Written and directed by Todd Haynes, Dottie Gets Spanked is 28-minute short film about a shy six-year old boy becoming fascinated by the world of spanking and sadomasochism. When he fantasies about having his favorite TV star being spanked, his reality becomes blurred into his new obsession. 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. The result is a fascinating yet strange short film from Todd Haynes.
It’s early 1960s America as Steven Gale (J. Evan Bonifant) is a fan of The Dottie Show that stars a woman named Dottie Frank (Julie Halston) and a man playing her husband (Adam Arkin). Steven’s obsession with Dottie is so big that when he sees her on the cover of a magazine with a contest to meet her. He signs up with the help of his mother (Barbara Garrick) though his father (Robert Pall) is appalled by the obsession. Upset, Steven dreams about being on The Dottie Show along with a man spanking a schoolgirl (Ashley Chapman) he knows. While he endures the taunting of kids from school about the show, Steve gets a big surprise when he wins the contest.
He goes to New York City from New Jersey to the studio where the show is being made. He meets the actor who plays Dottie’s husband and the real Dottie, who looks and acts nothing like her TV persona. Still, Steven was excited as he gave her his book of drawings. During a rehearsal for the show, Steven sees Dottie gets spanked which transfixes his mind as it led him to create more drawings. Yet, his obsession is increased as his parents become concerned which leads to another dream that ends up becoming a big moment in his life.
The short is a coming of age tale of sorts about a boy’s sudden infatuation with spanking and the object of desire he finds in a TV star named Dottie. What happens is that this weird fascination with this character and spanking would lead to a moment that would impact the boy and inspire his art. Haynes’ story is partially based on his own childhood as the short has a nod of sorts to I Love Lucy. Still, it’s a story that has Haynes explore the themes of repression in the family as the boy feels slighted by his father.
Haynes’ direction is very stylish as he goes for a mixture of 1950s TV with a more realistic yet colorful style of film. He also creates something that is very personal in the direction from the way he shoots the film from a boy’s perspective. Even as the TV and dream sequences are in black-and-white to play off the boy’s imaginative world. Still, Haynes creates an engrossing yet hypnotic short that plays to his themes as well as bringing humor to his themes.
Cinematographer Maryse Alberti does an excellent job with the film‘s colorful photography in creating a lush yet realistic feel to the scenes shot on location in New Jersey and New York City. Alberti’s work in the dream and TV scenes are also dazzling for the black-and-white sequences created. Editor James Lyons does a fantastic job with the editing in creating rhythmic cuts to gauge into the protagonist’s reaction along with a mesh of fast cuts to play into the kid’s dream. Production designer Therese DePrez, along with set decorator Scott Pask and art director Dan Appel, does a wonderful job with the art direction from the set that Steven visits to the dream world that surreal. Costume designer Eugenie Bafaloukos does an amazing job with the early 1960s period costumes to play up to the times along with the dream world where Steven wears a big crown.
Sound designer Brendan Dolan does a very good job with the sound from the hollowed yet busy world of the TV studio to the atmosphere at the park where Steven is at where he watches kids play. The film’s music by James Bennett is also good with its somber score to play up Steven’s melancholia along with some upbeat piano pieces to play up to his excitement.
The casting by Steve Jacobs is phenomenal with an array of memorable small performances from Robert Pall as Steven’s father, Lindsay Rodio as a girl who makes fun of Steven, and Ashley Chapman as a schoolgirl who loves to watch the same show that Steven does. Adam Arkin is very good as an actor playing Dottie’s husband while Julie Halston is funny as the woman who plays Dottie while bringing complexity to the actress who is really in control of the show. Barbara Garrick is wonderful as Steven’s sympathetic yet supportive mother who helps him reach his dreams to meet Dottie. Finally, there’s J. Evan Bonifant in an excellent role as Steven. A talented but shy kid who adores Dottie while being transfixed by spanking as it helps his art.
Dottie Gets Spanked is an excellent yet stylish short film from Todd Haynes. Fans of Haynes’ work must see this for his presentation of early 1960s culture that would play up to later projects like Far from Heaven and Mildred Pierce. It’s also a strangely accessible film that has a weird sense of innocence that works about the idea of spanking. In the end, Dottie Gets Spanked is a funny yet playful short from Todd Haynes.
Todd Haynes Films: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story - Poison - Safe - Velvet Goldmine - Far from Heaven - I’m Not There - Mildred Pierce (TV miniseries) - Carol - Wonderstruck - Dark Waters (2019 film) - The Velvet Underground - The Auteurs #3: Todd Haynes
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