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January 25, 2019

Slamdance 2019: Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity from American Popular Culture

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Nicole Brending - 2018
Missing & Exploited Films

The title suggests a possible #metoo lecture, followed by some high minded hectoring until the audience is sufficiently woke. There is a serious message here, but hopefully it won't be lost in this highly satirical look at the machinery of celebrity. And while celebrity culture in general is poked at, it's the selling and sexualization of young females that is at the heart of Brending's film. Working with puppets, the path has been set by Todd Haynes' Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story and Parker and Stone's South Park series as well as their features. Brending fearlessly goes further, some of the most tasteless bits are also the funniest.

Without giving to much away, the story is about Junie Spoon, pushed by her stage mother into show business. Junie starts off as a child actor before evolving into a pop star. The song lyrics can barely be described as double entendres. Junie is not in control of her life, taken advantage of financially and sexually. As if to emphasize the point, the strings controlling Junie are always visible. Junie's life totally becomes awry due to a fan's total identification with Junie.

With the exception of a certain President of the United States and Diane Sawyer, everyone named here is fictional. Biographical elements used for Junie and others may be familiar in association with several pop stars from the Nineties. The stars spout out the expected cliches in interviews, professing innocence regarding song lyrics, and publicly declaring their religious convictions. There are parodies of music videos and that cable television staple centered on purchases of rare items. I'm not going to name anyone who gets trashed, literally or figuratively. And I'm not going to give away any details because I don't want to spoil anyone's shock, surprise or guilty laughter.

Not quite a one woman show here, but Brending created all the puppets and animated them over the course of a year. She also provided most of the voices, and wrote the song lyrics. The puppet are rough hewn, and much of the humor is as subtle as a brick tossed through a window. This issues brought not only about the exploitation of women in entertainment, but also female agency and identification will inspire debate. I may be showing my age here, but while I'm use to a long history of transgressive humor from male artists, there are moments in Dollhouse that make Trey Parker and Matt Stone look almost refined. I can't wait to see what Ms. Brending has for the future.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 25, 2019 08:23 AM