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Culture

John Steppling and Stephan Morrow Shake Up Audiences with Dogmouth

NEW YORK – The audience did not know what to expect from Dogmouth, the movie adapted from the play written by John Steppling. Many of them had already acquired a taste for “The Greek weird wave” of films that have made their way not only to the annual New York City Greek Film Festival, which presented Dogmouth, but to the attention of film lovers worldwide.
They were prepared for weirdness and violence, and to be disturbed by the experience, but how much? Some may have wondered “who can I take to this film?”
James DeMetro, the founder and director of the festival, introduced Greek-American Stephan Morrow, who produced and directed the film, prior to the screening at the Cinema Village Theater.
“Dogmouth is controversial,” Morrow said. “Steppling is an equal opportunity offender…but I find his writing to be some of the best around. This is a film that is rare these days, one to be listened to as much as anything else.”
The Festival program called Dogmouth, the character was played by Morrow, “a bitter Vietnam vet and rail-riding renegade living his last days.”
But there is some charisma to Dogmouth, which spawns disturbing thoughts about that human quality. He has a following and has managed to charm a pretty young woman, Nyah, played with excruciating ingenuousness by Alexandra Milne.
She not only joined his not-so-merry-band-of-men, which Morrow calls “a mysterious mafia of racist, violent, Vietnam Vets living on freight trains… a repugnant set of people” – she was carrying his baby.
They are not a harmless bank of misfits. Dogmouth is depressed because his profession of training dogs for violent fights has been outlawed, and it slowly becomes clear that a murder being discussed was actual, not hypothetical. The metaphors come fast and furiously.
“This film stands apart because of its powerful dialogue – the authentic language of criminals but it’s also intertwined with ruminations on birth, death, dreams, even survival of the fittest,” Morrow writes.
A forest is the setting for the burnt out men – and one woman – in Dogmouth’s life. They are camping out by long-abandoned railroad tracks, seeming sometimes to be waiting for a train that never comes – like Godot.
Among Steppling’s many sizzling sentences is one simple devastating line:
“I am not a good man”
Perhaps the question that disturbs is not how much humanity there is in a bad man – the film makes it clear there is always some as even Dogmouth feels the pain of children and little birds – but how much humanity there is in the rest of us who meet them.
The script has no hints – and there shouldn’t be – about what Dogmouth was like before he went to Vietnam.
Just as Morrow’s gripping portrayal of a damaged human being tempts the thought that it is not evil which lurked in the forest, Steppling and Morrow-as-director pull the rug out from under liberals in the audience with the edgy scenes of Dogmouth fuming or seething in silence as Nyah, clutching her swelling womb, tries to preserve the peace and her sanity.
Should we be worried about her and the baby in an environment when murder is being discussed so openly and blithely?
Disturbing/illuminating thoughts are triggered throughout the movie.
Aren’t presidents, monarchs and their generals calm, even jovial as they plan the next battle with its guaranteed deaths for hundreds or thousands?
Hannah Arendt’s haunting phrase “the banality of evil” comes to mind as we watch Dogmouth’s friend Becker (Ray Wasik) express how eager he is to do what he believes is a just deed. How easily can we be recruited into a murderous cause by charismatic people we sympathize with?
Perhaps we learn something else about our leaders from Morrow, who allowed some of the mannerisms of stage acting to show in his performance, showing that there is little left of whatever Dogmouth was. He too is just playing a role, all persona as Carl Jung might say. Dostoyevsky would say a dead soul.
What becomes of a man who cannot reflect on his emotions and actions? When Nyah tries to get him to talk about the impending birth of his child, let alone the apparent murder plot he was orchestrating, Dogmouth barks: “Shut up!”
Morrow quoted Steppling: “Art is not your friend.” But it should not be ignored. The 20th century taught humanity that art is not about pretty things. Beauty is truth. Ugly is truth too.
“I think an artist’s obligation is to move to the truth,” Morrow told the audience, “whatever it is, under the darkest slimiest rock if that’s where it exists…it’s not easy, but it is really important for our souls,”
Because it throws mirrors in front of us.
Dogmouth shows illumination can come from darkness, and makes a powerful case for self-reflection as the essence of our humanity.

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