I am almost embarrassed to apologize once more for my irregular posts – it is a boring refrain. Time does not seem to be wholly my own anymore, but that is never an adequate excuse. Anyway. Here I am.
My last post got me thinking about the first choreographic work I saw of an all male cast that left my jaw open and my entire body tense. It was the first work that made me realize how much dance (for me) belonged to the female body and how of course, this is absolutely untrue. (Sometimes a work of art makes you realize how small your mind actually is and this is always a special thing). Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men was choreographed for stage in 1988 by British choreographer Lloyd Newson. The film was made two years later in 1990, directed by David Hinton. It was the first (of many) film adaptions of stage works by Newson’s company DV8 Physical Theatre.
For a more succinct and coherent way to set the scene of such a film, here is a brief synopsis directly from DV8’s website: Loosely based on the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, it explores the interwoven notions of loneliness, desire and trust. Founded upon the conviction that societal homophobia often results in tragic consequences, the work grapples with the disturbing forces that drove Nilsen to kill for company.
Even without this background information, the work is intensely powerful, with beautiful and sometimes disturbing images. When I watched it I may have been too naïve and sweet, possibly too young, following up on the name of a dance company I had read about somewhere – it left me in a cold sweat as I was not exactly prepared for what I was watching. It’s such a nice thing when art does this to you!
I watched it alone, in the library of the Fine Arts School at my university, in a small empty room full of televisions, my back to the door, sitting huddled and tense, staring at this fascinating film unfold before me and convinced a librarian would march in and accuse me of watching porn. (Although, in hindsight I realize that a librarian at an Art School has almost certainly seen it all). Aside from the strong and stark aesthetic of the piece in general (allowing for very beautiful stills) I cannot stress enough the beauty and ingenuity of the choreography itself. The movement vocabulary, the dancers, the pace at which the energy speeds up and slows down and the way in which the film has been filmed and edited, makes this work of art completely and utterly Grand (in a very hard-hitting and mildly terrifying sort of way).
I suppose Lloyd Newson has been making dances for quite some time and I was told by someone, somewhere, that he puts a huge amount time and research into the making of a dance and a piece could be in the works for a few years. However I am always amazed at the movement he manages to create and what’s more, the things he manages to say with such movement. It is both unbelievably difficult and absolutely instinctive to express an idea with just the body. All of his works seem to be perfectly crafted, he creates the kind of movement that one plays on loop in one’s mind, like a song you can’t get rid of. In Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men, the physicality and sheer force of the dancing is always perfectly contrasted by something else, a soft-spoken monologue, an intimate and tense duet. There is the strangest combination of violence, anger and a sort of broken sadness that underlines the whole film.
Sadly, I cannot find a full-length version of the film available on the web. But it’s definitely something worth pursuing and easily bought online, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Below, I’ve added a short clip of one of my favourite sequences from the film. Two of Newson’s other films (Enter Achilles and Strange Fish) are on UbuWeb, both full-length and they are just as magnificent as Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men if you wish to check out more of DV8’s work. Which you should. Ok, enough. Pictures of dances are dumb. Watch this now: