“The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight”: A provocative video from 1983 by “Call Her Applebroog” director Beth B.

By on July 8, 2016

Our new contributor, Marc Edward Heuck, takes a look back at Dominatrix’s “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” — now streaming on Night Flight’s “Video Vault 7,” one of a collection of daring clips that spurred artistic ripples — which was the first music video for filmmaker Beth B., whose recent documentary on her artist mother Ida Applebroog has drawn rave reviews. The patchwork band Dominatrix would later see their cult song achieve unexpected longevity. Watch it now on our Night Flight Plus channel.

DOMINATRIX 3

Photo courtesy of Robert Carrithers

Beth B. was a teenager in San Diego when her mother Ida had emerged from a hospital stay for depression in 1970 determined to go on her own and become an artist.

Rechristening herself Ida Applebroog, she moved to New York and became a lauded sculptress and painter. Beth soon followed her mother to NYC, enrolling in Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts, where she focused her efforts towards film.

By the early 80’s, Beth B., with her then-husband Scott B., built a following as part of the “No Wave” movement that launched directors Jim Jarmusch and Susan Seidelman. Their Super 8 films like G-Man and Black Box combined startling scenes of torture and fetish play with stolen TV footage, and were screened in punk rock clubs to rowdy audiences open to having their sensibilities challenged.

DOMINATRIX 12

Stuart Argabright

Concurrently, one of the prime musicians of the No Wave scene was Stuart Argabright, who first received notice with a punk band called The Rudements, then achieved notoriety with his electronic outfit Ike Yard, one of the few American bands to sign with UK upstart label Factory Records, home of Joy Division.

During this period, Argabright had struck up an unusual friendship with a local domina. As recounted by music historian Dave Tompkins, their favorite activity was not bondage play, but listening to her extensive record collection, though he did express fascination with the intrigue that came with her profession.

DOMINATRIX 7

After the initial dissolution of Ike Yard, Argabright created Dominatrix, with participation from singer Claudia Summers, John Lydon collaborator Ken Lockie, Tangerine Dream alumnus Peter Baumann, and rising remix DJ Ivan Ivan, who co-produced.

While they recorded a few tracks, their sole release was “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight,” a cheeky reverie to those hang-outs with his domina friend. As he once opined on Facebook, “[There are] a whole bunch of people who [made] this hit happen. Most of all the hard beating ladies that inspired me in the first place.”

The song was picked up by dance producer Arthur Baker’s Streetwise Records, and released as a 12-inch single with multiple remixes.

DOMINATRIX 1

Beth B. was working solo when she directed “The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” video in 1984. The content is tame compared to what she was known for in her previous work, which may well be her subversive point.

The viewer is set up to anticipate a tawdry encounter between a blonde-wigged temptress and the buff garage worker she approaches, only to have a few other leather-clad ladies shove him in a closet, never to be seen again as they go on to dance and loaf about unencumbered.

Tonight, the ladies’ hot gear and sexy moves are not in the service of men’s pleasure, but of their own.

DOMINATRIX 4

Dominique Davalos

Despite having no explicit content, MTV refused to play the video.

As Beth described it to Flavorwire writer Alison Nastasi, “[Males] were controlling the airspace [and] they are still today, [so their] executives saw women taking over the male domain of a garage, and that they kicked the guys, threw them out, and took over. I have no idea, maybe it was too sexual for [them], but at the last minute they pulled it, and it was not shown. But it became hugely popular, anyway. That year, Madonna said it was her favorite music video, and it was playing at all the clubs. I love it. It was really fun to make.”

After the video’s release, its participants split off to further diverse pursuits. Dominique Davalos, who played the title role, replaced Claudia Summers in Dominatrix for a series of live shows (the group toured as an opening act for Grace Jones) before Argabright disbanded the outfit in favor of a more hip-hop oriented group with graffiti artist Rammellzee called Death Comet Crew.

Beth B. directed Davalos alongside Viggo Mortensen and X lead singer Exene Cervenka in her 1987 satire of televangelism Salvation!, with footage from the Dominatrix video reused in the film. Beth eventually shifted from narrative films to making documentaries for HBO and Court TV.

DOMINATRIX 11

“The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight” video is now part of the Permanent Collection at MoMA, and has grown in influence. The song was featured in Grosse Point Blank with John Cusack and in Tamra Davis’ documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child.

The beat is sampled in the 1999 Mase/Puff Daddy song “Do It Again.”

DOMINATRIX 10

Joseph Kahn’s 2009 video for Lady Gaga’s “LoveGame” features a sequence where the singer, in a platinum low-bangs wig and leather gear reminiscent of Davalos’ look in Dominatrix, dances in a garage, albeit with boys allowed to join her this time.

Knowing Gaga’s love of ‘80’s NYC underground culture, the coincidence is probably intentional, as Argabright has suggested.

DOMINATRIX 9
Argabright relaunched Dominatrix in 2008 with new material, and the original single received a bonus-laden vinyl reissue for Record Store Day in 2015.

DOMINATRIX 2

While occasionally collaborating with her mother on projects like the 1989 short film Belladonna, it wasn’t until 2009 that, after they discovered lost drawings of Ida’s from the ’70s, Beth was inspired to make a film about her.

Shot over fifteen years and with often contentious disagreements over what would be filmed and revealed, Beth’s film Call Me Applebroog opened this spring in NY to glowing reviews. Retrospectives of Beth’s films, including her early collaborations with Scott B., have screened in multiple cities, with preservation efforts taking place simultaneously.

Look for Call Me Applebroog when it opens in more American cities this fall, and right now, you can watch the video that first brought Beth B. to wide attention on “Video Vault 7,” on our Night Flight Plus channel. You’ll also see rarely broadcast works from Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Toni Basil, Paul Simon, and Laurie Anderson in this episode.

DOMINATRIX 13

About Marc Edward Heuck

Marc Edward Heuck is a writer and cultural historian best known as the Movie Geek from Comedy Central's "Beat the Geeks." He was an associate producer and researcher for Robert Rodriguez' "The Director's Chair" interview series on the El Rey network. He created the eclectic blog The Projector Has Been Drinking, and his screening series Cinema Tremens revived many rarely-exhibited films, featuring interviews with their creators and champions. He has recorded more than ten DVD commentary tracks, and has been a memorable guest on many podcasts. He cites discovering "Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains" on "Night Flight" as one of the significant milestones of his cultural evolution.