Jul 142019

Not every film I study in this project has a lot to say about sadomasochism. In some cases, these may be single scenes or even brief moments.

Dancing at the Blue Iguana (2000) is a semi-improvised drama about the exotic dancers at a club and their various struggles in life.

Jo (Jennifer Tilly) has a smoke break outside the Blue Iguana

Jo (played by Jennifer Tilly) is immediately set up as the “crazy” one. She wears black leather or rubber in most scenes, is almost always shown drinking, smoking, or popping pills, and has the most belligerent personality. Her main plotline involves her pregnancy and whether she will abort it. Her dancing costume is black leather with lots of buckles and fishnets, in other words, the signifiers of BDSM.

Jo (Jennifer Tilly) deals with her client

The scene in question comes when Jo, at her apartment, is in the middle of a pro domination session with a client. (I assume this is business, not pleasure.) Jessie, one of the other dancers (who is probably underage), interrupts after being beaten and kicked out by her boyfriend, in need of a place to crash. Jo alternates between continuing her scene with her client and looking after Jessie, while Jessie alternates between insinuating herself into the scene (in either position) and explaining what happened.

There’s no particular resolution to this scene, much like the movie as a whole. We don’t even find out if Jo has an abortion.

Jo (Tilly) looks after Jessie (Charlotte Ayanna)

Perhaps it just bothers me that Jo, the dancer who is most obviously self-destructive and out of control, is the one linked with sadomasochism. Then again, this is also the scene in which Jo shows concern for Jessie, and the interaction with her client is treated as comedy, not anything dark. Jo is judged no more harshly than any of the other women in this film, each of whom have their own problems.

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