'Don't Gag Me!' Explores New Territory
by Andy Turpin
Published in 'The Armenian Weekly'
Volume 74, No. 4, February 2, 2008
How much cinema ground can one short film break in 9 minutes, 23 seconds? A lot, if you're Armenian.
"Don't Gag Me" (2007), Hear Me Roar Pictures' new short from director Jeff Cohen and Armenian-American actress/scribe Carolena Sabah, is a spoofy, tantalizing and cheesy little gem just quick enough to be a slap and tickle on your office coffee break.
It concerns an over-anxious man on a long overdue visit to the dentist for a teeth cleaning. His genial hygienist is none other Sabah, who puts his nerves at ease, and then transforms in his psychedelic pipe dream into "Angela the Dental Dominatrix."
To say any more would spoil "Gag's" runtime, but winks, nods and whips are all cracked in the direction of homage to 2002's "Secretary," William Shatner's 1961 Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray's characters in "Little Shop of Horrors."
What makes "Gag" stand out culturally in Armenian short film circles, however, is that it represents perhaps a first in unabashed "pink filmmaking."
The concept of the pink film originated in post-war Japan, where cultural morays and public morals laws made cinematic pornography almost a nonentity.
Therefore, filmmakers found innovative ways in their movies and scripts to construct storylines that were sexually charged and erotic, but which often used humor, parody, subversive political statements and other devices to deliver a quality film that aroused and tittered the viewer without actually showing any skin or full nudity.
Pink films had no basis for development in the U.S. or European countries for the most part after 1964 because conventions were breached and films like 1967's "Belle De Jour" and 1979's "Caligula" emerged. Pink film can only exist within nations and societies that exercise overarching degrees of sexual repression.
Armenian-Canadian director Atom Egoyan's films, "Calendar" (1993) and "Exotica" (1994) explore issues of sexually charged power dynamics regarding Armenian sensuality, but do so in a serious and dramatic context without the brevity and light-hearted subversiveness that engender true pink filmmaking.
So don't discriminate against Sabah when it comes to "Don't Gag Me" and mistake it for being in the same category as Kardashian glam schlock. After all, every Armenian woman deserves her 9 minutes 23 seconds of fame even when she's wearing knee-high leather boots.