Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dinah East

Some movies take a little while to draw you in. My favorite example is Lola, a moody piece of sixties French pseudo-new wave cinema that seems bogged down in subtitled conversations about inanities and long shots of a seaside resort town. But somehow 45 minutes in, you realize you are fully absorbed in these people's lives and when the mandatory melancholy resolution occurs, your heart just breaks.
Naturellement, it's unnecessary to point out that Dinah East is not a work of art on a par with Jacques Demy's debut film. But the two movies do share a certain slow start that turns to fascination. But if Lola does it by building mood and character, Dinah East does it with sheer D-movie chutzpah. And a hell of a lot of full-frontal male nudity.
 Yes, nudity. And lots of it. Dinah East took the early-seventies trends for genderfuck films and old-Hollywood nostalgia and spent a few thousand dollars to maximize on them. Released in the same month as legendary trainwreck Myra Breckenridge, Dinah East tells the story of a fifties movie queen who, while she may really be a queen, ain't no woman. As happens in Tootsie, Dinah can't get a job as Chuck (or whatever her name originally was -- they don't say), so she comes back in drag and immediately becomes a star. The saga of Dinah's life and loves is told in flashback, which cuts back on costs for renting old-fashioned costumes (and allows for lots of tinkly fairybell noises to indicate a drift into the past) but also allows for a jaw-dropping gay bar scene. 
Why, yes, that is a pantsless man in pirate drag gyrating in a cage while a sailor watches.
And a Lawrence Welk bubble machine.

The movie not only wallows in the "she was really a man" cliche, but also throws around the "was really gay" trope not only for Dinah's paramours, but her best buddy, a costume designer played by Warhol superstar and Dali playmate Ultra Violet.
 Every female she sees immediately takes her top off, but it just makes Edith Head sad.

Dinah also somehow winds up with an adopted son, which i suppose could be some kind of reference to Joan Crawford or Loretta Young, but is really just an excuse to get some young tail in for the chicken hawks, as he does not materialize in the plot until he is of legal ogling age.

A not insignificant problem is simply that Dinah is not a very convincing drag queen. She still looks like a boy in a dress. I mean, no one is expecting Carmen Carrera-level fish-serving, but more polish was definitely needed. The outfits are not nearly over-the-top enough, which may be because they belonged to the producer, who was a biological female and apparently didn't realize that a little something extra requires a little something extra. And the wigs just suck.
See what i mean? Bitch looks like Nellie Oleson!

I wonder if they couldn't have helped matters by getting a better queen (Candy Darling, perhaps) but i also get the feeling that someone's boyfriend helped finance this project. Most of the actors have this as their sole credit -- granted, many came from "the stage," but the emotive skill indicates that perhaps said stage might have been the Gaiety Burlesque.
Boy? Girl? Whatever. The casting couch is the same for everyone, sweet cheeks...

Still, the barrage of increasingly melodramatic plot twists, bad acting and atrocious dialogue gradually builds into some truly engaging entertainment -- even if its engaging on a MST3K level. Dinah East is pretty ridiculous, but it's actually more amusing -- and subversive -- than many flicks that have more cult cred.

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