B&W, 1998, 94 mins. / Directed by Kevin DiNovis / Starring Peter Pryor, Kevin DeNovis, Jason Centeno, Elizabeth Casey / Music by Christopher Matarazzo / Cinematography by Jonathan Kovel

Format: DVD - First Run (MSRP $29.99) / Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0

Nothing earmarks an art film like a sick captivity drama. From Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! to Buffalo '66, actors have been reenacting the Stockholm syndrome as black comedy romantic fodder for a couple of decades, with typically touchy results for most viewers. However, Surrender Dorothy, sort of a Singapore Sling for the gay festival set, belongs in its own depraved little realm. Both well made and intensely unsettling, this study in gender manipulation and personality suppression is not for the easily offended but makes for a great walk on the cinematic wild side.

Antisocial waiter Trevor (Peter Pryor) lives an unfulfilled life in which he can't get a decent date and gratifies himself with the aid of silverware used by female patrons. His friend, a shady drug dealer named Denis (Jason Centeno), keeps Trevor hooked up and remains one of his few solid contacts to humanity, however squalid that may be. Denis' roommate, Lahn (played by the obviously fearless director, Kevin DiNovis), shows up on Trevor's doorstep after robbing Denis and asks for shelter. Though both men claim to be straight, they're soon acting out a twisted domestic melodrama of abuse and sexual gratification, with Trevor insisting that Lahn perform the role of his dream girl, "Dorothy" (who, judging from Trevor's preferred fetish attire, stems from a severe Wizard of Oz complex). Before you know, female hormones, drag, bitch slapping, and other niceties enter the picture, leading to the grand oblique finale in which... well, you'll just have to see it for yourself, but it's not pretty.

Many directors have taken the leads in their own films, with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Fox and His Friends) and Bruce LaBruce (Super 8 1/2, etc.) often taking top honors for the most daring examples. DiNovis easily enters this select company with his unorthodox character study, which defies genre classification; it's not really a comedy, a horror film, a drama, or an "alternative lifestyles" film, though it has elements of all these. Instead the grimy black and white cinematography coupled with some surprisingly fluid, mobile camerawork creates a chilling atmosphere all its own, where nervous laughter and gasps of horror usually alternate from the disbelieving viewer. The performers are all excellent, and DiNovis is obviously a smart, savvy storyteller who knows how to operate his narrative on several levels. His commentary track on the DVD backs up this impression, as he reasons out the jolting final shot by explaining his goal to build the film on an intellectual and theoretical level rather than allowing the audience a kind of physical release. This pent up tension really simmers throughout the entire film, with its European sense of accumulating angst and a wry fatalism which finds the characters either living out their idealized fantasies or descending into pure hell, depending on your point of view.

Given the limitations of the cinematography, the DVD of Surrender Dorothy (whose title is either a direct lift from Wizard or a skewed reference to Rosanna Arquette's wedding night recollection in Scorsese's After Hours) looks quite good for a scrappy indie project. The anamorphic enhancement probably doesn't add much in the way of detail, but the enhanced grain of the presentation actually works in the film's favor as it gives more of an organic texture to the monochromatic sets and stylized lighting schemes.

DiNovis is joined on the commentary track by producer Richard Goldberg, and the two have a lot to say about giving birth to this difficult project and seem justifiably proud of what they accomplished. Extras include some truly bizarre behind the scenes footage (in which DiNovis directs his film in a manner not unlike Ed Wood, Jr.), the nicely edited theatrical trailer, bios for DiNovis and Pryor, and some production notes essentially summarizing what was covered in the commentary. It's a solid package for a startling title worthy of discovery, though it may not make the best date movie...

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