Stephen Dwoskin – Central Bazaar (1976)
For this remarkable experimental film, the provocative avant-garde legend Stephen Dwoskin gathered together a group of strangers and filmed them as they explored their fantasies over a period of five days: a project that now sounds a little like TV’s Big Brother. The ceremonial gowns and make-up here not only evoke the eroticism of European horror movies but also highlight the film’s interplay between performance and intimacy.
Jonas Mekas called it ‘theatre of life’…
At the risk of sounding as if I were trying to make a pun, “Central Bazaar” is one of the most bizarre films that I’ve ever watched. As the above description states, the film consists of almost two and a half hours (widdled down from over 15) of five strangers who were put up by director Stephen Dwoskin in his house and told to act out their fantasies over the course of several weeks. The resulting footage and its presentation is very odd. Instead of having the participants explain their actions, the entire film dialogue free (with the exception of one of the women reciting the story of the three little pigs, another singing “Greensleeves”, and a man rambling on a bit to the camera before dressing in lingerie and wrestling a woman), replaced instead with warped and highly distorted music. The people dress up in costumes, make out, wear odd body paint and makeup, and are very frequently nude. Indeed, virtually every one of them spends a good part of their time on screen in the nude and on one occasion the footage was rather sexually explicit. So, was the film good? I’m not sure if it can be judged in those terms. It’s so far removed from anything else that I’ve ever seen (although several commenters have compared it to recent reality television, that comparison seems very unapt to me), that I’m not sure that I can make a qualified judgment about it. However, I can say that at times, the imagery is very interesting, but at its length, it seemed as if it could have used a few more cuts.
The film has undergone a full HD restoration and has had scratches and dirt removed from the print. Since the the film was originally shot on 16 mm, it may lack the sharpness that some might expect for a film from this era. Yet, it’ll never look better than this. Thanks to the restoration, the print lacks any signs of damage or dirt. There are some instances where the film goes out of focus, but this is the result of Dwoskin’s camera work and not anything with the transfer.
Again the BFI has chosen to use Dolby Digital 2.0. The stereo soundtrack does a decent enough job with the audio (again, consistence mainly in some rather discordant music rather than dialogue), and is free of any unwanted background noises. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles for the parts of the film with dialogue.
First off with the extras, we get yet another very good booklet for the release. At 17 pages, the booklet features full illustrations along with essays on the film, an essay on Dwoskin, and an review of the film by Jonas Mekas. In addition, we get a short (19:10) side project shot during this filming entitled “The Laboroured Party”. This amusing short features a real life Labour party canvasser who comes looking for Dwoskin (never realizing that he’s the camera man), and instead is treated to the provocations and manipulations of the housemates.
So, is it worth checking out “Central Bazaar”? If you have a taste for highly experimental films, then I would certainly say give it a go.
– Brian Montgomery