practical level where the shackles of social-engineering are ‘stripped’ and humans revert back to their innate instincts. Despite being Dwoskin’s first feature-length work, Dyn Amo is also easily the greatest film the disabled director ever made as a work that is every bit as fetishistic and preternatural in its form and direction as the curious characters featured in it. If you’re looking for a post-silent era flick that is big on atmosphere to the point of being fiercely foreboding like the great films of German expressionism, but set in the sort of sinister cinematic women-in-trouble realm typical of David Lynch, you will never find a film quite like Dyn Amo, an odious yet otherworldly celluloid ode to the warped women who are willing to sell themselves to survive and the meager men that are more than willing to exploit these lost ladies' rather undesirable and unfortunate circumstances.

-Ty E

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